Each year, Chef Daniel Boulud (of Daniel, Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud fame) opens the doors of Daniel on New York’s Upper East Side to wild game lovers with a taste for luxury. Tables groan with delicacies evoking traditional autumnal feasts of the Old World, but Boulud tweaks creative dishes based on the best ingredients available. The same goes for the unpredictable but on-point wine choices, which might include a well-priced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc next to a collectible Barolo. Wine Enthusiast caught up with Boulud to talk about the tradition, garner some tips for cooking game and snag a few Boulud venison recipes to make at home this fall.
Wine Enthusiast: How did your annual game tradition start?
Daniel Boulud: Good friends who happen to be Daniel regulars and like to shoot and fish would ask us to prepare private game dinners for them. Occasionally I’d join them on a shoot upstate. One of my mâitre d’s, Bernard, who’s been with me since my Le Cirque days, loves to shoot and also brings me wonderful game birds just for us to enjoy amongst ourselves. But word gets out about these things, and Daniel customers started asking about the game dinners, so we opened them up to the public.  was our sixth annual.
WE: What are some tips you can offer to readers for preparing game meat (particularly venison)?
DB: If you’re cooking a leg or shoulder of venison, always marinate it, preferably overnight. It’s not absolutely necessary for a loin or tenderloin, but a good idea. The marinating makes it more tender and complements the flavor. We use anything from red wine and Port to Armagnac, Cognac and even raspberry beer. Season the marinade with seasonal flavors like juniper, barberries, sage, nutmeg and always some thyme and a little garlic. Since venison is usually very lean, you can nourish the meat while it’s cooking and keep it moist by adding some fat. Wrap in colonata, a kind of cured Italian lardo, or even just bacon will do the trick. For a little luxury and depth of flavor, thread the venison with black truffle or cured veal tongue.
WE: What is your favorite type of game meat to prepare?
DB: Grouse has a distinctive game taste, but it’s not overpowering.
For information on the 2011 dinner, visit danielnyc.com.
A Fall Feast
In celebration of Boulud’s game dinner, a venison dish that highlights the best flavors of the season.
Leg of Venison With Stuffed Mini-Pumpkins
From Cooking with Daniel Boulud (Random House, 1993)
Raj Vaiday, Sommelier at DANIEL suggests the following wine pairing for Daniel Boulud’s venison recipe: Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Saint Joseph, Rhône Valley 2005
For the leg of venison:
1 6- to 8-pound leg of young venison (or ½ large leg), boneless and trimmed
1 cup onions, peeled and cut into ½-inch wedges
½ cup carrots, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
½ cup celeriac, peeled, cut into ½-inch dice
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
2 bay leaves
½ tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
1 750-ml bottle full-bodied red wine, for cooking
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons oil, for cooking
2 pounds venison bones, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the stuffed mini-pumpkins:
8 mini-pumpkins, 3–4 inches wide, scrubbed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup apples, peeled, split, cored, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 cup sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼-inch dice
¼ cup bananas, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
8 cups water
6 cups salsify root, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 3-inch segments
1 cup oil, for frying
16 chestnuts, skin slit on the dome side
16 spinach leaves, stems discarded, thoroughly washed and patted dry
For the leg of venison: Place the leg of venison in a porcelain or other nonreactive baking dish and spread the onions, carrots, celeriac, garlic, juniper berries, bay leaves and black peppercorns over the top and all around. Add the red wine. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the venison from the marinade and pat it dry with a paper towel. Strain the vegetables and set the wine and vegetables aside separately. Salt and pepper the venison leg.
Heat the cooking oil in a large roasting pan on top of the stove over high heat. Add the venison leg and brown on all sides. Place the bones all around the leg, the marinated vegetables over the bones, mix, and roast in the oven for 15–20 minutes. Turn the leg over, stir the bones, and sprinkle the flour over the bones and vegetables. Mix well and roast for 10 minutes more. Add the red wine marinade, stir well, and cook for 20–30 minutes more or until the internal temperature of the venison has reached 130°F for rare to 150°F for medium. Transfer the roasting pan to the stovetop and remove the leg to a cutting board, keeping it warm under a tent of aluminum foil. You should have about 2 cups sauce left in the pan. If you have less sauce, add ¼ cup of water. Reduce the sauce to 1 cup over medium heat for about 15 minutes, add salt and pepper, and strain over a small saucepan. Discard the bones and vegetables. When read to serve, stir the butter into the warm sauce.
For the stuffed mini-pumpkins: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the whole pumpkins in a roasting pan, cover with a piece of aluminum foil, and bake them for 30–40 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool, then cut off and discard the top section, about ¼-inch of the cap. Scoop out and discard the seeds with a small spoon. Scoop out the flesh and set aside with the hollow pumpkin shells.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, apple and sweet potato dice, bananas, and cinnamon and sweat for 8–10 minutes. Add the heavy cream and simmer gently for 15–20 minutes until the sweet potatoes are cooked. Transfer the sweet potato and banana mix to a blender or food processor, add the pumpkin flesh, salt and pepper and blend until finely puréed. If the mixture is too thick, add a few drops of water. Stuff each pumpkin shell with the purée (not quite to the rim) and keep warm.
Bring 8 cups of water with 1 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice to a boil. Add the salsify and boil for 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Drain, cool, quarter each piece lengthwise and set aside.
Heat the oil to 350°F in a large heavy-bottom pan. Fry the chestnuts for about 3–4 minutes. Remove, drain on a paper towel, and peel while warm. Set aside with the salsify. Fry the spinach leaves a few at a time for about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt.
Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the salsify pieces and the chestnut and toss for 2–3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish each stuffed pumpkin with 6–8 pieces of salsify. Place 2 chestnuts side-by-side on the edge of each pumpkin, and stick 2 fried spinach leaves between the chestnuts.
To finish: Carve the leg of venison into thin slices. Arrange the slices, slightly overlapping, around a large platter. Place the stuffed mini-pumpkins in the middle of the platter. Pour half of the hot sauce over the meat and the rest into a gravy boat to be served on the side. Serves 6 to 8.