Cooking a 14-course dinner, part 5: The execution, dishes 8-10

There’s been a lot of talk about wine already in this series of posts, so I’ll sum up the red wine quickly: BEST.. WINE.. EXPERIENCE.. EVER!! Okay, I can do better than that, but really it would take forever, let’s just say that I managed to get my greedy, little hands on a very limited release Argentinean cult wine which, on paper shouldn’t really be much to look at (or sip at for that matter): Grown at an impossible altitude,  made from impossibly young vines and not really having had any age to it it shouldn’t be too exciting, yet it beats many classic vintage French wines in blind tests.. Which is really saying something. Now, I’ve never had 1982 Mouton Rotschild, me, and I’m reasonably willing to bet that neither has Tina  but now that I’ve had 2007 Riglos, I’m not sure I really want to.. Because this DKK 400 bottle of wine was sure as fuck good enough for me.. Incidentally, I sat next to a bottle of 1982 Rotschild during a tasting once and that nearly cost me more than the entire bottle of Riglos on account of the Rotschild being like DKK 10,000 a bottle.. but I digress.. What I wanted to get at was that once the wine hit the glass, it shut both Tina and up good, which is a feat to say the least, and nearly made me forget about the food coming up, coz.. fucking hell.. Tons and tons of ripe fruit, thick, deep, impressive lasting taste which filled the mouth for minutes on end, smokey/roasted notes and an unmistakable smell of my granddad’s old tobacco cabinet.. Which might not really sound like much of a good thing, but believe you me, it was! Quiet reflection grabbed us for several moments as we swirled our glasses, sniffed, tasted, stared lovingly at the fluid within and just sorta zoned out.. Until someone realized that, oh right, there was food to be had!

Dish 8: Pheasant in two ways: thigh and breast, Celeriac confit, baked shallots and reduced pheasant stock

I end up doing pretty weird spontaneous things from time to time which probably goes to explain why I suddenly this winter found myself coming home from the local supermarket with a frozen pheasant in my bag of groceries. Of course, I’ve absolutely no idea how to cook pheasant, and, funnily enough, I still don’t have a clue.. But, as the observant reader will know, not having a damn clue about how to do something hasn’t usually kept me from attempting to do something.

So, I went on my merry way, assuming that cooking a pheasant was probably a lot like cooking a small chicken – and as it turns out, it’s really not – but who was I to know? So, I whacked the drumsticks off the little bird, cut off the breasts (something that always makes me wince and feel a little sad, coz hey, I like breasts as much as the next guy), wrapped the breasts in a little bit of the left over artisan ham, then chucked both breasts and drumsticks in the oven at a very low temperature for a very long time. The rest of the bird carcass, I chopped up in a rather brutal manner and chucked it in a pan with some vegetation, a bit of water, salt, pepper and a fair amount of white Burgundy. I then applied some low heat to (eventually) create a slowly reduced pheasant stock.

Once the stock was done, I skimmed off the fat and combined it with a bit of celeriac root and thyme and chucked it in the oven along with some shallots to create a confit of celeriac and baked shallots which I figured would go well with the pheasant. A bit of a gamble, really, as I had absolutely no idea what pheasant tasted like, but luckily enough a pretty good match as it were.. The end result ended up looking a little something like this

Which doesn’t really look too bad at all, and ,really, it wasn’t.. The only problem, really, was that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Had I know that, I would probably have known that pheasant breasts need high heat for a very short time, not low heat for a very long time. The result was a bit of a gummy mess, but a good one at that, though. In short, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the taste which was all-out gamey in a lean kinda way.. (A little like duck, only good!) It was the chewing that posed a bit of a problem, which was a crying shame because we both agreed that the combination of pheasant, ham and celeriac was borderline awesome.

The drumsticks, though, were much better, probably owing to the fact that when it comes to poultry, thighs have always had more fat and connective tissue than breasts have.

Tina, being the sweetheart that she is, immediately took it upon herself to make a note in her tasting notes stating that pheasants have very small breasts and that one should be careful when handing them. I, on the other hand, took to giggling, going “teehee, she said breasts” while I cleared the table for the next dish..

Dish 9: Pork ribs braised in Danish vintage stout, smoked, hay-baked celeriac and brussel sprouts sautéed in bacon fat

I’ve had many a stab at seeing exactly how ridiculously expensive and decadent dishes I could produce. Caviar, lobster, Kobe beef, King Crab and saffron oriented dishes have ensued.. For my next trick this evening, I wanted to try something completely different.. I wanted to see exactly how cheaply I could produce something that could be considered gourmet grade. I forget exactly how much money went into the project but I think it was something to the effect of DKK 50 (which by my calculations amount to about 2.5 grams of Caviar, but I digress), for which I got almost 3 kilos of pork ribs, some celeriac, a few mixed veggies and some Brussel Sprouts.. Oh, and a bottle of 2008 vintage stout which I only managed to sneak into the budget because I bought if for like DKK 5 a year ago when it zoomed past the best before date and stores apparently can’t sell things they consider expired – even if they were made for storage.. Go figure!

