Comforting Suppers: Woodland Venison Stew

Inspired by our magical day in the woods last weekend, I thought I’d share a forest-inspired venison stew with you this week.  I love the idea of cooking proteins with the foods in their natural environment.  In this case, mushrooms, juniper berries, and thyme seemed especially appropriate companions for the venison.

Woodland Venison Stew

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 pounds venison, cubed
  • 3 chopped yellow or white onions (mine were pretty small, so I used 4)
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices, or baby carrots, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups cleaned and quartered mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries (give them a quick smash with a mortar and pestle, if possible)
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 2 cups beef, lamb, or venison stock, or dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

Please feel free to substitute what you have available, as always.  I think parsnips or celeriac would go nicely here, for example.

What to do:

1. Start by browning your venison.  Heat up some fat in your pan over moderate heat, and give the venison plenty of time to brown.  More tips on browning meat here.  Once it’s nicely seared on at least two sides, pull it out and let it rest.

Now it’s the vegetables’ turn.

2.  Add the onions and scrape up the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. After about 5 minutes of cooking and scraping, add the carrots and mushrooms, and do it some more, until they look like they have picked up a little color.

3.  Add the garlic, juniper berries, thyme, and salt and pepper, and let them get some of that high heat in the pan, before adding the liquid.

4.  Add the liquid (I used lamb stock) and quickly give the pan a few scrapes to clean up any caramelized vegetable bits, and mix them into the pot.  Add the meat, and make sure you have enough liquid to cover.   Add more salt and pepper.
5.  Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low-medium, and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  About half way through the cooking, add the vinegar.  I used apple cider vinegar, since it’s apple season, and that seemed like a good match for the forest flavors.
6.  When everything is tender, and the liquid has reduced into a nice sauce, taste and see if you need to add any more salt, pepper, or vinegar before serving.  A little fresh thyme wouldn’t hurt, either!

While ours was cooking, I thought I’d try something new: Celeriac Fries!
 
Once I sliced the celeriac into sticks, I fried them in bacon fat until they were browned and crisp on the outside. Since they were done early, I popped them into the oven to crisp up again before serving.  You should definitely try it!

The stew turned out really beautifully, and I served ours over turnip puree. I paired it with my favorite mixed market greens, and the celeriac fries, for a little more excitement.

Nourishing and delicious!  I like the simplicity of this stew– there aren’t too many components, and the basic, woodsy flavors of mushrooms, juniper and thyme come through really nicely.
 
Do you cook venison or other game very often?  How do you like to make it?

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29 Responses to Comforting Suppers: Woodland Venison Stew

  1. caroline November 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    I have never tried venison…and I live in Minnesota. Haha I guess its because we don’t hunt. But maybe i can find some at a farmers market so my family can try this! I can smell it just sitting here mmm :)

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      I’ll bet you will find some at your market, Caroline. I picked ours up at a tiny little “farmers market” in a nearby village. There was a hunter sitting there with a card table spread with little packages of what he’d hunted that week! I also picked up a duck, and the prices were great.

    • Nancy B. November 10, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      While I understand venison is available at Whole Foods Market, I think it would be unusual to find it at a farmers market in the States. In Texas, it is illegal to sell hunter killed game. There are a lot of rules, and each county has different hunting regulations.

      My husband is a hunter, and we have eaten venison instead of beef for the last five years. The only time we eat beef is when we eat out and get a burger.

      The “gamey” flavor some people complain about is due to how the hunter field dresses the carcass. If it is skinned, quartered, and put on ice immediately, there is no gamey taste. We cut up our own meat and put it in the freezer as tenderloin medallions, steaks, roasts, ground venison and breakfast sausage.

      We started cutting up our own after trying to get smoked sausage made by a local deer processor. The taste and problems getting delivery when promised made us think we didn’t get our own meat back. It cost a lot as well, so we just started doing it ourselves.

