Before you embark on this, make sure you have a roasting pan large enough for one leg and whole shoulder of venison. You can, if you need to, cut the leg at the joint, to make it fit.
Oh kalu kalay! I’m actually back cooking again! I had forgotten how incredibly calming and fulfilling it is to stand in front of the stove. I missed all of this terribly.
A few months back I started sending feelers out in an attempt to find a front leg of venison to make this recipe. Since we live in the state of Texas, where the deer are plentiful and the locals are good shots, I figured it wouldn’t be too long before someone would be kind enough to either sell or outright give me a whole front leg and shoulder of deer. A few of the people I talked to were confused. Why did I want that piece? Didn’t I know that there isn’t much meat on the front leg? Even after explaining that I was working my way through “The Cookbook” and that I needed it to be accurate, they scoffed at me.
Thankfully, my father knew some people who had a whole frozen leg of deer available, and were willing to part with it for nothing. So I’d like to thank Debbie Herry for the front part of the leg, and Dan Juracek for the two gorgeous front shoulders.
Possibly the best part about making this recipe-aside from the eating-was that I got my first chance to remove the skin from an animal part. I was intimidated as all get out, but the act itself was so much simpler than one could have ever imagined:
A quick slice down the back of the leg, and the skin peeled down like a furry stocking.
A hack with my bone chopping cleaver and the hoof came right off at the joint.
Easy. Really, jaw-droppingly easy. Who knew?
I wish I had taken a picture of the front part of the leg without the fur on, because I’d be able to show you a bone covered in pure white tendon. That tendon is the reason Mr. Henderson asks for the whole front leg. When braised, it’ll melt and infuse the dish with flavor and body. One of the hunters I had talked to claimed that he always gave the front legs to his dogs. Those are some lucky dogs!
But before I could start cooking with the venison, I needed to rehydrate some wild mushrooms. Mr. Henderson calls for porcini mushrooms, which turned out to be the ingredient that NOBODY had on hand. Three stores were visited, and each of them were completely out of stock. So if you were running around Austin recently buying all of the dried porcini mushrooms, I’m shaking my fist in your general direction. Thankfully I managed to find some dried wild Yuan mushrooms, which claimed on the package that they were grown in a forest. Desperate for time, the substitution decision was made for me. Two hours later in a hot bath, the dried mushrooms were brought back to life.
The fungi were drained, but this sexy looking mushroom stock was reserved for later use.
With my roasting pan straddled over two burners I added a big knob of duck fat, some homemade chunks of bacon-with the rind rolled up and tied-carrots, leeks, and onions. The veggies were sweated until soften, then the re-hydrated mushrooms joined the party. After a few more minutes it was time to add the front shoulder and leg of venison along with a handful of peeled garlic cloves, a bouquet garni, a whole bottle of red wine, a little chicken stock, and the aforementioned mushroom stock. Some quick seasoning…
… a covering of aluminum foil and the pan was ready for a medium hot oven for over three hours. Around the 2 hour mark, the house was filled with unbelievable perfume of venison cooking. Working in the garage was a form of sanctuary for the last hour.
Eventually enough time had passed for me to return to the kitchen, and I was greeted with the above. Oh mama, how good does that look? You can see at the bottom of the leg where the meat has pulled back from the bone, meaning that the leg had cooked enough. Oh, and that tendon that I was swooning over earlier?
No longer bone white, the tendon has started to melt away. At the time I was debating whether or not to put the pan back in the oven for a bit longer so that more of it could rendered off. I was so hungry at that point though that waiting just wasn’t an option any longer.
My fears were unfounded. This recipe produced the most tender, succulent venison I’ve ever eaten in my life. Mr. Henderson claims that it’s due to the cartilage and fat found only in this part of the animal. Served with all of the duck fat infused root vegetables and meaty, musky mushrooms over mashed potatoes, my wife excitedly claimed that this recipe, “tasted like the forest” which I believe is the very best way to describe it.
One forest in a bowl for me, please!
One down, sixty one to go.