specifics, qualities, quantities and musings on juniper berries.

me thinks it is difficult to write a specific recipe. i stay away from it as good as i can, because a reader might not do just what i ask, or won't have or have access to the exact and detailed ingredients needed to turn out the job. worse yet, even  precise instructions as to weight and measure, quality and condition, often don't have the intended outcome, resulting in a cook's disappointment with the makings of his dish. butter is not simply butter. neither is chicken broth, nor juniper berries. yes, they mostly come in a jar and need to be crushed and soaked, preferably in your favorite gin. but how many berries would it take in a dish serving four people? it depends. flavor and odor decline during storage, so how old are those berries, how good is your gin, what else enhances that dish, combines in the recipe to a juniper's fragrance? not to overwhelm, but at the same time, why add seven berries, crushed and soaked, when their pinene redolence has no savory purpose? which flavor in any a dish will overwhelm, or what will be the preponderant taste, the one ruling all others?
so, say you do a stew. nothing real gamey, that would be too squirrely, but let's chose a plain jane buffalo top round. so we agree, we'll cut the meat to one by two by two. and you'll brown it in a little oil. do it in a single layer and on all sides, make it crusty, it won't dry out, it has plenty of marbling. say ten minutes. remove the meat, set it aside and do the mirepoix, carrots, celery, onion, chopped nice and square, glazed in the in the meat juices, possibly supported by small bits of bacon, say five minutes. then you want garlic and anchovies, red wine and wine vinegar, those very junipers, tomato paste and sage. another five. back goes the meat, into above concoction. cover the whole thing with a good broth, some salt and pepper towards the very end. put a lid on your pot, have the heat on a simmer and cook slowly for some seventy-five minutes, or as long as your ragu needs to be fork tender and luscious.

now, i would never presume to tell you the exacting amounts, but let's say you know your carrots, celery and onion, you own decent garlic, the broth you made yourself. your garden grows sage. then those very specifics of bacon, junipers, anchovies, wine and paste. they're variables all. as indeed all ingredients vary, the meat in its quality, grass-fed or not, tendered, or aged. so, experiment. as they say: expeeeeeriment. and take a spoon early on to the stuff. have more of the details at hand than you might ultimately use. so you can add more of the berries, the wine and the paste. taste those berries once they have soaked. too mild? add more. and a word on anchovies. i like those packed in oil, i want the redolent aroma of the little fish, not the brine they're packed in. those salties are ruder. pitchy, not of the sea. even after a rinse. your choice, of course.

i find my cooking times for a ragu relative to the cut of the meat. you want a saucy ragu where the meat falls off the spoon? so cook the hell out of it. and taste. and add, a little of this, then of that. someone asked about polenta. yes, it would be fabulous under a stew. i use the three minute instant on the wet side. but it is your dish in the end, i simply make an attempt to encourage your ways.