Saturday, 27 December 2014

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day

We ate the reindeer on Christmas Day. Well, we ate the reindeer pâté I had bought back from Sweden. Still, the kids were shocked that we could eat Sven - Rudolph’s temporary replacement as ‘most lovable reindeer’ (Note to those without children under 12: he is the reindeer in ‘Frozen’). It was a very gamey venison pâté (that worked well alongside a milder and sweeter Ardennes pâté).

There is a reindeer farm in Wales, at Poundffald Farm on the Gower (see links below). However, they are not eaten; they earn their keep as a visitor attraction and by being hired out, for instance, to the annual Swansea Winter Wonderland. Robert Owen, the farmer, started the herd in 2006 to accompany his Christmas tree business (Gower Fresh Christmas Trees). The herd is now 19 strong and includes 12 breeding cows. In a recent Wales Online story, he describes how, in addition to grazing, he feeds them on specially-formulated food pellets and reindeer moss (the lichen Cladonia rangiferina) imported from Sweden.

In northern Sweden reindeer are herded by Sami communities, while there is also a large elk farm. Reindeer and elk are commonly eaten in Scandinavia. You can buy reindeer and elk burgers in the UK from the touring ‘Exotic Burgers’ business. This often puts down in Cardiff during the ‘Cardiff International Food Festival’. However, I encountered it last outside Tate Modern in London earlier this month. The vendor does not eat meat himself, and says he tells the burgers apart because they all look a little different when cooked (possibly due to different fat contents etc.). Here’s a photo of their Christmas menu:

The menu was a bit lighter on the deer and antelope than compared to last summer in Cardiff (when I had the springbok). I had an elk burger to see me along the wintery South Bank, where I saw ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ again on the big screen at the BFI (the film starts with our ancestors killing antelope).

There are over 100 types of deer worldwide. Many of these are semi-domesticated in parts of their range and their meat (venison) is eaten: different deer are eaten in different countries. There are six deer species in the UK and venison in the UK could potentially come from five of these: Red deer, Fallow deer, Roe deer, Sika deer and Muntjac (you are unlikely to be eating Chinese Water Deer). Most farmed deer meat comes from the native Red deer, the largest of the UK species, with Fallow deer being the only other species farmed commercially. Consumption of venison in the UK is on the increase. In the 12 months prior to June 2014, one survey found that retail sales of venison were up over 400%.

Wales’ only reindeer herd:

We are eating more deer:

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Smoke Haus and some notes on the cooking of meats

In which I ponder about burger trends and “pulled” pork, but first I eat some slow-cooked meat.

The Smoke Haus is a south Wales-based American diner. It has locations in Swansea and Cardiff (Mary Ann St, Cardiff CF10 2EN); the latter, and more-recent outlet, was the destination for our lunch for three.

I had the ‘Smoke Haus Pulled Pork Hoagie’, billed as a “smoked shoulder of pork slow-roasted for 12 hours, pulled and served in a hoagie roll with dry slaw, baby gem lettuce and apple sauce.” As with everyone on the sandwich menu, it was served with ‘slaw and skin-on fries. My companions had the ‘Slow cooked brisket deli sandwich’ (“served in toasted bloomer bread with red onion, cheese, sweet mustard, pickles and Russian sauce”) and the ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ (“pan fried wafer thin top side of beef topped with melted Emmental cheese, sweet fried onions served in a hoagie roll”). Other US-themed sandwich choices included the Reuben, the Elvis Po Boy and the Texas Link Po Bo. I rated mine the best; though it was all very tasty meat. The Smoke Haus is a very welcome addition to the Cardiff food scene.

The American influence at The Smoke Haus extends to portion size. You are likely to get served more than you can eat. The table next to us were making good use of ‘doggy bags’. You don’t have to treat it, as their website encourages, as “a challenge not for the fainthearted”. There are Brits we know living in the United States who assume they are going to get fed twice when they go into a restaurant: once at the table and again at home from the take-away left-overs (though some people apparently do feed their pets). I did eat most of my lunch at The Smoke Haus, and just demoted my next meal to a light supper.

The “challenge” at The Smoke Haus extends to the desserts. If you look past the ‘Mississippi mud pie’ and ‘Chocolate oreo sundae’ on the menu, you will see ‘The Smoke Haus Ultimate Dessert’, which comprises “a huge bowl of Vanilla ice cream, banana ice cream, marshmallows, doughnuts, chunks of pecan brownie, fresh banana topped with  squirty cream, chocolate and toffee sauce.” We passed on this.

And talking of donuts, The Smoke Haus has contributed to the growing trend for pushing the burger boundary with its ‘Donut Burger’. Admittedly, some of the buns that fast-food burgers are served in are very sweet, but the Donut Burger (as served by The Smoke Haus, though it is also served in other burger joints) takes the burger in a different direction in that the donuts are glazed and the cheeseburger patty with grilled streaky bacon is served with a sweet sauce. This breakfast, dessert or stupid burger variant, depending on how you view these things, attracted some (not unwelcome) media attention. The thick stacks of the other The Smoke Haus burgers come with (not always helpful) US-themed names, such as ‘New Orleans’, ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘The Hog Father’.

Also in the news recently was the ‘Yorkshire Pudding Burger’, served by the north of England based Rift & Co chain, described by the Independent as just the latest in a line of “stupid burgers”. It was inspired by the Donut Burger. I am wondering where the Welsh burger needs to go from here. Should the lamb patty lie between bara brith or Welsh cakes? Incidentally, an indie burger outlet has opened in Scotland called ‘The Silly Burger’, though the burgers it serves are very sensible and down-to-earth.

The Smoke Haus menu features pulled pork and pulled lamb. The term ‘pulled’ was originally restricted to pork, to describe the process when a potentially tough cut of meat (e.g. shoulder) is slow-cooked at low temperatures so that it becomes tender enough to be pulled or easily broken into small shreds or pieces using, for example, a fork. This process can also be called shredding. Its recent prevalence on menus is due to modern US-led marketing initiatives. In addition to pork and lamb, you can now see pulled beef (i.e. shredded beef brisket), pulled chicken and pulled duck on menus. In fact, KFC have predicted that 2015 will become “the year of pulled chicken”. I suspect that other critters will soon also be “pulled” (e.g. goat and rabbit have been cooked this way for centuries). As shredded meats feature in all the world’s cuisines, the possibilities for jumping on the pulled bandwagon appear endless. However, as the innuendo element is lost when you pull anything other than your pork, I think its marketing value may have climaxed.

Christopher Hooton in The Independent on "silly burgers":

Felicity Cloake on KFC and pulled chicken in The Guardian: