Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Venison Stew, Very Local

Photo: Deer Hunt Field
This is the most local meal we eat. The venison was shot with a bow in the land that extends for a few acres from our house. We witnessed the large animal fall, loaded into our hunter friend's truck, and delivered in cold packages a few days later. Craig took it out of the chest freezer a few months later and set it to thaw in a bowl of water. Unwrapping it, the link to the beautiful deer in the yard was visceral, even Coral was talking about it. We talked together about eating animals. About all the steps and expertise it requires to hunt and process one's meat. About the protein and warmth and energy that is transferred from the animal to us, to our bodies.
I saw Craig take a pause as he approached the muscular, ruby colored, solid shoulder. He stopped, took a big breath in and out, stilling himself to focus and took the first gesture into the shoulder with his long, silver knife.
It has a solemnity to it, facing the fact of the life that has been extinguished in order to be transferred to the omnivore, us. It got me thinking about the faith and magic, the cosmological processes that have been central to hunting, killing, preparing and feasting since the dawn of hunting itself. Some people, and groups of people have an active connection to food and source, but for me, facing this venison was unique and not totally comfortable. I did not want to tune out and avoid the fact of this meal. For all the meat we eat that is raised and sold by people we know, I should be having this solemn moment of acknowledgment and gratitude more often.
It is a serious business, being human: how we exist within our environment, how we sustain ourselves, live, grow.

This Venison Stew is like a real Texas Chile, it is pretty much just meat.

You will need:
about 3 lbs of venison shoulder cut in large cubes
1 carrot peeled and diced
1 onion diced
3 cloves of garlic peeled
a hand full of parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
1 bottle cote du rhone
1/4 lb or so bacon either diced or julienned
1/2 lb mushrooms
12 small boiling onions, peeled
a few dried mushrooms (morels are good!)
olive oil, butter, flour, sugar, port or cognac or scotch

day 1

in a large bowl mix the venison, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, a couple springs of parsley. cover and refrigerate overnight.

day 2

cook the bacon in a large dutch oven until crisp. remove from pot, drain and reserve.

remove the venison from the marinade and blot dry. strain liquid and reserve. discard the solids. season the meat generously with salt and pepper. in batches, brown venison (in bacon fat and or duck fat!) on all sides over medium-high heat.
when all the meat is browned, return to the pot and toss in about 2 tbs of flour. stir until the flour browns then pour in the marinade. bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook until venison is tender, roughly 2-3 hours.

while the meat is cooking prep the boiling onions. put the onions and a tsp of sugar in a pot of water. simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. drain and set aside.
if using dried mushrooms, soak in hot water for about 10 minutes. strain the liquid, reserving with the morels. slice and quickly saute the fresh mushrooms in butter.

after the venison has cooked about 2 hours or so add the morels to the pot and continue cooking.

when the meat is done, remove it from the pot. increase heat to med-high and add port (or other alcohol) cook for about 5 minutes. whisk in about 3 tbs of butter. return the venison to the sauce. followed by the onions and mushrooms. mix.

serve hot garnished with chopped parsley and slices of grilled country bread.

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