Do you like the flavor of wild game? I can’t say it’s something I’d eagerly order off a menu, but a swiss gastronomic tradition that I recently learned about changed my mind enough to give it a try…in my kitchen. La Chasse coincides with the start of hunting season in autumn when mushrooms and chestnuts and a bounty of wonderful foodstuffs are begging to be foraged. The phrase means “the hunt”, and ungulates caught in the crosshairs wind up as robust main courses along with several sides to round out the meal. If you’re in Switzerland during the months of October and November, you’re bound to see restaurants with La Chasse signs like these.
I’ve never felt confident enough in my cooking skills to venture outside the comfort zone of domesticated flesh, but a description of the elaborate La Chasse spread was too tempting to resist. In Italy, wild game (cacciagione or selvaggina) is served with polenta and that’s it. Not bad at all but it pales in comparison to the splendid table of our neutral neighbor. Brussel sprouts, purple cabbage with apples, mushrooms, chestnuts, pumpkin, wine-poached fruit, cranberry sauce, spaetzli…all of what sounds like a cornucopia at harvest time.
Frozen cervo (venison), cinghiale (boar), capriolo (roe deer) and lepre (hare) vacuum-packed in 1 kilo amounts are common enough at a small grocery store that we know. I have to be blunt about the fact that cervo (venison) is just plain weird-smelling. Nope, that’s being too vague. Venison stinks. It smells like dirty socks mixed with weeds and what I’d imagine to be Gollum’s acrid burp all rolled into one! Soaking the meat in wine for 12 hours lessens some of the gamey-ness. Simple aromatics like carrots, onions, celery, black peppercorns and herbs set a solid base for flavor, and a long, slow simmer will tame that piece of game into a tender bite. Sampling a morsel of venison with a smear of chunky cranberry sauce was a tastebud discovery, the bare hint of wild and the tangy sweet of cran in a perfect compliment of flavors. This is a winner. Score 1 more for the Swiss. Chocolate, cheese and La Chasse!