Visiting family in the USA was always a bit disconcerting when it came to mealtimes. Biscuits and gravy? Biscuits? A disturbing image of chocolate Hobnobs and Bisto comes to mind. Still, I’ve always been game for something different.
I quickly came to realise that everything wasn’t quite as it seemed. Biscuits and gravy was actually savoury scones with a creamy sausage meat sauce. Now how good does that sound? It’s now one of my favourite breakfasts.
Biscuits in the US came out of the civil war when cooks were looking for a cheap addition to meals as they had no yeast for bread. Cobbler reflects that origin as they can be made with either US style biscuits or bread. Or even pastry. The UK steak and kidney pie which comes in a dish with a pastry lid could be considered a type of cobbler.
I hadn’t eaten one for a long time, but after puzzling over what to do with a shank of venison it just popped into my mind. I’d been reading Lizzie’s chilli recipe and thinking how well it would work with venison, when I had a brainwave. There was no cornmeal for cornbread (my usual chilli accompaniment), but I had plenty of flour. And so venison chilli cobbler was born.
The dish is gloriously rustic, even rugged. It’s just the sort of thing you’d want after a hard day’s hunting. Probably made with the remains of the last deer you’d dragged, huffing and puffing, through door of the ol’ wood cabin.
At any rate, this is warming winter food at its very best. The venison is tender enough to cut with the proverbial spoon. The chillies give everything a gentle heat and the fluffy scones soak up the sweetly savoury juices without disintegrating.
Venison chilli cobbler
Feeds three, or two if you have been hunting deer and are very hungry
Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients or directions. You can do this in stages over a couple of days, and there is nothing complicated. You can make substitutions and additions aplenty too. The main thing is to have tender meat, a rich stock and some warmth.
If I made this again I would add some more chilli and probably not bother with the juniper berries. I’d also make sure to knead the biscuit dough as my biscuits came out a little flat. Using 00 Italian flour instead of UK plain would also help with the fluffiness.
1 shank of venison
Some red wine
1 onion – peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot – peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery – roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 rosemary twig
A couple of sprigs of thyme
A small bunch of parsley
3 juniper berries
The shredded venison
1 onion – peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot – peeled and finely diced
1 stick of celery – finely diced
Half a red pepper – finely sliced
1 red chilli – finely sliced
1 dried black chilli – soaked in hot water and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic – peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 stick of cinnamon
The reserved venison stock
1 tblsp plain flour
Some red wine
225g plain flour
1 and a half tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 egg – beaten
Fry the onion, carrot and celery in some oil for five minutes. Add the venison and brown on all sides. Glug in about half a glass of red wine, top up with water until it almost covers the shank, add the herbs, some salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat for about 2-2.5 hours.
When it is cooked, remove the shank (the meat should be slipping off the bone) and pour the liquid through a sieve into a jug. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Shred the venison. Return the liquid to a pan and reduce by a third to a half until you are left with a meaty stock.
Put some oil and a little butter in a wide pan over a low heat. Add the onion, cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and red pepper, cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
Toss in the chillies, garlic and oregano and cook for about a minute, then add the shredded venison and stir it in. Scatter in the flour and stir. Glug in some red wine and a splosh of sherry vinegar. Stir well, when it is simmering, add about half of the venison stock, turn the heat down as low as it will go and simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding more stock if it starts to go dry. You’re aiming for a thick juicy, meaty stew that holds it’s shape.
Turn the oven on to 200C.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub the mixture between your finger and thumbs until it’s the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Pour in the beaten egg and mix into a dough, adding a splash of milk as required.
Knead and then roll the dough out to 1cm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut the scones out. You should get 6-8 scones.
Put the venison mixture into an oven proof dish, lay the biscuits on top and brush some milk over their tops. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the biscuits have risen.