Venison: Roast and Sugo

A plateful of happiness.

One of our 2011 New Year’s resolutions was to go vegetarian for the first few months of the year. That ended on January 2, actually, really on January 1 when we took the deer roast out of the freezer to thaw. We do eat meat, and love it, but we also understand all the health and environmental issues associated with eating too much meat–extra weight, exposure to hormones and antibiotics, pollution and waste, the cruelty of CAFOS, etc. But in our defense, we received a cooler full of wild venison and pheasant meat compliments of Steve’s father and we found a great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (CI) called “Really Good Pot Roast” that we wanted to try. Also, we’re foodies that like to eat, cook, and…well, there’s always next year.

Pot roast and polenta. A good, stick to your ribs, Sunday dinner.

The CI recipe we found comes from their November/December 2010 magazine for Classic Pot Roast. We followed the recipe almost exactly with three minor (or major) modifications: we used a deer roast instead of the traditional beef roast; cranberry juice instead of red wine (we’re on the wagon for a few months); and we added a little soy sauce at the end to give it a little extra umami. The results were a mixed bag. While we liked the roast, it was falling apart when we cut into it and presentation wasn’t what we expected. It probably would have been better had we left it overnight in the fridge and then served it the next day, but then the question arose, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” We decided on the roast. It was served with a nice portion of polenta and a sauté of mustard greens. The dinner was great in spite of the roast being a bit too crumbly. The sauce though had an intense sweetness to it that would not have been there if we had just used wine. It wasn’t a bad flavor, just sweet. The soy sauce really helped give the sauce what it was missing.

The next night, the roast really had its moment in the spotlight. We let the leftover roast sit in the sauce over night. The next day we shredded the roast and heated it with the sauce. Using our favorite Trader Joe’s Pappardelle pasta as the base, we dressed the pasta with the warmed sauce. Incredible! Not only did it stretched our meat consumption by four more meals, it also made for a great sugo. We’ll definitely be making this roast again but instead of a traditional Sunday roast we’ll just use the shredded meat sauce and pasta. This way we still get our meat but not so much all at once.

Classic Pot Roast a la Cook’s Illustrated

Cook’s Illustrated’s  recommended beef broth is Rachael Ray Stock-in-a-Box Beef Flavored Stock (a mouthful even before taking the first bite!) but we like using our own homemade broth. Chilling the whole cooked pot roast overnight improves its flavor and makes it moister and easier to slice or shred; for instructions, see “Make-Ahead Pot Roast.”

Pot roast: Before and after.

1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast , pulled into two pieces at natural seam and trimmed of large knobs of fat (or if you’re lucky, deer, elk, or other venison roast)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions , halved and sliced thin (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped medium (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib , chopped medium (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup beef broth , plus 1 to 2 cups for sauce (see note)
1/2 cup dry red wine , plus 1/4 cup for sauce (for our version we used cranberry juice)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig plus 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce (our altered addition)

1. Sprinkle pieces of meat with 1 tablespoon salt (1½ teaspoons if using table salt), place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add carrot and celery; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes longer. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1 cup broth, ½ cup wine (or juice), tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig; bring to simmer.

3. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season generously with pepper. Using 3 pieces of kitchen twine, tie each piece of meat into loaf shape for even cooking.

4. Nestle meat on top of vegetables. Cover pot tightly with large piece of foil and cover with lid; transfer pot to oven. Cook beef for three hours flipping halfway through cooking. Continue cooking until beef is fully tender and sharp knife easily slips in and out of meat, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

5. Transfer roasts to cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Strain liquid through mesh strainer into 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Transfer vegetables to blender jar. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add beef broth as necessary to bring liquid amount to 3 cups. Place liquid in blender with vegetables and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to medium saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat.

6. While sauce heats, remove twine from roast and slice against grain into ½-inch-thick slices. Transfer meat to large serving platter. Stir chopped thyme, remaining ¼ cup wine, and vinegar into sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon half of sauce over meat; pass remaining sauce separately.

