Ask Chef Phyllis:
My husband is a hunter—mostly large game like deer, elk, and moose, which comprise much of our winter menus. I have a few large roasts and many packages of steaks, chopped meat, and stewing meat in the freezer. On weekends, I like to make a roast, but sometimes it’s dry. I need some new ideas. We’re a family of six for supper most evenings.
—Marjorie Ebengen, Watertown, NY
Free-range venison is one of the purest meats available, provided the animals aren’t eating pesticides and herbicides. Venison from deer is similar to beef in flavor and taste. It can be broiled, roasted, barbequed, stewed, or braised. But as you already know, the meat is very lean, and roasts can be dry. I recommend larding them for more flavor, a process I describe below. Unless cuts are from the loin, most steaks will also definitely benefit from marinating. To help tenderize tougher cuts, you can also braise them in broth, beer, or wine. In my first recipe, Venison Steaks with Mushroom Cream and Juniper Berries, I suggest using both the larding method and the marinade if you’re preparing a venison cut other than loin.
Stewing venison also produces excellent results. Though stewing does take longer, you can prepare the following Venison and Dark Ale Stew in the oven a day or two ahead and simply reheat it. Serve venison with dark leafy greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, or baby spinach, plus crusty, dark rye bread. An interesting note from your neck of the woods: early recipes from the Adirondack camps (circa 1920s) feature venison served over toast points buttered in pate de fois gras.
Venison Steaks with Mushroom Cream and Juniper Berries
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 pound cremini or brown mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth and sliced
- 6 venison loin steaks, cut ¾ inch thick (for other cuts, see note below)
- 1 cup dry Madeira or Marsala wine
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon each salt and black pepper
- Lemon slices
Note: If your venison is not from the loin, prepare the steaks following the instructions for larding or marinating below, then proceed with the recipe.
- Melt oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium high heat.
- Add mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, about 4–5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
- Salt and pepper the steaks. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, add the first three steaks to the pan. Cook about 4 minutes on each side, then remove to a plate. Repeat with the 3 remaining steaks. Cover to keep warm.
- Add the wine to the pan and deglaze. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the cream. Cook until slightly thickened.
- Add the mushrooms to the wine and cream mixture. Stir well.
- Plate the steaks. Carefully pour the mushroom sauce over each portion. Add lemon slices and serve immediately.
Larding: With a larding needle or thin-bladed filet knife, poke holes all over the roast. Insert pork belly strips, fat-back bacon, lard, rendered pork, or duck fat into the holes. Salt and pepper the roast as usual.
Marinade: Combine ½ cup each of olive oil and brandy, 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper, and 6 crushed juniper berries. Allow the steaks to marinate 4–6 hours, turning them once. Drain the steaks, and set them aside for use in the above recipe.
Venison and Dark Ale Stew
This stew is best made ahead a day or two and gently reheated.
- 3 to 3½ pounds venison stew cubes
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ pound thick, nitrate-free bacon, cut into thirds
- ¼ cup olive or peanut oil
- 3 red onions (about 2 pounds), quartered
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ cups homemade chicken broth or beef stock
- 1 (12-oz.) bottle dark ale (I use Belgian ale)
- 3 large sprigs thyme
- 1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Season the venison cubes with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large, ovenproof sauté pan over medium high meat, cook bacon until crisp but not overdone. Sauté the venison in the same pan as the bacon, adding olive or peanut oil if necessary.
- Add the onions. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 20 minutes. Toss the minced garlic in with the onions.
- Gently pour in the chicken broth or beef stock, then the Belgian ale. Add sprigs of thyme, mustard, honey, and cider vinegar. Mix the ingredients well.
- Place the pan into the preheated oven and cook, covered, 3–3½ hours. Test the venison with a fork. When the meat falls off, the stew is done.
Serve with a hearty, crusty rye bread and dark leafy greens. This stew makes a generous serving for 6 and freezes very well.
Photo from iStock/Shaiith