Now, I’d like to state that while I didn’t exactly spend a lot of money paying for the dish, at least I put a lot of time and effort into cooking the dish for a person I love.. But.. Umm.. Yeah.. Truth be told, I just sorta chucked things in a pan, applied heat and forgot bout it while zooming off to take care of some work-related business.. So love, yeah.. Time, well, kinda.. Effort? Umm.. Well, I did put SOME effort into hand picking the meat off the bones after simmering them for a good four hours? As much effort as it could possibly take to pick fall-apart tender meat off a bone..

Ahem, anyways, come serving time, I reheated the new boneless fall-apart tender pork meat in the sauce created from the simmering process and served it over a mash of smoked, hay-baked celeriac (which was really just celeriac wrapped in hay and a very basic salt/flour/water dough, then baked in the oven and afterwards subjected to a bit of smoke)  with a few Brussel sprouts sauteed in bacon fat on the side.

It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t hard, it wasn’t pretty.. But MAN was it tasty! And apparently Brussel Sprouts are super hard to get right, so I did score some street cred with Tina for actually making them tasty, of course I also scored a few pretty weird looks when trying to explain (and sell) to her the concept of hay-baked celeriac. I did win her over, though, and she went from “how can anything with a faint taste of grass possibly be considered a good idea?”  to remarking in her tasting notes that the mash was “great, great, great!” .. Told ya, babe! 😛

Dish 10: Tenderloin of venison on a bed of wilted spinach, Pommes Fondant, sautéed shallots, roasting juices and blackberry gastrique

Here’s a fun fact (about Bratislava).. Since I first got into cooking, I’ve really cared less and less for tenderloin.. I mean, it’s such an overrated piece of meat, really.. No no, hold the cries of outrage and hear me out here. I mean, tenderloin is a nice and tender cut of meat and all (hence the name TENDERloin, I’m guessing), it’s just frightfully boring tastewise. I mean, compare it to a nicely marbled ribeye steak or, hech, even a piece of flanksteak and you’ll know what I mean. It’s kind of ridiculous that a much more (supposedly) inferior and cheaper cut of meat can have so much more flavor.. But, once again, and for the umpteenth time in this post, I digress.. What I can’t deny is that there’s something oddly flashy about tenderloin, I mean, it’s a prestigious cut of meat..

So, how to make tenderloin an appealing eat for food snobs such as myself? Well, how about jazzing it up a bit? By adding some spice? And some gameyness? Heck, sounded like a plan to me! So when I happened to stumple upon a nice, little piece of venison tenderloin in the local supermarket.. Well, it ended up in my shopping basket for much the same reason that the poor pheasant mentioned above did, and much like the poor pheasant mentioned above, I took it home, not really knowing what the hell to do with it. Unlike pheasant, though, I have quite a bit of knowledge about how to cook tenderloin. So what I ended up doing was searing the meat with some spices (pepper, coriander, salt as far as I recall) first thing when I arrived at Tina’s on the date of our little dinner experience. I then rested it a bit while I deglazed the pan, added shallots, thyme and a bit of ox tail stock and red wine. This sauce base went into a pot while the tenderloin went into the oven at like 55 degrees C, and both things were just sorta left there until main course time rolled around some 5-6 hours later.

When eating time rolled around, I evacuated the tenderloin from the oven, pulled the sauce off the heat, got out a pan and wilted a bit of spinach down in a bit of bacon fat, put the spinach on a plate, topped with a few thin slices of tenderloin, sprinkled a bit of pommes fondant casually around the plate, added a few drops of blackberry gastrique, drizzled a bit of sauce over the whole thing and served it up amongst cries of “ooh” and “aah”.. Easy as pie! (well, complicated like pie, really, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?)

And how did the dish fare? Well, thankfully venison tenderloin is a lot more interesting than beef tenderloin – mainly in that it has a lot more flavor to it. The spinach was good, too, and bacon of course adds a magic touch to everything, doesn’t it? I was more nervous about the tenderloin and blackberry pairing that I’d sorta pulled out of nowhere, but thankfully that went down nicely as well.. The blackberries had a bit of a sweet and sour twang to them that mixed well with the deep, gamey flavors of the meat.. The only thing that didn’t work, really, was the part I was most excited about – the Pommes Fondant which are basically fried potato cubes which are then steamed in veal stock. I had a good feeling about it all, I mean, fried potatoes are good, veal stock is good.. But combined it turned into a bit of a soggy mess with the crust pealing off he potatoes and not really doing much good for anything.. It was an interesting idea and it was okay, it just wasn’t gourmet grade.. Not that I’m picky or overly scrutinizing when it comes to my own cooking or anything.. Better luck next time.. The dish was pretty visually stunning, though, and went down well with both of us.. And even better with a glass of the impossibly delicious wine.. Did I mention the wine already?

Oh, right.. I guess I did.. Next up.. Desserts!

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