Saturday, January 21, 2012

If You Cook with Foods You Think You Don't Like, Will That Make You Like Them?

I think even the most die-hard foodies out there have foods they don't like.  It's hard to love the tastes and textures of everything.  If you truly have a discerning palate, how can it possibly be pleased by everything that crosses it?

Of course I'm way off course from your average foodie since I slide out of "discerning" and veer right into "picky".  I'm not as picky as my husband, or my niece and nephews, or my brother-in-law, or my one particular BFF with the super-sensitive sense of smell, but there is a rather substantial list of foods I actively avoid.  I don't eat seafood, peas, lima beans, olives, blue cheeses, or grapefruit and I doubt I ever will.  I just really can't tolerate the tastes and smells of those foods.

There are plenty of foods I have said I don't like over the years and have learned to acquire a taste for either because my taste buds aren't as sensitive as they were as a kid, or because I learned ways to prepare them that are tolerable, or because certain varieties taste better than others (e.g. Yukon Gold vs. russet potatoes or cremini mushrooms vs. shitakes).  I think that despite being razzed by my family over the years for being a picky eater, I have come a pretty long way.

But what about foods I have never tried before?

I'll admit for much of my life I have been a food skeptic. If I never tried it, I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it.  I could see food that looked good in a photo, but if it didn't smell right on the plate, I wouldn't eat it.  I had definite ideas about how something would taste and most of the time I believed it would taste bad. 

I like to think I have outgrown some of that.  I'm usually open to trying new fruits and vegetables these days since my vegetable preferences are kind of limited and I feel I need to expand.  I try to approach every new food with an open mind. 

So let's talk about game meats.  For most of my life I never ate them.  No one in my family or in my circle of friends hunts, so I grew up sheltered from venison, rabbit, pheasant, quail, and other meats like it.  At first my reaction was purely just disgust.  " SHOT BAMBI."  I wouldn't touch something like that just on principle.  Hunted meat seemed so cruel.

I have softened my stance on that over the years.  Game meat is the ultimate free range meat and is leaner than the grain-fed bloated beasts in the supermarket.  Even though the concept of hunting for sport (versus hunting for the procurement of food - and yes I know the two are not mutually exclusive) still makes me twitchy, I'm far more tolerant of the idea of eating the spoils. 

Just because I'm more tolerant of the idea doesn't mean I'll automatically enjoy the taste though.  Again, it's not easy for a suburban girl with no hunters in her circle to eat stuff like this.  Even though I'm willing to try it now doesn't mean I have many opportunities.  On this blog I have managed to try cooking quail and pheasant with reasonably good results.  On my trip to Wyoming two years ago I tried elk and ate more bison than I have ever eaten in my life and enjoyed them.  The one thing I had never tried was venison.

I did try venison once.  I should correct that.  I was at a very upscale venue on New Year's Eve once and I had a multi-course wine-pairing dinner.  By the time the venison course came around I had drunk a glass of champagne and 3 glasses of wine.  I'm not sure I really noticed how the venison tasted.  I even ate half the fish course that night.

I needed to know once and for all how I really felt about venison.  I don't want to spend my life disliking it out of prejudice.  I really needed to try it.  The best way to try it would be to prepare it in my own kitchen - if I could only get my hands on some.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this at the local Shop Rite earlier this week.

The stuff cost and arm and a leg, so I was reluctant, but I knew the cut was big enough for a few meals.  Of course that would mean nothing if I hated it.

When I brought it home I took it out of the package and examined it.  I was surpised at how smooth it was.  It almost looked like a slab of organ meat.  There was very little grain to it. 

Here goes nothing.  I seared it in the pan.  I liked the way it smelled at first.  There was a naturally spicy scent to it.

I cut it into medallions and served it with what I call Standard TERP Sauce - in other words onions (or shallots), garlic, wine (in this case pinot noir) and in this case, juniper berries.

The end result?  Meh.  The meat was a little mealy . The taste was unexceptional.  I caught hints of different flavors here and there - some good, some not so good.  My sauce came out wonderfully and that helped it quite a bit, but I'm not inclined to eat venison again.  I suppose if I were in a restaurant and the venison was being prepared in a way that sounded really intriguing I would try it, but I won't go out of my way for it again.

I also think I let it overcook.  I had seared it at first, but my medallions sat in the sauce for longer than expected as my dinner ended up delayed.  I wonder if they would have tasted better if they were cooked less.

I wasn't sure whether or not I would post this recipe.  I was debating it all week.  I decided to do it since technically the recipe was fine. 

Venison Medallions in Red Wine Sauce

  • 1 venison tenderloin
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 diced shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup pinot noir
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
Heat olive oil in a pan and add the shallots.  Cook until soft.  Add the garlic and cook one minute more.

Sprinkle the venison with salt and pepper  and add to the pan.  Brown well on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side (more if you want it cooked more).  Remove from pan and keep warm. 

Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft.  Add the wine,  stock and juniper berries and bring to a boil and let it reduce down a bit.  Bring to a simmer.  Cut venison into medallions and cook a minute or two more.  Don't let it overcook though.  Adjust for seasoning and serve.


bellini said...

I believe that we will all like anything if it is cooked in a way that we would enjoy it. I detest cauliflower but if you cook it, and blitz it in the food processor with Parmesan cheese, garlic and cream it is nice on pasta. It has only been the last few years that I have began to enjoy mushrooms and blue never say never:D

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Val - That's true about the cauliflower. I used to avoid it at all costs, but I do eat it roasted or pureed - particularly as a mashed potato replacement. I admire your ability to like blue cheese. I'm not sure I'll ever bring myself ot eat enough of it to acquire a taste.

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