Thursday Sept. 1, 2011
Before my recent vacation back home to Newfoundland, I was very excited to eat as many local products as I could, as well as try a few restaurants, both new places and old favourites. I was not disappointed as I was able to get my hands on lots of fresh seafood, berries, local wines and beers in addition to trying some creative restaurant fare. One of the things I was most excited about on my trip was a rare opportunity to cook with moose. While I do get to use "bottled moose" occasionally down here in the Boston States, as followers of this blog may know, actually cooking with raw moose is something I haven't done in years. Thanks to my generous uncle, there was a large bone-in roast and a pack of short ribs from a central Newfoundland moose waiting for me at my parents' house upon my arrival in Trinity Bay.
For some time now I knew what I wanted to do with the moose. I am a big fan of braised meat, and one of my favourite ways to eat it is slow-cooked with lots of onions in some beef stock until it is extremely tender. Playing along those lines, I really wanted to put my own Newfoundland spin on it, to make the meal a truly wicked scoff. Part of our vacation took my wife and I to New World Island off Newfoundland's north-central coast. Known for its scenic fishing villages, great hiking and its prominent location in "Iceberg Alley," this little part of Newfoundland can also boast excellent wine.
Auk Island Winery in Durrell's Arm, South Twillingate Island, features a large variety of wines featuring local Newfoundland berries and fruit, such as blueberries, partridgeberries bakeapples and rhubarb. In addition to offering sweet dessert wines, and semi-dry fruit/berry wines, Auk Island also pairs the above-mentioned native berries with varieties of grapes to make blended wines that are a little drier than typical berry wines, thus making them great wines for all occasions, including pairing with food (for example try the blueberry-shiraz) and for cooking. While we were there we couldn't decide which few to buy, wanting a couple to bring back into the States, so we bought a whole case, having lots to sample with family and friends during our stay. The one that caught my eye for both drinking and cooking with was their Moose Joose, a blend of blueberries and partridgeberries, and presumably summer grazing food for Newfoundland moose.
So, back to the moose. With the Moose Joose wine, my dish planning was in order. Since blueberries and partridgeberries grow on Newfoundland marshes and barrens, I decided to call my braised dish "moose barrenland"...sort of a play on "Boeuf Bouruignon." Now that I had selected the wine to cook the moose with, I needed some other ingredients. Using classic braising vegetables I combined browned moose pieces (seared in small batches in a little oil) with onions, carrots, celery and garlic, a whole bottle of Moose Joose, three cups of moose stock, a little tomato paste for body, some flour to thicken the sauce, and some salt and pepper. Cooked low and slow for 3 1/2 hours, I ended up with succulent morsels of moose with a rich, flavorful sauce. Paired with some buttery mashed potatoes, carmalized onions and mushrooms and steamed vegetables, and my family and I were well-fed with a dish to remember. Here's how I put it together. Remember if you don't have moose, any wild game would be great paired with the wine, as would beef.
1 (4-6-lb) bone-in moose roast, bone removed and meat cut into stewing pieces
3 large yellow onions
6 large carrots, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
3 cups moose stock (or beef stock)
1 (750-ml) bottle of blueberry-partridgeberry wine
1 tsp dried summer savoury
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for searing moose
2 bay leaves
The first job is to remove the meat from the bone. This is best done ahead of time so you can make the stock. Working carefully with a sharp knife, follow the individual muscles and remove them from the roast. Be sure to strip off excess fat and silver skin, which can be tough to eat. Once all the meat has been removed, cut the moose into stew pieces, about 1 inch in size. Set aside as you'll use the bone to make a rich moose stock.
In a 325ºF oven, add the meaty moose bone, along with 1 chopped onion and about 3 cups of water and a bay leaf to a small roaster and cook for about 90 minutes. Remove from oven and strain liquid, which should yield about 3 cups of stock. In a heavy bottom Dutch Oven or cast iron skillet, heat about 1 tbsp of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Dry the moose pieces with a paper towel and season them well with salt and pepper. Sear and brown the moose in small batches and set each batch aside until all the moose has been browned. You may have to add more oil between batches. It is very important to keep the batches small (3-4 batches for this amount of meat) as overcrowding the pan will lower the temperature and you won't get a good sear. What will happen is the meat will give off moisture and you'll end up with steamed meat with no browning. Browning equals flavour!
After the moose has been browned, add the chopped onions and carrots to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Lower the heat to medium. Stir the veggies around the pan with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape off the "fond," the browned bits of flavour stuck to the bottom. The veggies will absorb and release the fond, and the salt will help with this process. Next add the butter, garlic, flour and tomato paste and stir well with the veggies. Cook for about 1 minute.
If you cooked the moose and veggies in a Dutch oven, and the vessel you plan to braise in, add the moose. If you browned the moose and veggies in a cast-iron skillet transfer everything to a roasting pan. Deglaze the bottom of the pot with the wine and beef stock, add the dried savoury, bay leaf and some salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients and place covered in a 325ºF oven for 3 to 3.5 hours. The moose will be fall-apart tender and the liquid will have thickened into a rich, velvety sauce.
Serve the Moose Barrenland over garlic smashed potatoes, with sauteed onions and mushrooms and some seasonal vegetables.