I love it when Kismet strikes and you know the Universe is sending you a message, which is what happened to make this incredible dinner come together the other night.
It all started just before Thanksgiving when my beloved friends Charlotte and Sarah came from London for a festive, whirlwind weekend visit. Stories abound, of course, but on the culinary front, I was mortified to have to admit to Sarah that there was nary a juniper berry in the house. " How in the world," she inquired with only very thinly veiled horror in her voice, "do you make venison?"
Well, I have to admit that I was a) too embarrassed to admit that I don't make venison and b) that I raced out to get juniper berries as soon as I'd bundled them off at Dulles for their flight home.
So, with juniper berries burning a hole in my spice cabinet, it was of course, only a couple of days later when Jeff returned from a visit with Mel in Amelia county. Wouldn't you know it, Mercedes mechanic extraordinaire, bon vivant and all around great guy Mel had entrusted him with two venison tenderloins as a holiday gift.
Ah, but what to do with them? I decided that the first place to look was to another school mate of ours, Tamasin Day-Lewis, who is a great pal of Charlotte and Sarah's too. Needless to say, Tamasin didn't let me down when I first turned to her wonderful cookery book, Good Tempered Food, which can always be counted on to help me find my way in matters of sublime British food.
Of course, Tamasin's recipe called for juniper berries front and center, so I knew when I saw that, that this was the recipe I was meant to make.
Make it I did and it was stunningly beautiful and delectable. The beets with their smattering of balsamic hit the perfect sweet/savory note as a vehicle for the sumptuous venison and the glisteningsauce fashioned from a port and red wine reduction, enriched with the traditional red-currant jelly and sour cream.
What can I say? Sarah, I now make venison and this is how I make it. With huge thanks to Tamasin for the splendid recipe, to Mel for the venison, and to the Universe for making it all come together so beautifully.
Medallions of Venison with Spiced Beet, Cornichons, Tarragon, and Sour Cream
red wine for marinating the venison
1 1/2 pounds or so of venison medallions at least 1/2 inch thick, from two venison tenderloins
3 medium beets, scrubbed, root end still attached, wrapped in foil and baked at 350 degrees until soft, about an hour
6 juniper berries, crushed
1 heaping tablespoon red-currant jelly
1/4 cup port
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup sour cream
fresh tarragon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
well-aged balsamic vinegar
Two days before you're planning your venison feast, marinate the tenderloins in enough red wine to cover them and refrigerate.
On the day of the feast, preferably in the morning, roast your beets, peel them once they're not too hot. Grate them and refrigerate until just before it's time to use them.
To make the sauce: Chop the shallots finely and sweat them in a little butter with the crushed juniper berries (use your mortar and pestle for this) until soft. Add the red-current jelly, port and red wine and reduce them by about a half. Add the stock and again reduce by half.
While this is happening, remove the tenderloins from their red wine bath and slice them into medallions. Cook them in a skillet with a little melted butter, turning them frequently and making absolutely sure you don't overcook them. Dried-out venison is not one of the great pleasures of life; tender, pink, stickily oozing venison is. Check with the point of a skewer--you want a little blood, but the meat should feel soft right through, after about 3 minutes a side. Season with salt and pepper.
When the stock has reduced, finish it with a generous tablespoon of sour cream, the cornichons and a little finely chopped tarragon. Heat the beet through in a saucepan with a bit of butter, salt and pepper and the balsamic vinegar.
Serve immediately with the medallions placed on top of the beet with the sauce ladled atop them.
--adapted from Good Tempered Food by Tamasin Day-Lewis
I served it with new potatoes and brussels sprouts and it was a meal fit for a king. I was only sorry that Sarah, Charlotte, Tamasin and AL weren't able to join us. Nevermind, next time perhaps?