Fresh off the heels of bacon-wrapped bacon and chili con carne soused in Velveeta for the superbowl comes the weeklong gag-me season of red velvet everything. A quick scan of the interwebs reveals red velvet cake pops, red velvet cheesecake, red velvet panna cotta, and even red velvet cosmopolitans- in the case of that last one, NO, two wrongs don’t make a right so don’t even think about it. Put down the cocktail shaker and man up, you namby pamby sissy.
So yeah, Valentine’s Day is coming and we all have our crosses to bear with Cupid. Some of us dismiss it out of hand as a Hallmark holiday while others desire expect a flatbed of roses delivered to the office at an opportune time so as to bask in the envious glares of perpetually-single cat lady colleagues. Regardless where you fall on the scale of ostentatious displays of pink-frosted love, you’ve gotta eat. So why not eat a bloodbath of visceral carnage to get closer to that thumping, pumping organ inside your chest cavity that’s supposed to be responsible for all the paramourious emotion- the heart.
The heart is the body’s main transfer station for blood. Sometimes it sends it up top and you feel really brainy like you could sort out a Rubik’s cube using only your pinkie toes. Other times it sends the blood down low and the only solution is to tend your secret garden with the deep, penetrating strokes of a big hoe. Either way, there’s blood involved, so why not mirror that on the plate for Valentine’s Day? In the words of my straight-shooting friend John from the blog Foodwishes, “The way to a man’s heart is through well-seasoned meat… and vice versa.”
With that in mind, I chose all things bloody and (naturally) red to express the profound color of my passion on Valentine’s Day. Naturally there’s meat. In this case it’s venison tenderloin. Beef tenderloin is the bees knees and can be substituted, sure, but the hot, wet feeling of a purple-red deer loin throbbing in your hands is unlike anything else. Or maybe it’s kind of like SOME other sensation, but I can’t quite nail it…
Venison is an ideal V-day meal because it is high in iron. Fact: if you are iron-deficient, you are shit in the sack. Think of yourself like a penis: when you are nutrient-rich and full of blood, you can bang away like a horny bunny. When the blood rushes out and you grow limp and listless, your orgasm-inducing skills are gone with the wind.
As I am wont to do, after a good rubdown in star anise, salt and garlic powder, I cooked the venison tenderloin sous vide for two hours at 129°F. I have been told that extended cooking with game meat in the water bath will result in a more pronounced gamey flavor and mealier texture, so if you intend to do this, time accordingly. While the venison bathed away her woes, I prepped the plate’s supporting cast.
First I made golden beet jam. I combined boiled beets with sugar, meyer lemon juice, star anise, salt and pectin and cooked it down until it had just the same texture as apricot preserves. This is a great way to take advantage of seasonal bounty and to insert a little color into the dreary vestiges of winter.
In keeping with the emerging beet theme, I also fried beet chips, both red and golden, to provide a textural foil to the tenderness of the venison and pasta. They couldn’t be easier, or better. Just peel a beet and slice as thinly as possible using a mandoline if you’ve got one, dredge in rice flour, and deep fry at 350°F until crisp- about three minutes.
Then I conjured cappelletti filled with beet puree and sheep’s milk cheese. Cappelletti are pasta that look like little hats. Forming them is easy and fun. First you cut (homemade) pasta sheets into squares (a square cutter is helpful for this), and next you put little blobs of filling in the center of the square. Then you fold the square into a triangle, joining the two tips across from one another. Next you fold the bottom part of the triangle onto itself, and finally you wrap the bottom folded section around your finger to form a little ring that you pinch together to hold the shape. If you want a photo-heavy tutorial on making this fantastically-fun pasta shape, check out this post.
And finally, a bloody beet gastrique tears through the hardest of hearts and spatters burning love across the mottled canvas of life. I made it by combining all the raw blood I could squeeze out of the tenderloin before I bagged it and cooked it with beet juice, verjus and veal stock. After the tenderloin cooked, I added the jus accumulated in the bag, and strained the sauce several times to achieve a color and texture much like ruby port.
Just before the tenderloin goes on the plate it needs a quick-sear. I slathered mine in oil and rolled it in pistachio dust so it would have a chartreuse crust and a subtle nutty flavor. Plus, nuts are sensual and all food served on Valentine’s Day must have sex appeal, UNLIKE red velvet cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes don’t scream “make sweet love to me all night, baby,” they scream “I’m gonna smash this in your face because I’m a toddler and it’s my birthday.” If you think that’s sexy you should probably be in jail, if you aren’t already.
Pistachio-Crusted Venison Tenderloin Sous Vide in Blood-Beet Gastrique
Serves: 2 star-crossed lovers, improves strength for the bedroom calisthenics to come
Note: Venison can be special-ordered by most butchers if you’re not the hunting type. Most butchers need about 2 days notice. If you’re in Seattle, Select Gourmet in Kenmore stocks it regularly.
- 1 venison tenderloin (mine was about a pound)
- 1 star anise
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder (I use homemade smoked garlic powder- recipe here)
- Olive oil
- ¼ c crushed pistachios
- Blood from the tenderloin (mine was sealed in a cryovac bag, there was about ¼ c blood)
- ¾ c beet juice (from approx 2 peeled, juiced beets)
- ¼ c verjus (or red wine vinegar)
- ½ c veal stock
- 1 tbsp water
- ½ tsp cornstarch
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat water bath to 129°F. Pat tenderloin dry and reserve any blood in a small saucepan. Grind the anise, salt, and garlic powder in a spice grinder until uniform. Rub tenderloin in spice mixture and seal in bag. Immerse in water bath for two hours. Remove and cut open bag. Add accumulated juice to saucepan containing blood. Refrigerate tenderloin until ready to sear.
- Add the beet juice, verjus, and veal stock to the saucepan containing the blood and cooked jus. Reduce over low heat ten minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and reduce for an additional five minutes. Strain again. Reduce until you have about half a cup of sauce, then whisk in cornstarch that has been mixed with water. Increase heat to medium, whisking until the sauce boils. Reduce the heat down to the lowest setting and correct seasonings with salt and pepper.
- Remove the tenderloin from the fridge and rub with oil. Dredge it in pistachio. Sear on a hot, oiled skillet for 30seconds on each side or until crust forms. Remove from heat and slice into medallions. Serve atop beet-blood gastrique.