Beast in a bag This one has tomatillos, figs, apple and onion in it.
I’VE BEEN ON a sort of culinary quest lately. How do you cook large bits of venison without drying the meat out?
Then a friend mentioned that she always cooks roast chicken in a bag because she doesn’t like it drying out, and that conversation must have stuck in my head. Why not use a bag as a way to conserve and add extra moisture and flavour to a piece of venison while it cooks? There were a few bits of leftover deer that I thought could be appropriate for an oven bag experiment.
When it comes to experimenting with food, it’s all about what’s available at the time. At this particular time we were sidestepping buckets of ripe figs, tomatillos and apples donated by generous neighbours, and all these things came together in one gallant rush.
I took a front leg out of the freezer. My Dearly Beloved sawed the thing in half so that it would fit in the oven bag, and I began arranging fruits and vegetables around the meat with gay abandon.
Initially, my idea was to have ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of the dish but unfortunately (that is, unfortunate only for the purposes of digital recording, not for diners) the fruits so daintily arranged around the bones fell apart and turned to mush. This unexpectedly created the perfect base for a sumptuous, delicate, fruit-flavoured gravy. The figs, apples and tomatillos had done a fine first job as a steam baste for the meat - all I had to do was add a bit of cornflour - and their juices had a second life as gravy. 1.5-2kg venison 4 tbsp olive oil ■ ¼ cup red wine or cider or white wine vinegar 1 tsp mustard powder 1 tsp of paprika or 1 tsp cumin ½ tsp salt ■ ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper ■ 2 heaped tsp of dried herbs – I used oregano and rosemary 1 apple 4 cloves garlic, peeled 1 stick celery ■ Optional: figs, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes Cornflour Milk Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put the venison into a large oven bag and place in a roasting dish. Mix the oil, vinegar, mustard powder, paprika or cumin, salt, pepper and dried herbs in a jug, then pour over the meat inside the bag, coating the pieces as best you can. Cut the apple into quarters and chop a stick of celery into 4-5 pieces, then add these and the garlic to the bag. If you have figs, tomatillos or cherry tomatoes, add 4-6 of each. Securely tie up the bag with the plastic tie provided and bake for 1 hour. Remove from the oven. Taking extreme care, turn the bag over so you redistribute the juices onto the other side of the meat. You can also open the bag at this stage and add chunks of vegetables like parsnip, kumara, potato, beetroot, carrot and pumpkin. Be very careful opening the oven bag as the steam from the juice comes rushing out and can cause nasty burns (I speak from experience, so be warned!). Bake for a further 30-45 minutes, then open the bag and drain off the liquid into a small pot. Add 1 tbsp of cornflour mixed in 3-4 tbsp of cold milk for every cup of meat juice you pour off. Slowly bring to a simmer, until thick. Add a dash of cream if you like your gravy creamy. ■