  2. Marisa November 12, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I love seeing your food posts and this stew looks amazing! Except for the fact I’m not a huge lover of gamey food. I’d probably opt for a different meat – but still – what a perfect fall meal. And remember when I was talking to you about Rick Stein’s show and how he was talking about a food renaissance in Britain? He did a show one time about exactly what you said – “cooking proteins with the foods in their natural environment.” He profiled some country restaurant that was making an effort to do exactly that. I remember something about a pheasant or quail with some sort of roasted or stewed apples that the birds were actually feasting on at the time – it looked amazing. But this post really brought that back to mind for me. And I love the thought that goes in to preparing food with this idea in mind.

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Yes, there are some really thoughtful cooks here in England, and I think there is definitely that sort of movement toward seasonal food using what is found nearby. There is even a TV show or two, all about foraging and cooking food from hedgerows!
      I think this stew would be great with lamb or beef, as well. Do you like lamb? I’m picky about it, but when it’s good, it’s really good!

  3. Rois November 12, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    Lucky you to have venison,that’s a hard meat to come by.The last game meat we were given was a funny mistake.Our friend was moving from Canada to California and stopped at our house for a night.He had a cooler full of frozen meats with him,to say thank you for hosting him he gave us what everyone thought was venison.But later in the week once we opened the package it was….wait for it,it’s a good one…..
    Beaver tails! What a laugh we had! Sadly we could not bring ourselves to eat them and really bummed out that we did not get venison.The whole thing has become a relished story between our house and our friends.

    When we get salmon we like to grill it with salt and pepper.My husband makes a side of chimichuri a spicy condiment using parsley,lemon juice,olive oil,fresh garlic,chili pepper flakes,green onions and S&P.I like to slather that on top of the fish.YUM!

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      Rois, that story about beaver tails is just hilarious!! I am really curious about how people actually prepare those– I imagine they’re kind of fatty…?

      I cooked venison for the first time when I was working as a personal chef for someone with a lot of food allergies, who was trying to diversify her proteins. It was a huge amount of pressure, though, preparing a meat that cost something like $24/ lb. at Whole Foods! I bought it every week in Germany, and we all really developed a love for it there. Here, there are plenty of people who hunt, so we can get it from them, if we know where to look.

      I am a huge chimichurri fan! In the summer I like to keep some on hand for a quick meal of grilled flank steaks– so good!

    • Rois November 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

      Beaver tail is pretty much all fat. We read online that people use it for soups and stews.We eat just about anything and have tried lots of “odd” foods but beaver tail was just not going to pass our lips.Weird how the thought of somethings makes your stomach turn while others seem like a bit of an adventure.

      BTW Love the book! I am working through some life things and have gleaned some helpful points.Thank you again for sending it.

  4. Hazel November 12, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    That stew looks delicious- I do like the fact you can still see all the veg. I love long cooked beef stews where it all mixes in a thick gravy, but it’s nice to have something different.

    We had venison haunch in the Half Term holiday when we stayed in the Breacon Beacons for a week. We had it roasted, then in a kind of hash and then youngest daughter got to take venison sandwiches to school, which she was most pleased with!

    The best venison I’ve ever had though, was a leg of Muntjac that we got in an exchange for something we’d made (probably cider). It was really delicious. (I don’t know if you’ve seen Muntjacs? They are a very small deer (about the size of a big dog) that have naturalised in the UK after escaping from a safari park many years ago. They aren’t farmed (yet).

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi Hazel! That hash sounds really good– how do you make it?

      I didn’t know at all about the Muntjac naturalizing here after escaping from the park! That’s crazy. I have seen pictures of them here, but not in person yet– I haven’t tasted the meat, either.

      And you’re the third person that’s told me in the last couple of days that they went to Wales over half term. I just looked up Breacon Beacons– it looks so beautiful!

    • Hazel November 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      I can’t remember exactly how I did the hash. Fried onions definitely, plus cubes of pumpkin and chopped leftover cooked venison. Maybe some celery with the onion and possibly even some mushroom…I can’t remember what spices/flavourings I used though.

  5. Valerie {all mussed up} November 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    NUM. As soon as the weather cools I start hankering for precisely this kind of meal…it’s so cozy and festive. I was treated to a traditional southern Dutch rabbit stew recently, and it was one of the most delicious things I’d tasted in ages.

