Tony phoned while I was out shopping one Saturday afternoon in December.
“I just wanted to warn you,” he said, “that two deer are hanging in a tree out back.”
I lived most of my life without having such conversations. I didn’t run in those circles. My loved ones were more likely to warn me not to trip over the case of champagne in the kitchen, or that the caviar in the fridge wasn’t imported Oesetra but domestic paddlefish, sorry, honey.
Because he’s a Tokyo-trained sushi master, Tony can actually MAKE caviar, knowledge that thrilled me when I met him. But he doesn’t fish for pregnant sturgeon. He kills deer. I am kind of horrified that he’s capable of such a thing, while at the same time I like venison. But to drive home the down side of hunting, I always name the animal and make Tony eat the meat.
“We’re having Loretta tonight,” I’ll say.
In the six years I’ve known Tony I’ve become a pretty good venison cook. In fact, so good that Tony looks forward to evenings when Loretta or Betty or whomever is on the menu. The secret, in case you get your hands on some wild venison, is not in the recipe but in the way the deer was killed (hunters call it “harvested,” a ridiculous euphemism; I call it “killed,” just as I call the cable Outdoor Channel Tony subscribes to the “dead deer channel.” If you watch it long enough, a deer is gonna get it.) Anyway, when a deer is dispatched cleanly and quickly, before adrenalin has time to shoot through the body, the meat does not taste “wild.”
This hunting season Tony killed two does specifically for the meat. A butcher ground half of the meat and carved the rest into roasts. The roasts are for making jerky, a new venture for us. We bought an old hand-crank meat slicer at a yard sale and I located my favorite jerky recipe. We couldn’t wait to get started.
Sunday was jerky day. Tony sliced and I marinated. We cut the meat into thin strips and layered them in a large, plastic-lined roasting pan. I sprinkled each layer with marinade before adding the next layer of meat. Today is drying day. The aroma of meat and spices wafts through the house as I write. My recipe says to dry the meat at 140 to 160 degrees until all moisture is gone. The meat should bend without breaking. I can’t wait to taste it.
OK, I’ve tasted. Now it’s Tuesday morning. A gallon-size zip-lock bag bulging with jerky is sitting on the counter and more venison is marinating in the refrigerator. The jerky tastes like the beef jerky we buy in stores. We did it! And by the time the second batch is finished, we’ll have enough jerky to get a small town through the winter.
We’re making a second batch because the first batch doesn’t taste exactly like Henry’s. He’s my friend’s late father, a butcher who made beef jerky in his basement and gave me the recipe. I think he guessed on the amount of meat when writing down the recipe, because there was barely enough marinade to sprinkle over each layer. I tripled it for the second batch, and that’s the recipe I’m sharing below.
Hunters and recipients of hunters’ largess will be pleased with the flavor it produces, and also with the technique. The meat may be dried in an oven. Henry used a food dryer set at 140 to 160 degrees, but I used my electric oven, even though the temperature cannot be set that low. I heated the oven to the lowest temperature possible, 170 degrees, and then turned off the oven. Every half hour or so I’d punch in 170 degrees again and the digital readout would display the actual temperature. When it fell below 130, I’d heat the oven again.
Those who don’t have access to venison may use beef to make this jerky. Or if you happen to have a pregnant fish, give me a call and we’ll trade.
- 2 tbsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. garlic powder
- 3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 cup Liquid Smoke
- 4 to 5 lbs. lean boneless venison or beef roast, sliced 1/8-inch thick
Combine all ingredients except meat in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Stir will.
Arrange three or four layers of meat strips in a glass, stoneware, plastic or plastic wrap-lined metal roasting pan, spooning marinade over each layer. Pour remaining marinade over top. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.
Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Place in a single layer on mesh screens or cooling racks set over foil-lined baking sheets. Dry at 140 to 160 degrees for 8 hours or until there are no more moist spots. The meat will bend but not break when warm. A cooled piece will crack when bent but will not break.
To dry in an oven: Heat to the lowest temperature possible, put trays of meat in the oven, then turn oven off if temperature is above 160 degrees. Check every 30 minutes, re-heating oven when temperature drops below 140 degrees on the digital readout or on an oven thermometer.
HELP U COOK
The last time I made homemade mayonnaise, about a month ago when I ran out of Hellman’s, it turned out badly. I had been watching too much “Master Chef” and thought I could whip it up without a recipe. Hah! Even adding an extra egg yolk didn’t rescue the thin, sloppy mess I had produced. I now know to use a recipe and if that fails, look up the mayonnaise rescue technique rather than trust my memory. Here’s how to rescue broken mayonnaise, according to James Beard: Pour the separated mixture into a clean measuring cup. Wash and dry the food processor bowl. Process two egg yolks in the clean bowl. Then slowly pour the separated mixture through the feed tube. The mayonnaise should rebind.
