This month’s AlphaBakes challenge is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the random letter is “V.” I immediately thought of vermouth and vodka, but since I probably spend enough time sounding like a borderline alcoholic, I thought it might be a good idea to go for an ingredient of a non-alcoholic variety. Other than “vegetable” (which I think might be a little too vague), I drew a blank for a while, until I was perusing my collection of winter recipes and it hit me: venison. Perfect! Venison is wonderful in winter-y dishes such as stews, and since it was the winter solstice on Thursday (which means that hurrah, the days are going to start gradually getting longer), it’s definitely the right season for it! It’s also a very lean meat, so a healthier choice than beef (though usually more expensive unfortunately). I was initially going to make venison stew, but wasn’t sure if it would count for the challenge as it wouldn’t see the inside of an oven. I decided that I’d go for venison pie instead, since that would definitely be baked and is still a wonderfully wintery dish. I just had to decide on a recipe…
Sometimes I go to the library and browse through the cookbooks there for inspiration. Particularly those that I don’t want to buy since I know that I wouldn’t realistically ever use, but are still interesting to read through. The Exotic Meat Cookbook is one such book – the opportunity to turn a crocodile, camel or kangaroo into a meal has yet to arise for me so buying the book would be a slight waste of money at the moment, but it’s still fun to read the recipes and imagine the flavours. And the next time I’m called upon to cook zebra, I’ll know which recipe book to add to my collection. Actually, it also includes some meats that I wouldn’t really class as exotic, such as veal, rabbit and hare, mutton and… venison. A recipe for Angostura venison cobbler caught my eye as I was leafing through the book. I am, of course, familiar with Angostura bitters in cocktails, but cooking with Angostura bitters? How intriguing… And by that I mean: oh my gosh, must try!
I’ve never really been sure what exactly cobbler is, but it seems to be fairly similar in concept to a pie but with a topping made of scones, which may or may not cover the whole thing, and no pastry on the bottom. So basically the main similarity with a pie is that the filling can be sweet or savoury. I was so intrigued by the flavours in the recipe that I scrapped the venison pie idea and decided to try this out instead. Well, it turns out that Angostura bitters goes very well with venison. Who knew? (Other than the authors of the cookbook…) It definitely adds an unexpected, but delicious, flavour to the meat – kind of pepping it up. It’s an unusual combination, but certainly a very tasty one. I’ll definitely be experimenting more with Angostura bitters in cooking. I was expecting the scone topping to cover the whole dish, but the recipe only made enough for a ring around the edge of the dish. I was initially a little disappointed by this, but the topping turned out to be rather filling so perhaps it would have been too much if the whole dish was covered. I’ll double the amount of topping the next time I make this and then I can decide how I prefer it.
Angostura venison cobbler
Adapted from The Exotic Meat Cookbook
This dish would also work well with most other minces, such as lean beef or lamb. If you don’t have a casserole dish or something similar that can be used on both a stovetop and in the oven, you can cook the venison in a saucepan on the stovetop and then transfer it into an ovenproof dish for the oven part. Adjust the amount of bitters that you add to your personal taste – if you’re very sensitive to the taste of bitters or don’t enjoy it very much, use 1½ tbsp, but if you enjoy the taste, go for the full 3 tbsp, though add a little at a time and taste the sauce as you go to check the flavour isn’t too overpowering. I found that the topping recipe only made enough for a ring of topping around the edge of the dish, so if you want to have the whole dish covered, I’d suggest doubling the topping recipe.
500g venison mince
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
8-9 fresh sage leaves
300ml beef stock
1½-3 tbsp Angostura bitters
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp cornflour, if necessary
For the scone topping:
170g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter
5-6 fresh sage leaves
2-3 tbsp milk, plus extra for brushing
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Gently brown the venison in an oven-proof casserole dish (add a few drops of rapeseed oil if necessary). Whilst the venison is browning, peel and dice the carrots and parsnips, slice the onions and finely chop the garlic clove and sage leaves. Add them to the venison once it’s browned and cook for a few minutes more.
3. Pour in the beef stock, along with the bitters and tomato purée, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Bring to the boil. If the sauce is too liquidy, add the cornflour to a small ramekin with a few drops of cold water and mix into a paste. Stir into the sauce and cook until thickened.
4. Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven for 20 mins.
5. Meanwhile, make the cobbler topping. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the cubed butter. Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Finely chop the sage leaves and stir into the mixture along with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the egg and a little bit of milk and gently bring together into a soft dough. Add more milk if necessary. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and pat or gently roll out to a thickness of 1cm. Cut out circles of dough with a 5cm biscuit cutter.
6. Remove the venison from the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 190°C. Arrange the cut-out scone circles in an overlapping ring around the edge of the venison mixture. Brush with a little milk. Return the casserole dish to the oven and bake uncovered for a further 20 mins, or until the topping is golden and well-risen.
PS – You know what else starts with V that I’ve just thought of? Vanilla. Which is only one of the most commonly-used ingredients in baking. Facepalm.