Friday, January 15, 2010

Venison via Cooperstown

The animal was shot with a bow and arrow in the upstate territory where James Fennimore Cooper penned, "The Last of the Mohicans."  A lot of hunting goes on in Cooperstown. My brother, who sent the frozen package, did not kill the deer, but if he becomes the last of the hedge fund managers, due to a scarcity of things to hedge, at least he won’t starve. It was his brother-in-law who felled the animal and offered the tenderloin, the finest cut.

Chef Donna and the inspector came for dinner. She peered at the cuts of venison, lying in a pool of red wine. "Tenderloin! Where is the deer from?" she asked. "And the wine?" Chef strapped on her apron, accepted a glass of wine and got to work. Chef is a pretty petite woman with blonde hair and big blue eyes. It would be just another Sunday night supper with friends. The inspector brought the produce. I provided the game, the wine and the place and chef would teach us a thing or two.

There were two pieces of meat; eight inches in length each, an inch and a half wide and more than an inch thick. It was purple. "Dry," she said. "It has to be very dry. Give me a paper towel or an old rag....."  Chef Donna is a talking-teaching chef.  "This," she said pointing to her rib cage under her left wing, "is where the tender loin comes from. Tenderloin doesn't get worked too much so it isn't tough but it is not flab either."

The inspector is a quiet man, for the most part. He works in agriculture. Once, when we were having a cup of coffee, I asked him what he was thinking about and he said, "Seed oil crops." 

Chef cried out for a skillet to sear the meat. We went for the big cast iron one. "Venison is so lean, look!" she said. "This is not the kind of meat that explodes with fatty flavor so you have to work it." And work it she did. Taking each piece with “Tongs!” and dredging them VERY lightly in flour, she seared each side until it smoked, An aroma seared meat filled the room setting off various smoke alarms. The inspector responded instantly and I followed his lead. When all of the windows and doors were open, it was time to roast. Now the oven was going full blast.

"Baking pan, no roasting pan," she cried and I produced a glass one. She shook her head grabbed a different one—metal with sides. Into the oven went the loins and chef bounced back to her reduction on the stovetop. "Here is pepper," she said adding some, "and here is bay leaf..." and then for some reason we all started arguing about Africa. Nobody could shut up. The inspector took a position and wouldn’t budge. Finally chef held up a wooden spoon. “There are some things that men and women will never, never agree on! It is that simple.” She invited us to taste the reduction, which was about half its original amount and agreed was perfection, although chef said, “It is not even a demi-glace yet!” 

Out comes the meat from the oven. She heaved the bloody roasting juices from the seared meat into the sauce. “Now it is demi-glace,” she said. Then she began to freestyle. From her purse, she fished out a plastic bag. In the bag was something red. “Pomegranate!” she said and halved the fruit to extract the seeds and juices. Bits of pomegranate flesh were painstakingly removed and the added to the demi-glace. We tasted it. Africa was replaced by Bali, or maybe heaven.

“Plate!” she cried and slapped each loin down and began to make a little tent for each piece of meat out of tin foil. "Now these will rest," she said. "They rest for the exact amount of time that they cook." We were about to experience an entirely, expect for the last minute fruit, early American repast.

In Colonial times, a woman was abducted by the Narraganset Indians in Lancaster Massachusetts and held hostage for three months.

During the ordeal, Mary Rowlandson ate with her captors traversed the state with her captors, and spent one night with a dead child in her arms. She fought off violence, exposure and terror but somehow survived.

In "A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,” she described a local diet: "Their chief and commonest food was Ground-nuts," she wrote. "They would eat Horses' guts and ears and all sorts of wild birds which they could catch; Also Bear, Venison, Beavers, Tortois, Frogs, Squirils, Dogs, Skunks, Rattle-snakes; yea, the very Barks of Trees."

Our repast of venison and roasted roots; yea were the very elements of a feast.  The venison, roasted and pink on the inside was flanked with rows of beets, brussels sprouts and kale.  The vegetables tasted of sweetened earth and butter. The meat tasted of strength.