In the cold winter months, cooking can quickly become redundant. Fresh produce on this side of the country is practically non-existent during this time, and as much as I love my proteins, I can only eat steak, chicken, or fish so many times in a given week. So, it is a rare but welcome moment where I find something new and potentially amazing to make.
When initially perusing the Eleven Madison Park: The Next Chapter cookbook upon release over a year ago, I saw this amazing-looking venison dish, which I kept in the back of my mind for the right occasion. So when D’artagnan — one of my prefered meat purveyors — was having a sale that included boneless venison loin. I jumped at the opportunity to stash some away in my freezer. I didn’t know when I would actually make it, but I knew at some point I would.
Several weeks later, we had a couple of friends coming over for dinner, and I thought this would be a great dish to serve. That is, until I found out that one of them hates beets. Since this dish includes beet juice, beet chips, beet relish, caramelized onion-beet puree, and smoked beets, I thought maybe it wouldn’t go over so well. So, the venison stayed in my freezer for another day.
Before I knew it, my free time was consumed with planning and prepping for Thanksgiving and New Years dinners, and I forgot all about the deer meat I had stowed away. It didn’t help that every time I brought up the mere idea of the dish, my wife made it sound like venison was the most repulsive thing in the world. As resistant to the idea as she was, I knew once she tried it she would like it. That’s pretty much been par-for-the-course with her, with the exception of when she met me (and fell instantly in love).
As is often the case with an EMP recipe, you can never read the instructions carefully enough or too many times. They are highly complex instructions, and one small slip can make the difference between a great product and a disaster. While examining the tasks ahead, I became confused by one part of the process — the lengthy and complicated step of making crepes to wrap around the loin, followed by a coating of hard-to-find vegetable ash.
I could not think of any plausible reason — other than aesthetic — for these steps, so I emailed the Eleven Madison cookbook helpline (yes, that is actually a thing) for help. They confirmed my suspicion that the crepe and vegetable ash were not really necessary. They are used to enhance the grilled look of the protein as well as to provide a subtly more even cooking process. Since I decided I was going to cook the meat sous vide, anyway, it was a moot point. Yay: one less thing for me to do.
The day before I would be serving the dish, I began by making beet juice, which would be used in a few of the sub recipes. I was excited because this was maybe my third time using my juicer, which I bought several months prior and for a while was convinced was a waste of money.
I then proceeded to the carmelized onion puree, which the recipe states can be made a few days ahead of time: I’m always happy to find ways to alleviate the amount of cooking that needs to be done on game day. Caramelizing onions properly can be a pain, and I always went for the super-dark mahogany color that can literally take hours. But, after reading this Serious Eats article about the process, I am now convinced that one can achieve similar-tasting results in a fraction of the time. At least, somewhat convinced.
I would imagine that one of the biggest pains with regards to this recipe would be making the chicken ju — a sort of highly reduced and flavorful stock that forms the base of almost every Daniel Humm sauce. This process basically takes at least two days. Luckily, I had a couple cups frozen and vacuumed sealed in my freezer from when I made an EMP dish in the summertime. So, with that already knocked out, I got a good night’s sleep and was ready to proceed with the recipe in the morning.
The first component I got started on in the morning was the smoked beets. I combined the skin-on beets with duck fat, chicken ju, red wine vinegar, and a couple other ingredients and cooked them in my steam oven for a couple hours. I then smoked them using my smoking gun for about 15 minutes. The final step calls for grilling on binchotan charcoal (which is also supposed to be used later on when grilling the venison). I love binchotan (if you’re not familiar, Google it), and I’ve tried to convince myself it would be safe to use in my apartment. However, after extensive online research, I’ve determined that while doing so for a short period of time would most likely be okay, it’s not really worth the risk of exposing my family to carbon monoxide poisoning just to get a better-tasting char on a piece of meat.
After preparing a beet-relish that contains pickled mustard seeds — which I always have on hand — I moved on to the beet sauce. This concoction, which includes cold-brewed coffee and pig’s blood, sounded intriguing, but I had to omit the blood. Not only am I semi-kosher, but my only association with pigs’ blood is when my father told me as a young boy that it was the dirtiest swear-word in the German dictionary. The blood is used as a thickening agent and as a way to provide a deeper color, but the sauce was already thick and a beautiful bright red hue, so I didn’t really miss anything by leaving it out.
As previously mentioned, I decided to cook the meat sous vide, as I had never worked with venison before and this was a good way to ensure it was cooked perfectly. While the meat came to temp in a water bath, I began making the beet chips. If you have any experience deep frying things, this step is a cinch.
I must admit, the plating of this dish in the book looks very intimidating, but it wasn’t too bad at all to emulate. It tasted delicious, and I completely converted my wife into a venison fan. I only wish beet juice didn’t stain your hands so easily.