Hello dear reader,
I have recently been to another chef masterclass at my local farm shop at Hopetoun. You may remember the previous masterclasses I have been to there…
The latest masterclass was all about venison and the guest chef was Craig Wood, chef-proprietor of The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry. Here’s Craig outside his restaurant, with wife Vikki who is in charge of front-of-house, and accompanied on either side by sous chef Sam Dorey and restaurant manager Alasdair Campbell.
When we arrive at Hopetoun Farm Shop sitting on our seats to greet us is a cute postcard bundle tied up in string. The postcard features the Wee Restaurant with the iconic Forth Bridge in the background.
Inside are easy-to-follow recipe cards for most of the dishes Craig will create for us tonight. It is a lovely touch!
So, on to the food! Venison is the theme for the evening, all of which has been sourced directly from the Hopetoun Estate. Their venison is available year-round, has previously achieved Gold in the Great Taste Awards and starts at a very reasonable £12.90 per kilo. Craig uses different cuts to create a variety of dishes for us…
Venison mousse tortellini on cauliflower cream
Craig whips up the venison mousse by blitzing cubes of venison with dijon mustard and truffle oil and then gradually adding cream. It forms a smooth mousse which he spoons into a piping bag and puts in the fridge to stiffen up, so it can be piped in the middle of each pasta disc.
Craig’s top tip for making pasta is to refrigerate the dough for 2-3 hours and then take out of the fridge half an hour before rolling and cutting. It is best to dust the bench with semolina, rather than flour, as flour can make the dough very dry. I’m interested to see that Craig’s pasta machine is the same size as mine at home – for some reason I expected a bigger machine for a professional kitchen. I must dig out my pasta-maker from the back of the cupboard and start using it again!
When Craig asked if anyone wanted to have a go at forming the tortellini, I was keen to learn. Here’s me (in the middle) trying to make my tortellini – it is much tricker than it looks and I ended up making mine back-to-front. Craig kindly reassures me that it doesn’t matter, as long as it holds together when it cooks, but I can just imagine John Torode’s outrage if I were on Masterchef! I think I’ll stick to making ravioli!
Craig also makes a cauliflower cream by sautéing sliced onion and cauliflower in butter, then adding a little water and blitzing. Interestingly Craig mentions that he rarely uses vegetable stock, as he thinks it diminishes the flavour of the individual vegetable. He also reminds us that a cream can be the basis of a soup – just add more water!
The mousse in the tortellini is meaty and creamy and full of flavour. The cauliflower cream is buttery with a wonderful fresh cauliflower flavour – I certainly agree with Craig that using a vegetable stock would have spoilt the excellent depth of flavour of the cauliflower. The tortellini is topped with coriander micro herbs and the plate is dressed with a strong balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil, which adds a nice tang.
Venison boudin and black pudding on celeriac remoulade
Craig had made a double batch of his venison mousse and the venison boudin is made from this, with the addition of fresh breadcrumbs. A boudin is the French term for a sausage and Craig makes the sausage shape by rolling in cling-film and tying the ends with more cling-film. This is then cooked in hot (not boiling) water, allowed to cool, then placed in the fridge for a few hours to set, finally being sliced and sautéed for a minute or two on each side.
I am able to ask a question which has been bothering me for years! Is it a special kind of cling-film that chef’s use for this method of cooking? I have always been a bit nervous that the cling-film would melt, or the food would taste of plastic. Craig reassures us that he has tried various brands of household cling and never had a problem!
The black pudding Craig is using in this dish is French black pudding as it is much softer and finer than a Scottish black pudding as it doesn’t have oats in it, more like a blood sausage.
The celeriac remoulade is finely shredded celeriac mixed with mayonnaise, mustard and parsley. This is best left overnight in the fridge for the flavours to develop fully – I do love dishes that can be prepaid in advance like this. Craig mentions that he just uses cheap mandolins (around the £20 price), as they are affordable to replace. More expensive ones need to have the blades sharpened or replaced, which can be awkward/dangerous or just as costly. I have been hankering after a mandolin for ages and now resolve to just buy a cheap one.
The venison boudin is surprisingly light and delicate in flavour and deliciously moist. Much as I prefer to buy local whenever possible, Craig is correct to use the French black pudding here as its texture matches the venison boudin perfectly, although eaten together its flavour outcompetes it. The celeriac remoulade is fresh and creamy and intense with mustard. The plate is dressed with red amaranth micro herbs, which are very pretty but their delicate beetroot flavour is lost amongst the strong flavour combinations of the dish.
Wine expert Neil Roberston from Wood Winters is on-hand to suggest wines to accompany several of the dishes. The first wine he gives us a taster of is Gran Sasso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 from Italy. This is earthy and rich in berries and spice, so holds up well against the spicy black pudding. All the wines are available from the Hopetoun Farm Shop.
