The Wild Chef: Our Cookbook of the Week
All images courtesy Weldon Owen
Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.
The Wild Chef By Jonathan Miles and the Editors of Field & Stream, 224 pages, Weldon Owen, $32.50
Dear City Dwellers:
You may be unaware that outside the urban jungle, fall is hunting season for much of the country, and at this very moment, woods-faring men and women are on the prowl with rifles and shotguns, bows and arrows, sallying forth to strike down a meal over hill and dale, bush and briar.
Here in New York, hunters upstate and on Long Island can bring home big game like deer and black bear -- bobcat even -- throughout the fall, and here in the city, licensed gunslingers are welcome to take up to six squirrels, six rabbits, and four pheasants daily, provided they hold the proper permits. So if someone's stalking the squirrels on your block, know that it's technically legal.
In celebration of the season, we're featuring a cookbook that honors the folks with firearms.
Wild Chef author Jonathan Miles is an avid hunter/fisherman who has pennedField & Stream magazine's "Wild Chef" column since 2004. His new book is a collection of his favorite woods takedown meals, and though it's tailor-made to backwoods chefs, you don't actually have to be a hunter to cook what he's putting on the table.
Specialty meat purveyors around the city sell game like venison, rabbit, boar, and all manner of winged fowl, so you need not shoot it yourself to get a taste of the field. Try Pino's Prime Meats (149 Sullivan Street, 212-475-8134), where you'll find venison and game birds and many, many other non-grocery-store cuts of meat. Tip: if you're looking for a specialty cut like a whole leg, heart, or liver of venison, call ahead and have the shop save it for you, or, for organ recipes, substitute offal from beef or lamb if you can't find the wild organs Miles cooks in the book.
We chat with Miles on caveman cooking, voodoo berries, and his disdain for marinades.
What is the oldest recipe in this book, and where did you come from? The oldest recipe in The Wild Chef is about as old as recipes get: a roasted whole leg of venison. You could carbon-date that one back to the Paleolithic era. Take a haunch, add heat; it's like dinner at the Flintstones. I gussied it up with a wet rub of thyme, garlic, and juniper berries, but it's a terrifically primal meal.
If you could give one piece of cooking advice to the world, what would it be? With game cookery, there's one bedrock rule: don't overcook it. Because there's so little fat on wild animals, and the meat is often dense and fine-grained, there's no safety net for the cook. Err past medium, and you'll have to call out for pizza. The other advice I'd give is to steer away from marinades. Their effects are way overrated -- flavor placebos.
What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire and why? I'm a huge fan of Chris Schlesinger of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He co-writes his cookbooks with John Willoughby, and I've actually had to replace them due to spattered overuse. He's unrepentantly lusty with flavors -- his food is food with the volume cranked.
What's your go-to seasonal ingredient right now, and what do you love about it? Juniper berries. We're entering the peak of the year for game cookery, and juniper berries just have such a beautiful affinity for game. Their cedar-y, woodsy, almost astringent flavor complements game in such a profound way, it almost seems like voodoo.
Name one unusual/unexpected/unique recipe from the book. Aside from the black bear empanadas, or the deer-heart anticuchos, or the squirrel braised with bacon, wild mushrooms, and pinot noir ... I can't think of any. Maybe the dessert that calls for ground venison?
Venison leg roast
Caveman Roasted Leg of Venison Makes one roast
Here's one for your inner Neanderthal: a whole roasted venison leg, just like Fred Flinstone would've cooked it. This is game cookery at its most primal and dramatic, and the results are a showpiece -- which is good, as you'll need a crowd to help you eat it. Because the meat is only mildly doctored -- with a classic wet rub of oilive oil, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and juniper berries -- and cooked in an unforgiving manner, the key to success here is a prime hunk of meat, ideally from a younger deer, field-dressed impeccably, and aged if possible. Thumping your chest while gnawing the bones is optional.
1/4 c olive oil, or as needed 1/2 c fresh thyme leaves 8 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 roughly chopped fresh rosemary 3 T juniper berries, crushed 1/4 c kosher salt 1/4 c crack black peppercorns 1 bone-in whole venison hind leg (12-15 lbs) 3 T vegetable oil 4 c game or beef stock
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, thyme, garlic, rosemary, juniper berries, salt and pepper until it resembles a coarse paste. (Add a little more olive oil, if needed, to make it goopy enough to spread). Rub this mixture onto the venison, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Remove the leg from the refrigerator a couple of hourse before cooking. It should be at room temperature when it goes into the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Drizzle the meat with the vegetable oil, patting it lightly with your fingers to coat evenly, and place the leg on a rack set in a large roasting pan. Roast, undisturbed, for one hour.
Heat the stock to a low simmer on the stove top. Turn the meat. Using a baster or ladle, baste the meet with about half of the hot stock, and roast for another hour. Set the stock aside and keep warm, reheating it to a simmer just as the next hour is up.
Turn the roast a second time, and repeat the basting with the remaining stock. After about 15 minutes, start checking the meat in its thickest part, away from the bone, with an instant-read meat thermometer. The cooking time will depend on the size of the roast. Remove the roast when the thermometer reads 120 degrees (F), for rare, or 126 for medium-rare. (The meat will keep cooking for a bit after it's removed from the oven).
Remove the roast to a large cutting board and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes. Carve and serve.
Check out our Cookbook of the Week archives for more like this.
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