Thursday, September 22, 2011

Venison Shank With Dumplings & Venison Empanadas

Guest post by Dom Bailey

There are farm shops and there are farm shops. My closest sells ice cream. Nice ice cream, from the milk of the cows that fertilise the field at the end of my road that serves as a short cut to the pub.

Now ice cream and chutneys might have a certain appeal on the odd lazy Sunday afternoon, but they don't help with the general business of food shopping and feeding the family.

The second closest never seems to be open, and is less like a farm shop and more like a big shed near a motorway junction. They do have goats though. But there is a third and favourite farm shop tucked away near a pub and a children's petting farm.

There are cows in sheds, rickety collies, muddy ducks - everything you'd expect down to the Polish workers. There is fresh chicken, duck, geese and, sometimes, quails’ eggs (10p each!) and the meat of their older brothers and sisters in the fridges. And a whole lot more.

I think I've mentioned the special "never know what you're going to get" element in previous entries. And that is why it is my favourite. You can stock up on the Saturday bacon, the Sunday roast, the kids' sausages and sandwich ham, then grab half a pig's face or veal liver for your culinary experiments.

If you're game, they might just have it. If you actually are game, then you're probably wrapped in cellophane in the fridge. This week's extras were a green-tinged venison shank for £2.96, and some venison mince for £3.60. So what to make?

THE DAYS are getting shorter, the nights are drawing in, and the wood burner is starting to wink at me as jeans replace shorts. The kale and root vegetables are doing nicely in the garden. Damsons are picked, elderflower champagne has been drunk, and the elderberry cordial needs drinking as I keep getting a little disk of mould on the top (any suggestions?)

So it's comfort food time - and shanks fit the bill nicely. As they are a slow cooker, and there's oven space and heat going spare, why not try a little reminder of the summer with a few pasties as well? Well, not actually recreate the noble Cornish pasty, but completely bastardise it for your own amusement.

I'd never make it on to Masterchef. "So what are you cooking for us today?" "Well, that depends what you've got in the cupboards...Oh..." Slow ominous music, a raised eyebrow, the glint of pate, tears etc etc.

I'm more of a Ready Steady Cook man. Tip the bag out, what we gonna cook? Recipes are great and I love cookbooks, but unless it’s a really special occasion, I will go shopping, see what takes my fancy, and then if necessary look up how someone has cooked it and realise I have variants instead of ingredients.

I’ve cooked venison many ways before, but I love the fall-apart unctuousness of a rich venison stew. You can use red wine, port, stout, the imported strong Guinness is a good one. I wanted an autumnal fruitiness too, so here goes...

Marinade the shank:

Half a chopped onion, some garlic, a few juniper berries, a bay leaf, thyme, a couple of cardamom pods, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a good few glugs of elderberry cordial. But blackcurrant cordial could work. Or plum juice. Or a spoon of quince, medlar, or crab apple jelly. The sweetness and fruitiness is to balance the Guinness that's added later.

Put the meat in a sealable bag with the marinade and into the fridge. If your shank is farm shop bought, there may be shards of bone which pierce the bag, causing the marinade to drip into the hummus and onto a poorly covered blackberry and apple pie on the shelf below. So check first.

After the meat's had a soak, put some chopped celery, onion and carrots with a knob of butter in a casserole dish to soften. Take the shank out, dry it, and brown it in a separate pan before adding it to the veg. Pour the marinade into the casserole then add three-quarters of a can of Guinness. Use the rest to deglaze the browning pan and tip the juices into the dish.

A few mushrooms and a handful of stoned damsons then go in. Put in the oven to slow cook. Check occasionally - tasting the sauce and sweetening with cordial if it is too bitter for your liking. And that's it for a few hours.

So on to the pasties. First brown the mince, surely? Half an onion and some cubed butternut squash. And while that's browning, find a pastry recipe.

It's got to be short crust. There are abominations being sold not far from the Atlantic Highway calling themselves pasties but they are made with puff pastry. I say again, puff pastry. And that's just wrong.

Chuck that down to a hungry miner, and it will have flaked into a tickertape parade down the mineshaft before you can say Oggy Oggy Oggy. I've been caught out a few times. I'm not a pasty fundamentalist. I do quite like the non-traditional fillings - steak and stilton, bacon and leek (Ok, they're the traditional, non-traditional ones) but if you stray further than that - like smoked haddock - then things start to get flaky.

I did have the nerve to mention it once in Padstow - where I had fallen foul of pasty crimes in the past - and got an icy: "We only serve short crust here."

So, short crust pastry. Flour, equal amounts of butter and lard (I used veg fat - no lard to be found in a one-mile radius despite four corner shops), bicarb, salt, egg yolk. Then in cling film and in the fridge.

The internet can be a cruel mistress (don't for heaven's sake Google 'cruel mistress'), I just mean that scrolling around I'm hit with pasty recipe after pasty recipe...and what's the difference between a pasty and an empanada..?

Good question now you mention it internet. Not so good if you're aiming for a pasty and have the meat browning on the hob. Apparently you never cook the ingredients before you put it in the pastry. If you do, it gets all Latin and becomes an empanada.

So these are venison and black kale empanadas...

While the mince is cooking through, having added a spoon of mango chutney, I put some butter and a splash of water and an anchovy in a pan, let things dissolve, and then add the black kale for a few minutes and turn off the heat.

Roll the pastry out to about 5mm thick - or however thick you like your crust. Use an upturned bowl to cut a circle then place some of the mince and kale in the middle.

Pasty making, sorry empanada making, is as individual as it is global. You can fold over and crimp. Pull the sides up to the middle and crimp. Do little folds or plaits down the side, or just replace the pastry with pizza dough and get a calzone. But however you do it, brush egg yolk wash round the edge to help seal the pastry, then stick the two sides together. Then on to a greased and floured baking tray and egg wash for a nice shine.

Then into the over for about half an hour - less than it would have been for a pasty as the middle is already cooked. About half an hour before you want to get the shank out of the oven, you can whip up a few dumplings.

Dumplings sometimes provoke the same reaction as the mention of semolina - memories of suetty, semi-cooked doughy balls from the school canteen lurking amidst a fatty mutton stew.

A nicer version – by His Essexness, Sir Jamie of Oliver – is 250g self-raising flour, 125g butter, seasoning and water. Mix the flour and butter to crumbs (I added some mixed spice, salt and pepper, and a bit of rosemary) before adding a splash of water to bring it to a dough.

Roll into balls, then drop them into the casserole - they will soak up some of the liquid but not be like anything you remember from school. Back in the oven for about half an hour.

The dumplings have puffed up a bit, the venison is dark, rich and falling off the bone, and in a silky, fruity sauce that says autumn.

You may as well taste your other wares while you’re at it - and the pasties, sorry empanadas, have a nice crispy crust and meaty middle with a "Oooh, what's this?" extra of black kale, or cavolo nero as it's called in Padstein. Might go nicely with some chutney and ice cream. And that would mean a stroll to the pub...

:: Dom Bailey is a writer and singer-songwriter. His songs are here at

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