Crown jewels: venison liver, kidneys AND heart

1-autumn walkIt’s dusk on a dying summer’s evening and the doorbell rings. Our local chasseur (hunter) is on the doorstep, wreathed in smiles. He’s just been out in the woods checking up on the deer and wild boar population (as he is contracted to do by our commune) and he’s shot a roe deer. It will take him a little while to butcher the beast, but would I like him to set aside the liver for me?

I love game and I’m very partial to the Fifth Quarter (aka offal or organ meats), but I’ve never tasted venison liver. What’s clear from his body language (he’s wriggling and grinning like a delighted spaniel with a prize bone) is that this is quite an honour, and that the liver constitutes something of a trophy. After the merest moment’s hesitation, I tell him yesssss, I’d love it. He disappears to do his butchery, giving me just enough time to pull down from the shelf my fave book on game, Nichola Fletcher’s Ultimate Venison Cookery. On page 199 I read: “Venison liver is one of life’s great gastronomic treats.”

Ten minutes later, back he comes, proffering not just the beautifully cleaned liver but the kidneys AND the heart too. After profuse and somewhat confused thanks, I rush back again to Ultimate Venison Cookery, where I learn that if venison liver is a rare treat (“goes awfully well with chanterelles, should you be lucky enough to find any lurking around you“), venison kidneys are a-m-az-ing (“served rosy-pink on toast, or with a salad”). And as for heart… well, the heart is the bee’s gastronomic knees. With these three, confirmed Nichola later in an email, I’d got “the crown jewels”.

I can’t quite handle my crown jewels all in one week, so I’ve frozen the heart and kidneys for a later feast. This morning I went out into the woods and by happy chance stumbled upon some chanterelles and pieds de mouton mushrooms. Here’s what I did with my trophy liver:

Venison liver with potato galettes and wild mushrooms

Serves 2

1-5-IMG_0794300g thin-skinned, firm potatoes or new potatoes (5-6 medium), scrubbed but not peeled
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped lovage leaves, about 1 teaspoon
a handful of wild mushrooms (chanterelles, pieds de mouton, horns of plenty, ceps etc.) or cultivated mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 spring onions, finely chopped
250g venison liver, trimmed and cut in 6 slices about 1 cm thick
flour, salt, pepper
25g butter
sprigs of thyme to garnish

  • Slice the potatoes very thinly and put them in a bowl
  • Add salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon oil and chopped lovage and mix well
  • Pack the slices tightly into 2 small baking tins ca. 10cm diameter, pressing them down to settle them in. You can get fancy and arrange them decoratively in concentric circles, or just throw them in – just make sure the top is flat and they’re nicely snuggled in
  • Heat the oven to 190 C and bake for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the top golden brown. When they are done, leave them in the turned off oven; use the residual heat to warm some plates.
  • For the mushrooms, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy frying pan and soften the chopped onions without allowing them to brown. Add the sliced mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and leave them to stew gently and render some of their juice. Uncover, raise the heat and cook till the juices are evaporated. Remove mushrooms and keep them warm. Wipe out the pan and use it to cook the liver.
  • Put a handful of flour with some salt and pepper in a plastic bag and shake well to mix. Add the liver slices and toss them in the flour till lightly coated. Shake off any excess.
  • Heat the butter with 1 tablespoon oil over steady heat till the butter is foaming. Toss in the liver slices and fry very briefly – a few seconds each side – till lightly golden and just firm to the touch.
  • To serve, lift the potato galette(s) out onto heated plates, top with liver slices set at an angle (add any pan juices), garnish with thyme sprigs and arrange mushrooms on the side.

Weingut Dr Heger, Ihringen, Baden/Germany


Vineyards around Durbach in the Ortenau region of Baden

One of the [many] perks of living here astride three borders (France, Germany, Switzerland) is that we’re within striking distance of some fine vineyards, each with their own distinctive grape varieties and winemaking styles.

