A few years ago, chef Eric Boyar visited Waterloo Region…
When you eat a bit of game — some venison, for instance — you generally know what you’ve got on your plate. Even with farmed semi-domestic “game” meats, rather than the kind you shoot yourself, there is that added layer of flavour and richness. Then, when you put a shot of whiskey into a deer-sausage blend, that flavour jumps up a further notch or two.
The Healthy Butcher (they have locations in Toronto and Kitchener) has partnered with Highland Park distillery to produce a red deer sausage infused with a ten-year-old scotch. I cooked up some on the barbecue at a hunting cabin I stayed at this past February. It was snowy and frosty cold, and the Scandinavian log cabin, heated primarily by a rockin’ hot wood-burning stove, was a perfect idyllic and rustic setting in which to have a meal of grass-fed red deer from New Zealand. (The setting, antlers and stuffed heads on the walls, had me imaging I had hunted the deer and made the sausage myself.)
But how did red deer sausage and scotch come together? According to Dave Meli, executive butcher at Healthy Butcher, the distiller approached them believing that scotch is a great ingredient to use in food. Meli and Healthy Butcher rose to the occasion, and it seemed they had a good time doing it too.
“I must say it has been a very fun venture,” Meli says of creating the food products. “Venison, which has a sweet and iron taste, is a great combination with the scotch, which has a nice smokey taste to it. We wanted to bring out an earthy taste to this sausage which is why we added trumpet and button mushrooms and charred leeks to punch up the smokiness.”
I took my cue from those tasting notes and cooked up some rice (which included some wild rice that is really a grass and what deer eat in the wild, I imagine), added some caramelized onion and blanched some broccolini before grilling it to lightly add a bit of char. The bitterness was a perfect complement to the juicy, rich and slightly sweet sausage.
Meli got the balance exactly right in these slim sausages. Components of the sausage are organic, and ingredients also include thyme and balsamic vinegar. I cooked them to just about medium rare. Red deer are a large species of deer and native to both Canada and New Zealand.
Of course, I sipped a shot of Highland Park 10 year-old scotch while eating the sausage. It too has good balance.
I also heated up a Healthy Butcher lamb pot pie which was equally delicious: a good balance between the rich, noticeable but not too strong lamb flavour and a slight sweetness amidst the creamy interior. Chunks of vegetables — carrots, rutabaga, celery, leeks — had good body and mouthfeel. The crust was very rich and cooked to a lovely crispness.
Meli says that scotch can reveal some of its hidden quality when it is consumed with food, and I think I can see what he means. “As an ingredient, some of its beauty is lost in the cooking process,” he goes on to note, “but I think we did do a pretty awesome job highlighting its finer points with the products that we made.”
[ A Toronto-based PR company sent me samples of Healthy Butcher-Highland Park products. None reviewed or endorsed this story before publication. ]