Venison chile stew with winter vegetables

Whoever created the endless Christmas soundtrack you hear every time you walk into a shop post-Halloween, has a lot to answer for. Bing, Frank, Nat and Co. must literally be rolling in their graves as the holiday season approaches. And spare a thought for the shop staff who are subjected to this torture every day. Surely the UN Human Rights Convention has something to say about this?

Yes, we know the weather outside is frightful. Yes, we know the fire is so delightful. So go ahead and snow already. And don’t even get me started on Frosty…

The only solution is to tune out and hunker down. Close the curtains and stoke the fire. Rustle up something hearty and warming to ease your way through a day that’s more dark than light. Find the advent calendar tucked in a box in the attic. Deck the halls – okay, forget that last one but you get what I mean.

It’s the perfect season for a stew laced with chile and winter vegetables. The great thing about this dish – and trust me, there is a long list – is that the longer it cooks, the better it tastes. I’ve used venison here but you could substitute beef or pork. The red wine creates a rich sauce that hugs the meat like a warm embrace.

Winter vegetables? Potatoes, carrots and turnips – baby ones if you can find them – are a natural but you could use parsnips, hard squashes or leeks too. This makes a big enough batch for a spot of pre-holiday entertaining or you can freeze the leftovers to tide you over during the long nights ahead.

Serve with a glass of red wine, a salad with a tart, mustardy dressing and silence. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

Venison chile stew with winter vegetables

Serves 4-6

2 lbs. diced venison

1 red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

½ cup tomato puree

½ bottle red wine

1 Chile Mulato

1 Chile Negro

7oz baby turnips

10oz carrots (about 4 medium)

10oz small potatoes (about 15 or 16)

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 250º

Gently sauté the onion in olive oil in a deep, heavy, oven proof casserole dish until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute or two. Remove from the casserole and set aside. Dredge the venison in the flour and brown in olive oil in the casserole. Don’t overcrowd the pan – you’ll need to do this three or four batches depending on the size of the pan. When you’ve browned all the venison, deglaze the pan with some of the red wine, scrapping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add back in the onions, garlic, and browned venison. Stir in the tomato puree and more wine until the meat is just covered. Add in the two dried chiles, cover and place in the oven and cook for 3 hours or more, until the venison is tender.

While the venison is cooking, prep the vegetables. Peel the carrots and slice on an angle into chunks. Scrub the potatoes and the turnips. Either steam or blanch the vegetables until just cooked through.

Take the casserole from the oven and remove the two dried chiles. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. The chile should be warming but mellow but of course add in additional chile powder if you want more of a hit. The sauce should be thick and coat the meat. If not, strain out the meat and reduce the sauce on the stove top. Add in the vegetables and stir to coat with the red wine sauce and serve with any baby turnip leaves, chopped.

Cider vinegar & maple syrup glazed pork

cider-pork-plate-and-serving-dishWhen did we get so sniffy about leftovers? Gone are the days of the big roasts, the huge casserole dishes of cheesy, melted, layered things. Instead we cook a single chicken breast or one steak with a baked potato and just enough salad so there’s nothing left once we put the fork down. If the CSI team popped round and snooped in our fridge (this is purely hypothetical, granted) they’d be hard pressed to know we even eat.

I get the waste bit – we don’t want to store food in plastic containers only to unearth it weeks/months/you-get-the-idea later to discover we’ve created a new form of penicillin. No one wants to throw away food but on the other hand, aren’t we missing out on the joy of food? Food is messy. Food is communal. Food isn’t shovelling something into our mouths while we check our twitter feed. And leftovers are the delicious evidence of a meal enjoyed, a meal savored. Heck, a lot of food is better the next day (or the day after).

cider-pork-ingredient-shotIt’s like this pork shoulder…It’s glazed with a reduction of cider vinegar, maple syrup, some spices and chile. Yep, chile, the lifeblood, mother’s milk and all-round most awesome thing on this earth. Then you cook it for a long time (this is when you can check Facebook) and then – and then what? Then you call round every friend you can think of and you eat. And you eat. And you eat some more. When you can’t eat anymore you hug your friends goodnight, stow any leftovers in the fridge and go to bed, smug that you’ve got breakfast, lunch and dinner(s) sorted.

If you get sick of it before you finish it (this can happen) then pop the l.o.’s into the freezer. You’ll feel even more smug when you remember that you’ve got the fixings for a sandwich right there, just waiting for you.

So kiss the chicken breast goodbye (figuratively, my friend) and go big. You’ll thank me. Hopefully you’ll do better than that – you’ll invite me over. I’ll even bring my own plastic container for leftovers.

cider-pork-plate-shotCider vinegar & maple syrup glazed pork

Feeds a small army

For the glaze:

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 dried Chile mulato

1 dried Chipotle chile

1 bay leaf

½ stick cinnamon

1 cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup maple syrup

1 Tbsp honey

For the pork:

Pork shoulder, about 5lbs

Olive oil

Salt

Chile pequin

Preheat oven to 425°

Place the pork into a large casserole dish that has an oven proof cover. Rub some olive oil and salt onto the pork. Put in the hot oven and cook for 15 minutes.

While it’s cooking, make the glaze. Place all the dry ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium high heat for a few minutes until they’re nicely toasted. Then add the vinegar, maple syrup and honey. Cook for another 5 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain.

Baste the pork with the glaze and cook for another 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 240° and cover. Cook for 4 hours or more – until the meat is tender and flakes off easily. (You could also do this in a slow cooker.) Remove from the oven and take the pork out of the pan and place it on a plate. Put the pan with the cooking juices back in the oven and turn the temperature to high to reduce the cooking liquid. While the juices are reducing, flake the meat and then return to the pan and stir to coat. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until nicely glazed then serve, with chile pequin on the side.