Now here’s a question for you. Do you think those contestants on “Master Chef” really make all those dishes without recipes while racing the clock? This is the Gordon Ramsay series that runs on Fox. Not “Hell’s Kitchen,” the other one. The contestants are home cooks, for crying out loud. Even I can’t whip up souffles and mayonnaise without consulting a recipe, and I worked with food 40 hours a week for 25 years. Sautees, roasts and even bouillabaisse, yes. Recipes requiring precision such as souffles, cakes and mayonnaise, no.
Master Chef, my favorite food program, will be back for season four sometime this spring. Tryouts were held in Cleveland last fall, so maybe we’ll see a local contestant.
For the sauerkraut balls in last week’s newsletter, what type of sauce would one serve with that? I am new to making any kind of meatballs. Thank you.
Dear Sharene: Sauerkraut balls are usually eaten without sauce. If you’ve never made a meatball, these may be challenging. The sauerkraut-ham mixture is very soft and kind of tricky to work with. Be forewarned. Another recipe for the cocktails snacks follows.
From Leslie Kennedy:
Here’s an alternative recipe for sauerkraut balls. It was given to me by Betty Sikora of North Canton over 30 years ago. It is a New Year’s family tradition — I always make a double batch! They freeze well and can be reheated in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
- 1/2 lb. sausage (like the regular Bob Evans in a tube)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion (or one small-medium)
- 16 oz. jar or can of sauerkraut, drained and chopped
- 2 to 3 tbsp. dried bread crumbs
- 3 to 4 oz. cream cheese (lowfat Neufchatel is fine)
- 1 tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 tsp. mustard
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten with ¼ cup milk
- Flour for coating
- Dry bread crumbs for coating (I use homemade dried rye bread crumbs)
- Oil for deep frying
Brown and drain sausage and onion. Cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in sauerkraut and the 2 to 3 tablespoons bread crumbs. (At this point I usually throw the sausage/sauerkraut mixture in the food processor and process slightly to get the big lumps out.)
In a separate bowl or food process mix cream cheese, parsley, mustard, garlic powder and pepper. Add to sausage mixture and mix well. Chill at least one hour.
Roll into small walnut-size balls. Dip into the egg mixture, then flour to coat, then egg mixture again, then roll in bread crumbs. Fry in deep fat fryer until golden brown. Drain. Enjoy!
Note: I like to use the food processor to mix everything well and chop finely so it all rolls into balls easily. Having a couple extra hands to form an assembly line makes it go faster and lessens the labor. It’s work but oh, so worth it!
Dear Leslie: Thanks so much for sharing. The addition of cream cheese sounds good.
I’m looking for a really good recipe for homemade Russian dressing or, failing that, a lead on where I can buy a nice bottled version. This stuff just doesn’t seem to exist in stores!
Dear O.R.: Hmmm. I haven’t used Russian dressing in so long that I didn’t notice it had disappeared from stores. The pink-tinged dressing with its mayonnaise base tasted great on iceberg wedge salads, I recall. Its high calorie content (all that mayo), may be why it declined in popularity. Then again, maybe not. Its cousin, Thousand Island dressing, is still scarfed up on Reuben sandwiches from coast to coast. For help in resurrecting Russian dressing, I turned to one of my favorite old cookbooks, the 1961 edition of “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne. I still use this book for some of my favorite recipes – country pate, mushroom bisque and satay sauce, to name just three. Claiborne’s recipe for “Russian Dressing a l’Audelan” in made with mayonnaise, chopped beets, and caviar or horseradish. That sounds a bit esoteric, so I consulted James Beard for his version. The dressing is American despite its name, and Beard was an expert on American food.
Whoa. Even Beard used caviar in Russian dressing, I discovered in “James Beard’s Theory & Practice of Good Cooking.” His recipe calls for chili sauce instead of beets, though, and he also zips up the mayonnaise (homemade, of course) with dry mustard, chopped onions and Worcestershire sauce. Beard says the addition of caviar makes the dressing authentic. If using chili sauce, skip the caviar, he advises.
After reading these recipes, I don’t think I have ever tasted Russian dressing. Back in the day, caviar was in short supply in my hometown of East Liverpool. We were rolling in pickle relish, though, so those long-ago iceberg salads probably were dressed with Thousand Island.
CRAIG CLAIBORNE’S RUSSIAN DRESSING
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cooked beets
- 1 tbsp. prepared horseradish or black caviar
- Salt to taste
Mix mayonnaise and beets until dressing is an even pink hue. If horseradish is used, mix it in thoroughly. Caviar should be folded in carefully. Add salt. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Makes about 2 cups.
JAMES BEARD’S RUSSIAN DRESSING
- 1 1/2 cups homemade mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp. finely chopped onions
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp. red or black caviar (not the best quality)
- OR 1 tbsp. chili sauce
Combine all ingredients and chill, using either the caviar or the chili sauce but not both.
BEARD’S HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE
(Food processor method)
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cup flavorless vegetable oil such as canola
Combine egg, vinegar, salt and pepper in processor bowl and process until blended, about 2 to 3 seconds. While motor continues to run. Gradually pour oil through feed tube, slowly at first. As mayonnaise thickens, the sound of the machine will become deeper. Taste for additional vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate up to 10 days.