Comfort food at its finest. This is the classic British meatball, mixed with a bit of liver and oats, wrapped in caul fat. Yeah, I hear ya: Some of you just got a bit less hungry. But hey, have I ever steered you wrong before? I didn’t think so. Walk with me a moment.
If you like meatballs or meatloaf, you’ll like these. The grain — ground oats in this case, although breadcrumbs work, too — keeps things moist, and a little bit of liver ground in there adds a lot of flavor without getting all… livery. It’s a great use for wild game livers if you save them. Add to this the classic “Scarborough Faire” spices of parsley, sage, thyme (no rosemary, although it’d be fine) and wrap the thing in caul fat. More on that in a bit.
If you are British, you are probably saying to yourself right now, “Well, those are faggots.” Yes they are. But as any English speaker knows, that word also happens to be one of the harsher things you can call a gay man, and gay men are, justifiably, displeased when we blithely use that term for this dish. If you remember when Brazil nuts were universally called “nigger toes,” it’s basically the same thing.
So what to call them? Not crepinettes, which, while great, are a French thing, and may in fact be derivative of the English version. (This is disputed.) There are also the amusing names “savoury ducks” or “poor man’s goose,” but they’re not terribly helpful. Really they are a meatball. A very good meatball.
I use venison here, but pork is traditional. Use pretty much any meat you want, so long as there is ample fat. Without fat, you will have dry and sad meatballs.
You’ll also want to try to get your hands on some caul fat. If you are a hunter, look for it when you gut a deer or pig — caul is the lacy lining of the gut cavity behind the diaphragm. I’ve managed to save it in several wild pigs and deer I’ve shot, and it’s perfect for this recipe. What is caul? A fatty membrane that helps whatever you wrap it with a) stay together, and b) stay moist. Aside from meatballs, you’ll see caul used to wrap really lean meats like venison loin and hare.
Admittedly, it can be tough to find. Most butcher shops will be able to get it frozen, and that’s OK. But if you don’t live near a butcher shop, you are most likely out of luck unless you get your own from the animals you hunt. Your other option is really thin bacon. Not as good, but it’ll work.
What do these meatballs taste like? They taste homey, warm and juicy. A little soft, welcoming and very meaty. The caul mostly cooks away, but leaves just enough to make it seem like there is an ultra thin sausage casing around the meatball; a little snap.
Once baked, they keep well for reheating, so are a great Sunday night meal you can serve again during the week.
- 1 pound venison
- 1/2 pound bacon ends (or regular bacon)
- 1/2 pound venison liver
- 1 cup oats or breadcrumbs
- 1 cup minced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cups venison broth or beef broth
- Caul fat or very thin bacon
- Take the caul fat out if you are using it and soak it in tepid water with a little salt tossed in, maybe a teaspoon. This will help it loosen.
- Cut the venison, bacon and liver into 1-inch chunks and freeze for 30 minutes to an hour, until they are about half-frozen. Grind the oats in a food processor or spice grinder into a coarse meal like coarse corn meal. Or, just use breadcrumbs.
- When the meat is ready, mix it with the onions and grind on a medium die, 6 mm if you have one, or the "coarse" on a Kitchenaid grinder. Put the meat in a bowl and mix with the oats and all the herbs and spices. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Gently unravel the caul fat into one layer and lay it on a clean work surface. Form balls with the meat mixture of about racquetball size, a little smaller than a baseball or the size of a small orange. You want them big. Place the ball on the caul fat and slice enough of the caul around it to wrap the ball completely. Arrange seam side down in a baking dish. If you can't find caul fat and are using thin bacon, wrap the balls in bacon strips until you have them covered. Repeat until you have all the meat done.
- Bake uncovered in an oven for 40 to 50 minutes, basting every 10 to 15 minutes with the stock. Serve with mashed potatoes and peas.
The caul fat matters here. Your meatballs will be far better with it than with the thin bacon, but they'll still work with the bacon. Most butchers will have caul frozen, and even some larger supermarkets should be able to order it for you. Caul fat can be frozen and thawed several times with few ill effects, so you can keep some on hand for whenever you want to make this or its French cousin, crepinettes.