I grew up in a family of men who planned their vacation time around hunting season. I am so happy that Ralph is not a hunter! Wild game was not exotic to me. It was a nightmare. I gagged at the smell of it roasting. No kind of cooking trickery could fool me into thinking that It was anything other than what it was. Stinky, tough meat roasted until it was grey then served to me with the hope of pleasing. It never happened… until Sunday.
My dad gave me some deer meat – venison is the uptown label – to try to cook. He explained that how the animal is butchered is critical to keeping it from tasting gamy. As much as I wanted give it a go, I wrapped it in plastic and stuck it in the deep freeze until I worked up my courage. Every time I took something out of my freezer, it would call to me. “Hello, are you ever going to give me a try?” I would quickly close the freezer door and flee to the safety of my roasting beef or chicken! I pride myself on being fearless in the kitchen or at the dining room table but truth be told a couple of foods slay me; sea urchin and wild game. On Sunday, I decided that the daughter of a world-class hunter needs to know how to cook a piece of deer meat!
I chose the toughest piece to experiment with. From the second that I unwrapped it, I knew Dad was right about the butchering. There was no funky odor and the meat was beautifully lean. I decided to give it an Italian twist – big surprise – and prepare a stew with juniper berries, fennel seed and a hearty red wine. The gorgeous aroma wafting from my oven while it cooked started to restore my confidence but I still had to eat it! It looked beautiful as I ladled the stew over a big mound of creamy mashed potatoes. I took a deep breath, lifted a forkful to my mouth and was blown away at how tender and delicious it tasted. My nasty memories of yucky deer meat faded away with every bite…
preheat oven 325*F
2 1/2 lb venison, cut into 2″ cubes
2 large shallots, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups hearty red wine
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
28 ounces diced tomato with puree
large bunch fresh sage
Heat the olive oil – I use about 1/4 cup – over medium high heat in a large heavy bottomed oven worthy pot
Add sage leaves and fry until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside
Add cubes of venison and brown on all sides
THE LOVE: Do this in batches so you don’t over crowd the pan. Too much meat will cool off your pan and cause the meat to weep – literally! Set each batch aside until all the meat has been browned.
Add the chopped vegetables to the pan and saute for 10 minutes
While your veg are cooking, place the fennel and juniper berries in a mortar and crush with a pestle. you can use a mallet or rolling-pin as well
Add the red wine and scrape all the bits from the bottom of the pan.
Bring to a boil then add tomatoes, spices and fried sage leaves. – I crushed them up a little
Make sure that the liquid is level with the meat. Add a little more wine if necessary.
Cover pan and place in preheated oven for 4 hours. Check periodically to make sure that the liquid does not completely evaporate. It will reduce and thicken.
Test the meat with a fork to make sure that it is tender. It may need a bit more time depending on how tough it is.
Serve with steaming hot mashed potatoes
Thanks for reading.