Friday, April 22, 2011

Venison roast and cheesy polenta

I'm the first to be straight up with you.  I'm not a fan of salt.  Sure, I'll shake a little on popcorn.  Maybe on fried chicken.  But that's about it.  Salt started getting a bad rap about the time I was in junior high school, and my junior high school answer to bad health news was to stop using salt altogether.  It has literally been decades since I was a regular salt user. Before I became interested in cooking, my salt shaker would gather dust on the shelf.  I think I carried the same one-pound Morton salt container through four different moves.

Oh, I have reluctantly begun buying salt again, but only for the purposes of baking and only to achieve the proper results.  Salt is a necessity in bread.  But when you remove something from your life, your taste buds become overly sensitive to it.  Think about the first time you tried curry.  Or hot chilis.  You probably thought it was too hot or too spicy.  Over time, through repeated exposure, you become accustomed to these things.  But for me, the whole world is in love with salt.  Canned soups, vegetable, and restaurant food can be a real problem for someone like me.  And I generally avoid most salt-heavy prepared foods. So when I made what amounted to Italian gravy from a packet for my venison roast, I was a bit taken aback by the extraordinarily heavy salt content.  When I say extraordinary, I mean that my mouth nearly stung from the aftertaste of the gravy.  Thinning it out didn't do much to improve it.  But not being willing to throw away a perfectly good venison roast, I thought that pairing this dish with a subtle, creamy side dish would perhaps tone down that salt lick.

And given that lactose-intolerance and creamy aren't words that pair well together, I decided to limit my creamy dish to a Parmesan polenta.

I tried my very first Cook's Illustrated recipe for Creamy Polenta and it was a winner.  Since that is a paid site, and I'm not sure the link will work, here is the recipe again.

Cook's Illustrated Creamy Polenta
7.5 cups water
2 cups milk
1.5 cups polenta
4 tablespoons butter
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 medium garlic clove, minced
pepper to taste
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

In a heavy-bottomed pan, bring water and milk to a boil over medium heat.  Add the salt and pour the polenta into the pan in a stream as you stir the liquid.  (This prevents clumping.)  Reduce heat and let cook 20-25 minutes until the water is absorbed.  Stir regularly.  Failure to do so will result in a massive clump on the bottom of your pan.  Just saying.  When the water is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the butter, garlic, and cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Pour entire mixture into a 13" x  9" pan and cook in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  Serve immediately.  To store, cover tightly with plastic wrap.

To make the roast, I took a venison roast of about 1 lb. and seared it in a heavy bottomed pan coated with some olive oil on high heat.  Don't cook the roast through.  Cook it maybe half way done.  Remove the meat from the pan and allow to rest on a cutting board.  After 5-10 minutes, slice the roast into thin strips.  It will probably be raw in the center of the roast.  Put 48 oz. of beef broth in a pan and turn the heat on medium.  Add the packet of your Italian gravy mix and add about 2 chopped, peeled carrots.  You could also add onions if you wanted.

The gravy will thicken quickly. When it does, return the sliced meat to the pan and allow to simmer over the lowest heat setting for another 10 minutes.  You can turn the heat off at this point and store or eat immediately.

I poured a generous amount (about 3/4 cup) of polenta onto a plate and topped with the meat, carrots and gravy.

It was really good.  Would have been great had I made my own gravy.  I'll be honest.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be retaining water for about a week.

I am just not used to eating salt.

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