Let’s call it Mike
This dish is Michelin-themed. Not quite Michelin-starred, a notch or three below that, made by a not-quite Michelin-starred chef (ahem) but with all the hallmarks of being from a kitchen awarded that glorious accolade. We have the perfectly seasoned, and very rare in the middle meat, sliced on the diagonal and laid on a bed of mash (sorry, pomme purée). We have the jus, port and cherry, sprinkled artfully over the top. And an only-just-wilted green vegetable on the side. The only thing that’s missing is the copious amounts of butter (now don’t get me wrong, I love butter, I just don’t really see the point of putting it on cabbage unless you’re really going all out to try and impress someone). This is Michelin-starred food for the non-Michelin-starred chef. Mini Michelin. Michelin lite. For the sake of a name, let’s call it Mike. This is a Mike dinner.
For your very own Mike dinner you will need some good quality meat; nothing too fancy, no hand-massaged Wagyu deer, but something that’s had a chance to run around a bit and develop some flavour. You will also need some port. If you’re a port connoisseur already, you’ll already know exactly which port you want to use for the jus. So go right ahead. For those of you who could perhaps hazard a guess at one of the ingredients of port, but would be stumped by the other two, you need a medium-quality ruby port for this recipe. In my opinion this is the best choice for three reasons:
1. Ruby ports are by far the cheapest. While I agree that you should generally buy the very best quality, freshest ingredients you can afford to make the best food, I disagree with this when it comes to booze and oils that are going to be cooked, since most of the subtle flavours that are so important when being used raw, are lost. There is no point roasting tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil, hand-picked in the mountains of Sardinia, as the flavours will be more or less destroyed by the cooking process, and it’s the flavour of the tomatoes you want to highlight anyway; a light olive oil will more than do the trick (the exception to the rule is olive oil cake, where the olive oil is the key flavour and thus you should use the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford). Equally, although top chefs may strongly urge you to use a £50 bottle of claret to go in that four-hour beef stew, my palate isn’t anywhere near sensitive enough to be able to taste all those lovely winey flavours after four hours of cooking. At best I will taste beef and red wine, certainly not a particular Chateau and a slightly-cooler-than-average harvest in my stew. So, if in doubt, choose a fairly cheap port.
2. Ruby port has the flavour profile you want in this sauce. Ruby ports are young and fruity, full of cherry and plum flavours, which obviously work very well with the cherries in the sauce, and the venison. Unless you are looking for a very smoky, oakey, complex and vanilla-ey sauce, which you might achieve with a Tawny or LBV port, stick to ruby.
3. Most importantly of all, ruby port is also very easy to drink (much more so than Tawny or Vintage ports, unless you really know what you’re about). And this is very important because, and here’s the kicker, port, like sherry, is a wine. It may be fortified by the addition of a little grape spirit, but it is still wine and thus it still goes off. I’m sure you’ve tasted a half-drunk bottle of wine that’s sat in the fridge for a week and been thrilled to have produced your own vinegar; port, alas, is the same, and has a roughly (very rough, of course) two or three-week shelf-life. After this time the effects of oxidation will start to show, and it will taste less fruity and more dull, bland, and dusty. Just like that bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream that has been sat at the back of your spirits cabinet for five years (at least) and tastes of old people’s homes. Ever wondered where sherry vinegar comes from? Yup. That’s why you should buy small bottles of sherry and drink them regularly. Same goes for port. So make sure it’s a nice enough bottle that you can drink it yourself with dessert. Of course, if you’re only ever going to cook with the port, then it won’t matter too much if it’s a little on the old side. It won’t be as fruity or sweet and sour when it’s older, but in stews and sauces, where it’s not the main player, it won’t matter hugely. But then again, it’s a great excuse to have a little glass with your dessert (ruby port goes wonderfully with this cherry clafoutis for a start, not to mention chocolate). If you’re lucky, it’ll knock you out before you have to think about the washing up.
Pan-fried venison with port and cherry jus
Sauce recipe very loosely adapted from Gordon Ramsay (and I say very loosely because his method is inane. Why would you spend 20 minutes making a sauce and not even use the delicious brownings from the pan you cooked the meat in? No wonder his restaurants are going out of business.)
2 small venison steaks
150ml ruby port
8 cherries, stoned and halved
1 tablespoon butter, cut into cubes
1. Rub the venison very lightly with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a very hot pan, over a very high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the steaks “unstick” from the bottom of the pan when nudged gently, and are dark, dark brown on the underside. Flip them over and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side, again until they unstick themselves, then turn the heat down to medium and cook for a further minute or two, just until the juices start to run out into the pan (make that about five minutes if you want them more medium than rare). Remove the venison steaks from the heat and place on a warmed plate under tin foil to rest for five minutes.
2. Turn the heat back up to high and in the same pan add the port. It should steam a bit as the alcohol cooks off. Give it a good swill around the pan and using a spatula make sure any venisony bits are scraped up off the bottom of the pan. Then leave this to bubble over a high heat for 5 minutes, or until the port has reduced by three-quarters.
3. Once it has reduced down, add the halved cherries, stir so they are all coated in the sauce, and then add the butter. Stir a few times until the butter is completely melted and integrated into the sauce; the sauce should thicken up and become glossy. Turn off the heat and use immediately.
4. Slice the venison on an angle and layer over mashed potato. Spoon the sauce over the top, and serve with savoy cabbage, or other wilted winter greens.
Serves 2. I served this with a lovely South African pinotage, that was punchy enough to carry the venison.