When stocks of Riesling, Gewurz or Muscat dip below danger levels, we head up to Alsace’s Route des Vins. To top up on the Pinot family (Blanc, Gris and Noir, aka Weissburgunder, Graubunder and Spätburgunder) we cross the Rhine to Baden. And when we get homesick for Swiss wines (Petite Arvine, Cornalin, Humagne or even Chasselas), the lack of world-class vineyards in the Basel region is amply compensated by the trusty Coop, which has a good selection of all of the above (go armed with the latest ed. of Chandra Kurt’s Weinseller).

The best way to discover what makes a winery tick, how/where the wine’s grown and how it was made is – of course – to meet the wine maker and taste his/her wines sur place. This is easy around here. For some you can just fetch up on the doorstep; better still, ring to make an appointment. Others have open days when you can taste the full range.

1-3-IMG_9804Recently it was the turn of Weingut Dr Heger in Ihringen in the Kaiserstuhl to open their doors. Heger (whose wines are listed in top restaurants all over Germany and stocked by enlightened importers worldwide) is large by Baden standards, with different labels/bottlings, each corresponding to a different market segment: Dr Heger wines are top of the range, named after the eponymous founder of the family business who started building up the vineyards as a hobby in 1935. The wines come from two prime Kaiserstuhl vineyards (Winklerberg and Schlossberg). Next in the pecking order come wines from the historic Gebrüder Müller vineyards in Ihringen and Breisach.

The Weinhaus Heger range, created by grandson Joachim to meet the ever-increasing demand for Heger wines, offers great-value, everyday drinking. Similarly priced are the Fischer wines (three neat little fish on the label), grown in the somewhat cooler Tuniberg vineyards east of the Kaiserstuhl, towards Freiburg. The big hitters throughout are Weiss-, Grau- and Spätburgunder (Pinots Blanc/Gris and Noir); Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Lemberger also feature.

1-IMG_9815-001The open day is super-well organised (this is Germany; you’d expect no less). You have to sign up and say which day and roughly what time you’ll pitch up. Spiegelau glass in hand, you cruise around tasting the range, starting with Weinhaus Heger, followed y Fischer, graduating to Gebrüder Müller and climaxing with Dr Heger himself (well, the wines named after him). Every year they invite a couple of winemaking friends from other regions/countries to bring their wines. A bonus this year was an appearance from the sparkly, sympathetic Martha Gantenbein to present their legendary wines from Graubünden in Switzerland (they make just two wines each year, white (Chardonnay) and red (Pinot Noir)).

1-IMG_9811It’s the opportunity to taste the top Heger wines (stars were the Grauburgunders and Spätburgunders from the Winklerberg and Schlossberg vineyards, prices ranging between €26.50 and €68), and to file away the taste memories for another year and/or when money is no object (hmmm). It’s also the moment to buy. We majored on Spätburgunders from the more affordable Weinhaus Heger and Fischer range (loved their exuberant Sauvignon Blanc) with a mild splurge on Spätburgunders from the Eckartsberg vineyard. We’ll be cracking open the first any time soon; the rest is slumbering in the cellar, ready (perhaps) for our next Pinot Noir taste-off.


New Workshops for Autumn/Fall

1-1-capo2Time to get cooking together again! Bettlach workshops will start up again soon and I’ve scheduled four sessions, from Savouring Sicily in September to a full-on Middle East Vegetable Feast in October. In November we’re back closer to home with some New Tastes of Switzerland for a possible future re-edition of my book A Taste of Switzerland, in print continuously since 1992. And finally, December will bring a workshop entitled Christmas is for Sharing, a selection of snappy little holiday bites to tempt even the most jaded/overfed palates. Go to the Workshops page for the full schedule. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Tarte Tatin

1-5-IMG_0770Tarte tatin doesn’t have to be made of pommes (aka apples). It can also be made with pommes de terre (aka spuds). Here’s a wicked recipe from Geoffroy Vieljeux, erstwhile host at one of the world’s most stylish B&Bs, Mas Parasol near Uzés, now sadly no longer functioning.