7. (For Sugo): Cool and refrigerate the roast and sauce together. The next day using either your hands or two forks, shred the roast in the sauce. Prepare your favorite pappardelle pasta according to the package directions, (or make your own pasta). While the pasta cooks, re-warm the sugo in a sauce pan. When the pasta is al dente, transfer it to the sauce. Finish the pasta in the sauce, tossing it so every noodle is coated. Off the heat, grate parmesan cheese and drizzle some good olive oil over the top.

Thai-Style Wild Venison Curry

Red Curry w/ Wild Venison

Wild Meat

I just returned from a quick trip to Idaho and with me came a cooler full of wild meat – deer, antelope, elk and pheasant. The folks’ freezer is packed to overflowing with this season’s hunting bounty. There’s little room for the upcoming holiday fixings they’ll need to freeze so they took advantage of my visit to do a little purging. Lucky us!

I wasn’t a huge fan of wild meat as a kid but that has changed over time as we’ve learned to cook it in ways that highlight its rich flavors and lean texture. This curry adaptation is a perfect use for wild deer meat.

The beef called for in Joyce Jue’s recipe for Gaeng Mussaman Nuea, a Thai peanut curry, cooks in coconut milk until tender, about one hour (Savoring Southeast Asia, a Williams-Sonoma cookbook). Once cooked through, deer meat becomes tough and has to braise for some time before the protein fibers soften enough to enjoy eating. Tough deer meat gives your jaw quite a workout. We adjusted the cooking time a bit on this recipe to account for the toughness of the meat. Luckily, the meat was clean of sinew and silver skin so the finished dish was fork tender.

I added a cooking step to draw the complex flavors of the wild venison out of the meat and into the coconut milk. Browning the meat first creates depth of flavor while taking the wild edge off the finished curry. In addition to browning the meat, I added ingredients not called for in Joyce’s recipe but they work as adjuncts to the base ingredients in the curry paste. The modifications are noted in the recipe that follows. In the meantime, take inspiration in T. Edward Nickens’ thoughtful post over at Field & Stream. It’s a nice reminder of why deer meat has always mattered.

The Ingredients

Wild Venison Curry

2 cans (13 ½ fl oz) coconut milk

2 lbs wild venison stew meat, cut into 1 ¾ – inch pieces

3 tablespoons red curry paste

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1 ½ -inch cubes

1 yellow onion, cut into 6 wedges

1 2-inch long piece of galangal, peeled and sliced into thin coins

1 2-inch long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into julienne

1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 2 inch pieces

¼ cup unsalted roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons fish sauce, or as needed

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/3 – cup tamarind water (or plain water)*

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cardamom pods, toasted

3 bay leaves

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Start with the cans of coconut milk. Don’t shake them before opening. Once opened, skim off the top ½ cup from the top of each can and set aside the heavy cream aside in a small sauce pan for later.

I started by heating a few tablespoons of grape seed oil a heavy stockpot over medium high heat. The cleaned, diced meat was sprinkled with salt and then fried in batches to brown, trying not to steam the pieces. Once all the meat is nicely browned and you have a nice fond in the pan, add the remaining canned coconut milk as well as the ginger and galangal to the pan. Bring to boil then reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook uncovered for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and adding a little water from time to time to prevent the pan from drying and the coconut milk from scorching.

In the meantime, heat the coconut cream over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Gently boil until the oil begins to separate from the cream, about 5-8 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is fragrant and the oil separates from the paste, another 5-8 minutes.

Add the curry coconut cream mixture to the pot holding the venison along with the potato, onion, peanuts, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind water, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and bay leaves. Cook, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with curry, fish sauce or sugar. Stir in lemon juice and transfer to serving dish. Serve immediately.

*We didn’t make tamarind water this time around, but the recipe is easy enough and the tamarind paste called for in the recipe should be readily available in specialty markets in most cities. If you want to go for it, look for tamarind pulp sold in blocks. To make about 1 ½ cups tamarind water, cut up ½ pound of the pulp into small pieces, place in a bowl, and add 2 cups boiling water. Mash the pulp to separate the fibers and seeds, then let stand for 15 minutes or so, stirring two or three times. Pour the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pushing against the pulp with the back of a spoon and scraping the underside of the sieve. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze in an ice-cube tray for up to 1 month.