Venison Carpaccio with Polenta Medallions
Today’s contribution to the Cantele Food Blogger Project arrives via Stefano Caffarri, author of Appunti Digòla, one of Italy’s top food blogs and one of its most eccentric. A great recipe and a great read!
My wine is Varius 2008: a blend of 2 parts Negroamaro and 1 part Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 part Merlot. It works well for me: they say that Merlot is prohibited below the Po River and I find all forbidden things to be irresistibly fascinating.
Varius is a dark wine, dense with red fruit preserves on the nose, which doesn’t lack for titillating juicy undertones. In the mouth, the wine has a gradual attack but then it blossoms in the mid-palate with a small electric, acid green jolt in the finish.
The target pairing: move away from the predictable marriage of pittule (classic Apulian fritters) and stewed horse meat and attempt to find a reference that would draw the wine’s fruit to the dish and serve it as such. The next step was to negate this element… irresponsibly, of course.
Which leads me to the venison: a forgotten cut of game and muscle, the thigh. Keep it in the freezer for an extended period of time and then slowly defrost it, over the course of a week, at 32° F. in order to achieve just the right amount of dry-aging. Then marinate it for 36 hours in red wine with garden herbs — bay leaves, sage, rosemary, and flat-leaf parsley — together with juniper berries and cloves.
An initial thought would be to pan-sear it, as is the fashion these days. Or to stew it, as history teaches us. When I think of an animal captured in the woods, I think it of cooked over a spit. But roasting is not fashionable these days. So, brown it in a pan, in a mix of butter and oil, adding some of the herbs to add flavor. Filter the marinade and then reduce it in the pan until you obtain an extraordinarily dark base. Reserve. It will come in handy.
Pre-heat an oven to 300° F. and roast until it has cooked entirely through, just like in the 1970s.
For the polenta: cook stone-ground corn meal for at least 1 hour, using ¾ cups corn meal per 2 cups of water. Distribute the polenta on a pastry board (and don’t be ashamed to use parchment paper) and shape the polenta in medallions. Dredge the medallions in corn meal and then fry in boiling peanut oil.
Then there’s the question of the beans and the pork skins. There are two roads that can be taken here: the long one and the longer one. In this instance, we took the long one. But ideally, you should start out with fresh beans and not canned as I did, since I was under overwhelming pressure to deliver this pairing.
The classic soffritto is made with onions, carrots, celery, and a little bit of fresh tomato cooked in a little bit of olive oil. In a separate pot, parboil the pork skins and as soon as they become soft, slice them into thin strips and transfer to the soffritto and braise for around 2 hours, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
In the very end, use a mechanical slicer to very thinly slice the venison thigh, which will have become tough in the oven. Dip the venison slices into boiling water before serving to soften it. Drizzle with the reserved and now delicious wine reduction. Arrange the polenta chips in a stack to the side and then top with a few pork skin strips. Sprinkle the entire dish with chopped walnuts.
This is an imperious victual and it begs for something to temper it. The Varius will fulfil this purpose, freeing the palate of the dish’s darker undertones and delivering sunshine and tall tales between its fattiness and black dust and moonlit nights amidst its sweetness.