One of the classic ways of cooking with brunost in Scandinavia is to use it to enrich slow cooked game dishes that have been laced with juniper. I first discovered it in Andreas Viestad’s Scandinavian cookbook, Kitchen of Light. The sweetness and unexpected tang help to lift the sauce away from fuggy earthiness and gives the sometimes thin liquor a glossy glow. It’s the Norwegian equivalent of adding some dark chocolate to a Mexican mole.
I picked up a handsome venison shank from Balham Farmers’ Market that would have been just as happy (and a lot more expensive) had I encountered it in Gothenburg. The meat was as dense as lead and spoke of a life of permanent effort and back-breakingly hard work.
It needed to be cooked as slowly as possible – in a way that could cope with the rich flavour of the meat and the tense meat. So I decided to throw mushrooms, red wine, spelt, juniper and onions at the casserole dish and abandoned it for the afternoon whilst it burbled away in the oven. Whilst June isn’t the normal time of year to be writing about venison shank stews – the weather right now is making me feel a bit like hibernating with a lump of brunost.
Ingredients to serve 2
1 large venison shank or 2 small shanks
100g of pearled spelt
100g of dried mushrooms (preferably porcini or morels)
100g of sliced button mushrooms
30g of brunost
A good handful of juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
400ml of stock to cover (but top up with water as required)
2 glasses of red wine
Salt and pepper
Rehydrate the dried mushrooms and make sure you keep the liquor.
Roll the venison shank in seasoned flour and then brown in a hot cast iron casserole dish. Remove and then sweat the onion, button mushrooms and garlic until they have taken on some colour and the mushrooms have shed some of their juice. Then add the spelt, rehydrated mushrooms (and their liquor), the juniper berries, bay leaf and venison shank. Cover with red wine and stock until well covered. Then bring to a simmer.
Once it is bubbling away, pop on the lid and place in the oven to cook for another 2 hours or so at a low heat. You must check on its progress to make sure it doesn’t dry out as the spelt with absorb a surprising amount of liquid. Top up with stock, red wine or water as you wish.
Once the meat is lethargically giving up its grip on the tendons and bones remove from the oven and drain off the liquid. Strain these luscious juices into a pan and reduce to a condensed slick of brown heaven. Check for seasoning and add more juniper berries. Then when it is getting a bit thicker, add the brunost and whisk like a madman. The sauce should thicken and become a bit fudgy. Taste it as you go and don’t over reduce because the sugars may catch. Keep this warm whilst you attend to your cauliflower cheese.
Strip the tender venison meat from the bone and assemble with the spelt and mushroom stew, topped with the glossy brunost and juniper sauce, alongside the brunost cauliflower cheese and some wilted spinach.
Like still waters, this dish runs deep. The combination of sweet and sour brunost with bitter juniper mixed with the feral depth of the mushrooms and venison make this a dish that a Viking, returning from a day of pillaging, would be very happy to come home to.
The book itself is a beauty to look, charming to fondle, fun to read but frustratingly dilute when it came to the subject of the Chop House part of the idea. Sure, the meat was beautifully photographed and well annotated with interesting commentary and the odd recipe, but where it could have been a seminal T-Bone, it seemed bashed out like a minute steak. If you want a masterclass in meat and generally chop-housery, opt instead for HFW’s The River Cottage Meat Book, Hawksmoor At Home or the Ginger Pig Meatbook. But then again, maybe Hix thought it had been done already.
Rather perversely, Mark Hix’s book comes into its own in the less meaty sections. His chicken livers on toast recipe is a beauty and his fennel salad dressed with orange juice and vinegar is very good too if you ease off on the rape seed oil. And his fish with peas and leaks is delicious.
But, the best two things I’ve cooked from his book are a couple of punchy soups which seem to capture his bold, mischievous and blokey personality to a soupy T.
The first was golden beetroot soup, which captured my attention as it was supposed to, because the golden coloured beetroot was intended to trick your dinner guests. This bright yellow soup looked like butternut squash, or possibly a saffron spiked courgette soup, but tasted earthily of the very essence of beetroot. Arguably even more so than if it was red. I've since sown some golden beetroot seeds and hope to recreate this soup back in London with my own vegetables.
The second was for a horseradish soup which almost blew my head off as I grated the fresh root in my Magimix. Even with a topping of walnut floaters and a dab of goats’ cheese it was explosive.
If you like your soup to be vibrant, exciting and a conversational hand grenade, this one is for you. But if you like your potage to be further towards the potato or broccoli end of the spectrum you may want to give this one a wide birth and go for the golden beetroot version. Soupifying the horseradish only seems to make it even more psychopathically strong – and using golden beets seems to make them even more beetrooty.
Chilled Golden Beetroot Soup:
400g golden beetroot
Salt and pepper
1 chopped onion
1 litre of vegetable stock
Mark Hix suggests boiling the beetroot. But I much prefer to bake them in salt as they seem to emerge sweeter. Allow to cool and then peel and chop them into chunks.
Sweat the onion in the hot oil in a large saucepan. Once softened, add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Then add the chopped beetroot and remove from the heat.
Blend it until smooth. Pass it through a sieve to make it super silky.
Either serve on its own. Or with some goats' cheese or curd floating on top. Or a swirl of cream. Or if you are feeling a bit Swedish, with some grated horseradish on top.
1 chopped onion
1 chopped leek
1 tablespoon of flour
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
100g grated horseradish
1-2 tablespoons of double cream
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Sweat the onion and lieek and cook without colouring for a few minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux and add the stock gradually. Season and simmer for 30 minutes.
Next do the fun part. Grate your horseradish using the grater attachment on your Magimix. Or just do it by hand. The hit of horseradish is one of the most intense experiences I've ever had whilst cooking. So watch out!
Add the grated horseradish to the soup and simmer for 5 or 10 minutes. Take off the heat and then blend until smooth. Pass it through a sieve for extra smoothness.
Check for seasoning add the cream, heat up and serve.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: