Tag Archives: Meat

venison root vegetable stew (the venison diaries, part V)

I started writing this post and realized- for once, I don’t have a lot to say. But that’s OK; the following is all you need to know: A small venison roast, some local root vegetables from the farmers’ market, some homemade stock, and a weekend day with enough time for a long braise can yield the following:

I don’t often get roasts from my dad, usually his venison is in burger form, so this was a first. I just treated it like I would any other tough cut of meat, braising it for a while in the stock at a low temp and then adding the vegetables later so they didn’t cook to mush. The result wasn’t earth-shattering. but it was homey, comforting and hearty, which was just what I was going for.

Venison Stew with Root Vegetables
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1 small venison roast (about 1.5 to 2 lbs)
a few Tbs bacon fat
2 cups stock, preferably homemade: beef, lamb or chicken will work (mine was actually turkey, leftover from Thanksgiving)
aromatics: a couple of bay leaves, some peppercorns, juniper berries, or a couple sprigs of rosemary or thyme would all work
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled & cut into chunks
5-6 small shallots, peeled & trimmed
4 small potatoes, scrubbed and cut in halves or quarters
1 celery stalk, trimmed & cut into ½-inch pieces
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 225°. Warm the stock on the stove in a heavy lidded pot large enough to accommodate the meat. Rinse the venison and pat dry; lightly salt the meat and rub all over with the bacon fat. Add venison to pot, cover, and braise in the oven for 2 hours. You can turn the meat halfway through, but it’s not strictly necessary. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables. After the initial 2 hours, lightly salt the vegetables, add to the pot, cover, and cook for another hour or until vegetables are tender.

If the meat comes easily off the bone, feel free to serve your roast as-is; if meat is a little tough, you can either braise a bit longer, or do what I did: Remove meat from pot until it cools enough to handle, remove from the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces; return to pot to warm through. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. If desired, serve with chopped parsley as a garnish.

chilindron (spanish stew) and a book event with hank shaw

This summer, Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook announced he was going on tour to support his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast . Much like the tours organized by many of my friends in fledgling bands over the years, this was a DIY, couch-surfing, cross-country jaunt, with Hank scheduling the events himself sans (at least to my knowledge) the aid of his publisher. Curious to see if there was anything in the works for Detroit, I emailed him and offered to help out. We went back and forth a bit as far as what type of event it should be, and Hank suggested a potluck. Marvin generously offered up his studio in the Russell Industrial building as a gathering place. I had hoped Hank might be able to spend the afternoon prior to the event foraging around the area to bring in examples of things people could find locally, but it didn’t pan out that way- the weather was already getting a bit too cold to find many wild plants, and Hank had other plans for hunting woodcock up north.

I put the word out about the event, and was pretty pleased with the response, given that I’ve worked many, many book signings where only a small handful of people show up and even less actually purchase the book. We had about 20 in attendance and probably would’ve had more if not for the really nasty freezing rain that night. But despite the inclement weather, we had quite a spread: home-cured prosciutto, lardo and lonzino, a few kinds of homemade pickles, jams, and home-brewed spruce beer were some of the contributions, in keeping with the spirit of the evening (Hank covers many curing and preservation methods on his blog in addition to hunting and foraging). Not to mention this beautiful pie that my friend Abigail (one of les culinettes) brought!

I decided to make a recipe I’d recently seen on Hank’s blog- a Spanish stew called chilindron, which I could make ahead and warm in the slow cooker. For side dishes, I put together a garlicky raw kale salad with pecorino, and a plateful of the nuptial ham. Last but not least, I was able to make paw paw ice cream thanks to a gift of some foraged paw paws courtesy of my friend Ian. I was super excited about this since I had never tried paw paw before. I wanted to do a full post just about the ice cream, but I didn’t use a recipe and it turned out a little too icy and hard, although the flavor was good. If you ever get a chance to eat a paw paw, they’re wonderful- the texture is sort of like mango but with none of the stringiness, and the flavor is delicately tropical and custardy. Some people compare it to banana but I didn’t particularly get that. Paw paws do have large seeds that are somewhat obnoxious to work around to get all the fruit off, but the effort is well-rewarded. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan without trying one until now, and I’m definitely going to seek them out next year.

As folks filtered in for the event, the table grew heavy with food; I think I sampled everything at least twice (you know, not wanting anyone to feel slighted!). We decided to eat first, and then Hank talked for a while about what hunting means to him, sharing some stories of hyper-local meals and other hunting-related experiences. Afterward, he stayed signing books and chatting with guests before heading off to Slows for a beer. I’m not sure how he felt about the event- it was a much more modest affair than many of the fine-dining events he’s been a part of- but the attendees were all thanking me profusely for putting it together, so I’m calling it a success. It was cool to be able to share something I’ve been a fan of for a while with a bunch of people who had never heard of it (I think maybe one or two people had been aware of Hank’s blog prior to that night), and have them react so positively.

Not only did I have a fun evening with great food and company, but I now have a new recipe in my repertoire to boot. The original recipe leaves a lot of leeway for different types of meats, but I just used bone-in chicken thighs, not having access to any game meats at the time. It calls for the meat “in serving pieces”, so I’m not sure if that means bone-in or boneless. Because it was a potluck, for ease of serving and eating I took the meat off the bone, but if serving at home you could leave it on. I also went against the “use white wine with chicken” suggestion and stuck with red, as I felt it would go better with the heartier flavors. Besides, I cook dark meat chicken with red wine all the time and it pairs just fine (hello, coq au vin?). I made a few other tweaks, prepping and adding ingredients where it made more sense to me, but the essence of the dish is the same. Hank’s feedback was that it was good, but “needed to be spicier”. I had followed his recipe measurements for the hot paprika, so maybe the brand he uses is just spicier; I would say, taste as you go and add more if you want a bit of a kick.  I had thought about doing rice or polenta as a starchy accompaniment, but due to time constraints wound up making couscous, which was just as suitable. Potatoes or crusty bread would, of course, be a couple more options.

Photos of stew and paw paws are mine; all other photos this post by Marvin Shaouni

Chilindron (Spanish Chicken & Pepper Stew) adapted from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
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3 ½ pounds chicken thighs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks), trimmed of excess fat
salt and pepper
5 roasted red bell peppers (see note)
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms (feel free to use up to an ounce if you’re feeling flush)
1 cup boiling water
2 large onions
10 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into strips
2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
a couple sprigs fresh thyme (optional- not in Hank’s recipe but I had some lying around and it’s a nice addition)
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon hot paprika
4 bay leaves
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Note: To roast peppers, broil or put directly on a gas burner, turning until blackened and blistered all over. Place in a covered bowl or paper bag rolled shut to trap the steam. When cool enough to handle, remove skins, stems and seeds.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables: Put dried mushrooms in a small bowl;  pour in 1 cup boiling water and cover. Roast the peppers as indicated above. Slice the onions in half-moons and mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid over medium high heat. Brown the chicken in two batches, adjusting the heat as needed. Follow Hank’s advice: “Take your time and do this right”. You want the meat to be really nicely browned. As each piece is done, remove it from the pan to a plate covered loosely with foil.

Sometime during this process, you should have time to deal with the mushrooms and peppers. Lift the mushrooms from the liquid and roughly chop, reserving the soaking liquid. Peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds; cut into strips.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until it begins to render some of its fat; if there is a lot of fat in the pan, you may want to pour a little off. Raise the heat slightly and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until they begin to soften, stirring well to dislodge the browned bits. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Return the meat to the pan, along with any collected juices. You can either take the skin off first or leave it on, your preference- I don’t care for soggy chicken skin so I remove it and nibble on the crispy parts while I cook. Increase the heat to high and add the wine, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme sprigs (if using) and paprika; boil rapidly until the wine has reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, stock and reserved mushroom liquid, pouring it slowly and carefully to leave any debris behind. The liquid should come about 2/3 of the way up the meat; if necessary, add more stock or a bit of water. Cover the pot and cook at a very low simmer for about an hour.

If desired, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and allow to cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, tearing into bite-sized pieces, and return to the pot. Alternately, you can leave it on the bone, your choice.

Just before serving, taste the stew and season with salt and pepper as needed- it will most likely need at least another 1/2 teaspoon salt. If you want it a little spicier, add more hot paprika to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Chop the parsley and serve on the side to be sprinkled on top of each diner’s dish.

GUDetroit really gets my goat… (kebabs, that is)

June 11 (only 10 days ago… it seems like months already!) was the second Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. I won’t call it the second annual picnic, because I’m secretly hoping we’ll have another one before the year is out. Nomenclature aside, it was a grand old time- you can read my post about it and see some of Marvin’s photos on the GUDetroit website. Some of the highlights were: tree climbing, willow swinging, mint spanking, cornholing (ahem), hula hooping, river gazing, and getting to finally meet Warda (who I wrote about here) and her beautiful family.

My contribution to the gluttony was a platter of kebabs and kefta, with some raita and a sort of tomato-cucumber-herb relish/chutney on the side. I’ve been eating a fair amount of goat meat lately, for a few reasons: first, I just wanted something other than the “big three” of chicken, beef and pork (we’ve run out of venison); second, because goats aren’t a large scale factory farmed animal; and third, because they have a flavor similar to lamb (which I love) but are milder and less fatty (not to mention cheaper). I will say that goat leg meat is a huge pain in the ass to cut up, unless you’re ok with a lot of sinew; I tend to get obsessive and remove as much of it as I possibly can, which explains why my prep time was three times as long as it should have been. But while goat can sometimes be a little tough, mine was pretty tender as a result of the extra trimming. If you’re using it in a long-cooked dish, you wouldn’t need to go to that trouble.

I also made kebabs from ground lamb with a little beef mixed in, and tons of spices and vegetables blended in for flavor. I’m used to anything with ground meat being called kefta rather than kebab, but the name of the recipe was “chapli kebab” or “slipper kebab”, because the patties are in the shape of a chappal, or sandal. The recipe originates from Peshawar in India, not the Middle East or North Africa, but you’d never know it from eating it- the flavors are quite similar to kefta I’ve had in Middle Eastern restaurants but with a little less onion/garlic flavor and more herbs and spices.

Recipes are below for both items, but first, here are some photos from the picnic. Although I’m not the photographer of the family, I think these capture the spirit of the day.

Tikka Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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This kebab can be made either with lamb or goat. The yogurt marinade adds moisture and its acidity tenderizes the meat, giving even a lean meat like goat a succulent texture. The original recipe did not call for any herbs or chilies, but I had them on hand and I love the way the little green flecks look in the marinade as well as the fresh taste they impart.

2 lbs boneless goat or lamb
½ cup plain yogurt
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 serrano chilies or one jalapeño, de-seeded and roughly chopped
large handful fresh cilantro leaves
optional: 6-8 mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
a few turns of black pepper

Cut the meat- if using goat, I’d aim for about ¾-inch pieces; if using lamb, you could go a little larger so the insides will stay pink.

Combine all other ingredients in a blender and pulse until the solids are blended. Combine the meat and marinade in a bowl, stirring to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Skewer the meat about 4 or 5 pieces to a skewer. It’s OK if it touches, but you don’t want it squeezed one piece against another.  Grill over moderate heat until the outside is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through but still tender (if using lamb, cook to your preferred doneness; we cooked the goat to medium well).

This is traditionally served with flatbread such as naan, but you could serve it over rice as well. I made a cucumber raita (yogurt, shredded cucumber, salt, mint) and a finely chopped salad of tomato, chilies, scallion, cucumber, cilantro and mint to accompany the kebabs.

Peshawari Slipper Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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Because ground lamb can be very fatty and therefore cook down quite a bit, I like to mix ½ lb lean ground beef in with my lamb to stretch out the recipe a bit. If you choose this option, just adjust the other ingredients upward slightly.

1 lb ground lamb (+ ½ lb ground beef, if desired)
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
2 green cayenne chilies, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chickpea flour (besan)
lemon or lime wedges

Place all of the dry ingredients (salt, spices, flour) in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Put the tomatoes and onions in a bowl and remove any excess liquid by pressing them with a spoon or spatula and pouring off the watery  juices.

Place the meat in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Knead or mix in the vinegar, tomato, onion, peppers, ginger and cilantro; then add the dry ingredients. Mix for a couple minutes or until the meat becomes smooth and almost paste-like. Fry up a tablespoon or so in a skillet to check for salt and seasonings, adjusting as needed.

Let the meat rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to blend the flavors. When ready to cook, form into either small patties and pan-fry or broil, as in the photo at the beginning of the recipe, or form onto skewers in short cigar shapes (2 per skewer) for the grill. The mixture could also be formed into smaller meatball shapes and served as a cocktail appetizer. Whatever your method of cooking, use moderate heat and cook until the surface is well browned and a little crunchy. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

a foray into curing prosciutto

Before this whole Charcutepalooza thing blew up, my friends Kim and James and I had already planned to cure some prosciutto. I wrote a post about it on the GUDetroit blog, you can read it here.

More charcuterie posts coming soon!

chorizo & potatoes in a sherry broth, and the ruhlman standard

On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”.  During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner.  Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”.  I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.

My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example.  She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth.  A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.

As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home!  I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color.  If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.

*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings.  She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work.  Hop on over there for more ideas.  I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.

Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
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1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)

Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage.  However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.

Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°.  Put water on to boil.  Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat.  Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat.  Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins).  Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.

When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).

Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop.  You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving.  Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.

bacon-wrapped meatloaf! (the venison diaries, part III)

With the exception of the occasional kofta or vat of chili, it’s not often that you’ll see me using ground meat as a base for recipes- no Hamburger Helper-type menus in this household.  But my dad gave me several pounds of ground venison a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through them, trying new things and expanding my ground meat repertoire.  My first two installments of the Venison Diaries were more experimental, but this time I decided to go thoroughly retro and make a meatloaf.

A typical “meatloaf mix” usually consists of 50% ground beef, 25% pork and 25% veal, giving a good balance of fat and flavor.  For my meatloaf mix, I used 50% venison and 50% pork.  I wanted to make sure the leanness of the venison was balanced out with the fattier pork so I didn’t end up with a dry loaf.  However, I definitely think I could have used some veal and gone with a 50-25-25 mix as well.  The recipe I used, from Cook’s Illustrated, uses a sweet and tangy (almost like BBQ sauce) glaze on the meatloaf, and also has you wrap it in bacon *drool*.  To make this meatloaf extra-special, I bought some Nueske’s bacon to do the job.  I first heard about Nueske’s via Matthew Amster-Burton in his book Hungry Monkey, and then my local grocery store started carrying it so I gave it a try.  I wondered what could be so special about it to justify an almost $9 per pound price tag… until I tried it.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary bacon.  I typically buy Niman Ranch bacon because of their sustainable practices*, and their bacon is certainly good quality, but Nueske’s is on another level- it has a different texture and “feel” than most supermarket bacon, and it doesn’t shrink up nearly as much as other brands.  Finally, the flavor is nothing short of sublime.  (And no, I didn’t receive any freebies from Nueske’s to write this blog post… but if someone at the company is reading this, I’ll be glad to take anything you send my way!! )

I figured as long as I was making meatloaf I may as well go totally traditional in my side dishes as well, so I made some mashed potatoes and peas.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve made mashed potatoes, but I do own a potato ricer, which I put to use on some white Michigan potatoes for an unbelievably light and creamy result.  The potato ricer is, yes, an extra step and an extra item to wash, but the difference is well worth it.  I wish I had made a bigger batch!  Even though this wasn’t a typical type of menu for me, Marvin and I both really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again if and when I get another venison windfall.

*I was disappointed not to find anything on the Nueske’s website about how their pigs are raised.  The only info I could find online was that the pigs Nueske’s uses are “raised to their specifications” in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada (not in Wisconsin, where the company is located) and fed a diet of a barley and corn mixture.

Meatloaf with Bacon and Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze (adapted from American Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated)
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For meatloaf:
1 lb ground venison or beef
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large eggs
½ tsp dried thyme leaves (or use fresh and increase to 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco or similar hot sauce
½ cup plain yogurt or whole milk
cup crushed saltines (about 16) or quick oatmeal, OR 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
cup minced fresh parsley
6-8 oz thin-sliced bacon

For glaze:
½ cup ketchup, preferably organic/ without high fructose corn syrup
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar or white vinegar

Make the glaze: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 350°.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the eggs, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, milk or yogurt, and hot sauce in a medium bowl.  Put the meats in a large bowl and combine with your hands (if you didn’t buy a pre-mixed meatloaf mix).  Add the egg mixture, onions, parsley, and crackers or breadcrumbs; mix until evenly blended and mixture is not sticking to the bowl.  If mixture sticks, add more milk 1-2 Tbs at a time until it no longer sticks.  (Note: I chose to go a different route and blend the meat in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  This gave a totally different texture to the finished meatloaf, but one that I personally prefer.)

Place the meat mixture on a work surface.  Wet your hands and pat the mixture into a loaf shape, approximately 9″ x 5″.  Place the loaf on a foil-coated rimmed baking sheet.  Brush the loaf with half the glaze (be sure not to double dip your brush since you’ll be serving the remainder of the glaze).  Arrange the bacon slices crosswise over the top of the loaf, tucking the ends underneath.