    • Hazel November 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      I was in Hay-on Wye recently (a lovely little town on the English/Welsh border famous for it’s book shops and annual Literary Festival) and the cafe we went to for lunch had wild rabbit stew on the menu. It was really good, and I felt you need to order meals like that so that places keep offering them!

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      I agree with you both, that it’s so important to order the local specialties, so that they continue to make them. I am not sure when I last had rabbit, but I know that my daughter was super excited about ordering it when she was 3, and proudly brought her leftover rabbit meal to preschool for lunch the next day. Luckily, we were at a Montessori in Portland, and no one acted like it was weird!

      I had wood pigeon yesterday, and it was really nice!

  6. Susan@learningandyearning November 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Venison is a staple for us, but juniper berries? Who knew? I think one of the trees on our property is juniper. I’ll have to ask my hubby. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to just go out there and put those berries to use? I hope you can!

  7. Jerilea November 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    We love venison and eat it all the time. We’ve got a freezer full! Not sure if I should have read it closer, but could I make this in the crock pot? I’d love to come home to something wonderful like this waiting for me and my family.

    • Ariana Mullins November 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      I think you could make a nice crockpot stew. The only thing is that you won’t be getting all the flavor created by browning the meat, but you will be cooking it for much longer, probably. Give it a try! (And let me know how it turns out!)

  8. Anonymous November 14, 2012 at 2:33 am #

    We own a few acres of land and my brother-in-law enjoys hunting; my husband not so much. Deer season will be coming up soon and my brother-in-law is usually very successful. Last year he had some of the meat made into sausage and gave us several packages of it that we kept in the freezer. It was wonderful in “red beans and rice” which, being from the south, we especially love. This year I will request that some of it be butchered for stewing like this. I haven’t had venison that way in a long time. Your version looks absolutely delicious! There are so many devoted deer hunters in our area and having it made into sausage seems to be really popular; I have friends who love it grilled. I have actually had venison “jerky” and it was much better than any beef jerky I’ve ever tasted!
    Julie in AL

    • Ariana Mullins November 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Julie, you are so lucky to have a deer hunter in your family! We ate a lot of venison when we were in Germany, and the man who sold it to us (he had a cart at the weekly market) made really good venison salami– we still miss it. I also loved roasting larger cuts, after rubbing it with an herbal marinade. I would love to try making some jerky!!

  9. Aubrey @ Homegrown and Healthy November 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Your pictures alone remind me of a woodland dinner. I love it! So cozy and inviting. We’re not big meat eaters but venison seems much closer to the Earth, especially if it’s wild. Thanks for sharing, as always :)

    • Ariana Mullins November 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

      Hi Aubrey, and thank you! I remember thinking, when I was vegetarian, that if I had to eat meat, this is the way I’d like to do it. Wild meats really are the best, I think. Something I appreciate about the English culinary traditions is that they do use a lot of wild game.

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  11. Courtney @ The Polivka Family November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Wow! This looks amazing! I’m salivating!

  12. Elie November 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    This looks a-mazing! Makes me want to put on my fairy wings and sprinkle sparkly dust around my house!

    • Ariana Mullins December 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

      Better yet, use your fairy wings to git over here so I can feed it to you!

  13. Robin November 24, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    I’ve never had venison. This looks super yummy! Wow.

    Thanks for linking up to Thank Your Body Thursday! Hope you’ll come back this next Thursday! http://www.thankyourbody.com

  14. Caterina B December 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    We often make a delicious stew out of elk meat. My husband hunts only 3 miles from our house and then hires horses to carry the meat out of the mountains. He then cuts and wraps the meat on our dining table. He’s gotten very good at it. One elk lasts us pretty much until the next autumn. We also raise a pig every summer and have our own chickens. It’s a start toward some self sufficiency. We live in the Rocky Mountains. The closest town is about 28 miles from us. Quite a few years ago hubby stopped hunting deer. We very much prefer the flavor of elk, it’s not at all gamey tasting. For years we served my mother elk and she thought it was beef. Then one day she realized that all that time she had been eating elk! We all had a good laugh. Sometimes we buy a cut of bison from the ranch down the road. It’s also delicious. It’s not that we don’t like beef. We just don’t want to eat meat raised in feedlots and given hormones.

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