We’re talking an upside-down potato tart here. For this you need a bunch of firm, waxy potatoes, a cake tin, olive oil and a salty dough a bit like Salzteig. You arrange said potatoes in said cake tin, drizzle with olive oil, cover with the salty dough and bake. And here’s where we veer away a bit from the real Tarte Tatin, for the crust is completely inedible. Its sole purpose is to imprison all the goodness and flavour of the potatoes beneath and to season them gently the while. When the tatin is ready, you turn it out to reveal the by-now-gently-golden spuds, sitting up and begging to be speared with a fork. Here’s how: Continue reading

Blackcurrant Ice Cream – The Business

1-1-IMG_0732Redcurrants have their uses but – full disclosure – blackcurrants are streets ahead on flavour. If you like sorbet cassis, you’re going to love this recipe. Store-bought sorbet (even from Picard) is fine, but home-made blackcurrant ice cream is the business. Here’s how to make your own (and you don’t even need an ice cream maker):


First you cook the fruit briefly, sieve it and let it cool. Next you make a sugar syrup, boil it to the thread stage (not nearly as scary as it sounds, see the recipe), pour it onto egg yolks and beat like crazy. Separately (OK, so you do use a few bowls for this recipe but it’s worth it, I promise) you whip up some cream. Finally you combine all three (purée, yolks + sugar and whipped cream) and chuck it in the freezer. Sorted. Continue reading

Swiss National Holiday Signals Brunch on the Farm

Every year in Switzerland on August 1st, Swiss National Day, there’s a big tradition of the farmhouse brunch. This year, 350 farms all around this pint-sized country are opening their doors and barns for the annual shindig. One of our favourites is held at Hof von Allmen in Beatenberg high above Lake Thun at the von Allmen farm. Continue reading

Redcurrants – No Jelly but a Jewel of a Coulis

1-03-IMG_9713If there’s one thing the Brits understand about, it’s redcurrants. Most people, when faced with a glut of these gem-like fruits, go all to pieces. Brits are known to calmly go about making a batch (or three) of redcurrant jelly, which they stash away, ready to serve with successive Sunday roasts of lamb. Continue reading

Basel’s Best Bars


1-IMG_5915-001Basel blooms in summer. The somewhat staid city on the Rhine perched astride the German and French borders comes to life when the temperature rises. A rash of tables and chairs breaks out on pavements downtown, people break into smiles more readily and dress more loosely – a familiar sight is of scantily clad people wandering through the streets fresh from a Rhine swim, clutching their clothes in a waterproof bag and heading for home. There are jazz festivals, open-air concerts and the famous Basel Tattoo, often with top billing from the town’s stunning home-grown Top Secret drummers. Continue reading

Pique Nique chez le Vigneron, Whit Weekend, 2014 edition


In many of France’s wine-growing regions, Whit Weekend (Pentecote in French, Pfingsten in German) is the moment when many of the smaller, independent wine growers sweep out courtyards and cellars, dust off trestle tables and benches and throw open the gates to the public. It’s time for the annual Pique-Nique chez le Vigneron. Loads of Alsace estates take part – the full list, including 92 growers in both the Bas-Rhin (northern Alsace) and the Haut-Rhin (southern Alsace), is here. Continue reading

Playing around with Asparagus

1-stack2Asparagus, white and green, is popping up all around us here in Alsace – including a spear or three in our asparagus bed, which we planted this time last year and which I’m steeling myself not to pick – still another two years to wait till we can harvest them :-(

Here’s a recipe I devised for a recent workshop on modern Alsatian food. It’s a bit of a fiddle, but if you like playing around with your food and you love asparagus, it’s a winner. Serve with a crusty sarment loaf and a Muscat d’Alsace (what else) – a 2011  Cuvée Marie from Zusslin in Orschwihr, for example, or for a real/rare treat, a 2010 Clos des Capucins from Domaine Weinbach. Continue reading