Bake until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature registers 160°, about 1 hour.  Let rest 15-20 minutes before serving.  Warm the remaining glaze and serve on the side.

venison & porcini ragù (the venison diaries, part I)

My dad grew up on a Michigan farm, and has been hunting for most of his life. Even though he has a decidedly white-collar profession and hasn’t lived anywhere near a farm in decades, he still enjoys going deer hunting every chance he gets. I would often go hunting with him as a little girl, practicing with a toy bow and arrow set in the backyard and eagerly looking forward to being old enough to get my hunting license. Of course, by the time I actually reached that age, we had moved to suburbia and I was more interested in my sticker collection than hunting. But I still have fond memories of the one-on-one time spent enjoying nature and my dad’s company.

Ironically, although I enjoyed the hunting excursions, I hated venison as a kid. My mom would try to sneak it into recipes, but we always knew what it was and there was lots of whining at the dinner table on those occasions from myself and my siblings. Luckily, my tastes have matured and I now enjoy venison quite a bit. It doesn’t have the ferrous aftertaste I recall being turned off by as a kid- I don’t know if it’s a matter of kids having more “sensitive” taste buds, or if the venison I’ve had recently just happens to be milder due to the deer’s diet. Whatever the case, I have been enjoying the bounty that has been thrown my way- my dad has gotten 8 deer so far this year, and sent me home from my Thanksgiving visit with a couple packages of salami sticks and about 6 lbs of frozen ground venison. My goal is to create 6 different recipes and blog about them all- I figure I can’t be the only one with a bunch of venison in their freezer, and perhaps people are looking for some new ideas. I’d like to create recipes that compliment venison’s unique flavor, rather than try to mask it or pass it off as a ground beef substitute.

With that in mind, I present you with this first installment in “The Venison Diaries”.  I made an Italian-style ragù (i.e. meat sauce) using techniques from The Splendid Table, enhancing the earthy flavor of the meat with cognac and porcini mushrooms (or cèpes, for all you francophones).   Venison is an extremely lean meat, so don’t feel guilty about the pancetta and butter in this recipe!  I also added a smidge of ground pork and veal to round out the flavor and texture, as ground venison can tend to be a bit dry and crumbly on its own.  Simmering the meat in milk, as in some versions of the classic sauce Bolognese, also helped keep things tender, and gave body to the sauce.  The results were just as I’d hoped- deeply savory and rich, and perfect with thick noodles and a sturdy red wine.

Venison & Porcini Mushroom Ragù
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1 lb ground venison
¼ lb ground pork
¼ lb ground veal
2 oz. pancetta (as for a slice about ⅓” thick), diced small
1 medium carrot, diced small
½ stick celery, diced small
1 large shallot, minced
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
cup cognac
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs butter
1½ tsp minced fresh rosemary
1½ tsp thyme leaves
4-6 sage leaves, minced
salt & pepper

for serving:
tagliatelli or egg noodles
grated Parmigiano or Grana Padana
minced fresh parsley (optional)

Notes: If you don’t have all the fresh herbs and don’t want to spend the money, I’d at least go with the thyme.  If you don’t have cognac you could substitute red wine and just use a bit more, like ½ to ¾ cup.  But a little cognac is always a good thing to have on hand for impromptu pan sauces or the occasional after-dinner nip.

Directions: Bring about 2 cups water to a boil. Place dried porcinis in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Cover and let stand for at least 10-15 minutes. When mushrooms are softened, remove them gently so as not to disturb the grit at the bottom of the dish. Set mushrooms aside and strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter; reserve 1½ cups.

Place the venison, pork and veal into a large bowl. Season generously with salt & pepper and mix with a wooden spoon until the meats are well incorporated.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, sauté the pancetta over medium heat for a few minutes until it begins to render some of its fat. Add up to 1 Tbs butter as needed so that there is enough fat in the pan to cook the vegetables. Add the shallot, carrot and celery and cook until the carrots begin to soften, stirring often.

Increase the heat slightly and add the meat to the pan. Cook the meat, stirring and breaking it up gently, until you no longer see any liquid in the bottom of the pan; this could take up to 15 minutes. Reduce heat slightly and cook for a few more minutes to give the meat a chance to brown. Stir in the tomato paste, herbs and mushrooms.

Add the cognac and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Add the mushroom broth ½ cup at a time, letting it cook off before adding more. Add the milk and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened enough to coat a noodle. Taste for salt, adding as needed.

Serve over tagliatelli or egg noodles with a dusting of cheese and a pinch of fresh parsley.