Carpaccio of venison, topped with seasonal asparagus
For this dish Craig is using the venison loin, the most expensive cut, as per sirloin in beef. The loin is seared quickly in a hot pan and allowed to cool. Next it is rolled in a paste of chilli, coriander, garlic and olive oil; then rolled in cling-film and put in the fridge to marinate for at least a day and up to four days. Craig tells us that this recipe also works well with beef fillet – the key is to buy the best quality meat possible.
The asparagus is simply blanched for a coupe of minutes and then sautéed in oil. English asparagus is in season right now and Scottish asparagus will be close behind it.
I adore this dish! The venison is so soft it almost melts in the mouth, the flavour comes through well since there is virtually no cooking involved and there is a lovely tang of chilli heat. The asparagus is perfectly nice but, for me, this dish is all about the meat and needs nothing else.
Neil’s recommended wine is Mon Vieux Merlot 2010 from Elgin in South Africa. This is a dark plummy Merlot, given an earthiness and extra depth of flavour by its brett. I investigate this term further later on and learn that brett is short for Brettanomyces, a type of yeast often blamed for spoiling wine but which at low quantities can enhance and improve the depth-of-flavour. It is achieved in this instance by not cleaning the vats as scrupulously as other wine-makers may do. This might sound a bit off-putting but is the same sort of idea as adding mould or bacteria to cheeses to enhance the flavour.
Roast loin of venison with wild mushroom risotto and truffle vinaigrette
The risotto is started by frying shallots, garlic and risotto rice in butter and then gradually adding water, with fried mushrooms being added halfway through cooking. Once the rice is al-dente, parmesan, oil and mascarpone is added and cooked for another couple of minutes. Craig advises us to avoid the common Arborio rice when making risotto, as it can get a bit sticky and starchy, and instead to seek out Carnaroli rice, which produces a lighter risotto.
The venison loin to top the risotto is sliced, seared in a hot pan, roasted for a few minutes and left to rest. Venison should always be served rare, as it is so lean that there is no fat to protect it and it will go grainy if cooked too long. Accompanying is a truffle dressing made from stock, cream, chopped truffles, truffle oil, dijon mustard and olive oil.
The risotto is light but creamy with a nice bite and is rich in mushrooms. The mushroom flavour is further intensified by the truffle dressing. The venison is amazing – soft and delicate in texture but packed full of flavour from the searing and roasting.
Neil’s recommended wine is Nieto Senetiner Malbec Reserva 2012 from Argentina. This is rich and dark with juicy fruit but the tannins are soft, so it doesn’t overpower the venison.
Roast haunch of venison with lentil cassoulet and herb gnocchi
This dish utilises the haunch of the venison which, being a much more exercised muscle, has more depth of flavour compared to the loin. It is cooked as per the last dish – seared and roasted. The lentil cassoulet is made from confit onions mixed with cooked puy lentils, spinach and game jus.
To make the herb gnocchi Craig combines the flesh from baked potatoes with semolina, egg yolk, truffle oil, parsley and parmesan. This is formed into a log, sliced and placed in the fridge to set slightly before being fried in oil.
The depth of flavour in this dish is fabulous. The cassoulet is rich in buttery onions and the puy lentils give a slight crunch. The venison is not so smooth in texture as the loin but with great flavour. The gnocchi is a revelation! It is light and tasty and delicious. In fact, an Italian in attendance says it is the best gnocchi she has ever tasted, even better than her grandmother’s!
The evening is drawing to a close but Craig has one last surprise for us – another gift! He has very kindly brought us each a jar of his homemade tapenade. I try it as soon as I get home and it is wonderful. I first had it on melba toast but since then I may have been sneaking spoonfuls of the stuff every time I open the fridge! Shh, don’t tell anyone!
If you’d like to try Craig’s cooking for yourself, head to the Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry. It is easy to reach – just a few minutes walk from North Queensferry train station, which is a short train journey north from Edinburgh. The ethos of the small, friendly team is to create a special dining experience. Testament to this is that many of their diners come back regularly, some several times a month. The menu changes frequently in tune with seasonal ingredients but there is one very special dish you can be sure will always be available. On the menu from day one, once dropped but re-instated due to public outrage & demand, is Craig’s speciality of Shetland Mussels with Bacon, Fresh Basil, Pine Nuts & Parmesan.
Thanks for a great evening chef & thanks also to Hopetoun Farm Shop who invited me along to the event. Rumour has it that they enjoyed Craig’s dishes so much, he will be back for another masterclass, so keep an eye on the Hopetoun Events listings!
By the way, I received a complimentary ticket to the masterclass in return for writing this blog post. I was not told what to write and all views and opinions are my own. Thanks to Samantha Milanesi of Hopetoun for supplying most of the photos.
If you enjoyed this article, here are some of my other articles on chef masterclasses at Hopetoun Farm Shop…