December’s Wild Things Round Up is all about our favorite wild food recipes. This is definitely one of my favorites, especially in the month of December.
Whenever I come home for the holidays I inevitably end up eating things I don’t really want to eat. I’m not complaining; I’m not perfect and no one is. Often I eat the main meal with everyone but the rest of the time I end up cooking my own meals for myself; a bit isolating but it’s what I need to do to nourish and honor my body. But this year I wanted to do something different. Sure I still ate the myriad of pastries and cookies that float around my parents’ house this time of year but I also decided that after the holiday craziness I was going to make a nourishing meal for my entire family. After lugging 20lbs of frozen venison from New York to Maryland this is the result (and well worth it, I might add).
I love meat, especially wild meat. There is something indescribably nourishing about it. Wild meat is naturally grass-fed and is truly free-range making it some of the healthiest meat available. But more than just nutritionally speaking there is something just different about it. When my mother finished eating she said “I can’t find the words to describe it, I want to say rich but that’s not quite right…Deep. Deep feels like the right word, yeah deep”. And truly that is one of the best words to describe it. It fills you up inside, it satiates to the core and fills you with energy both rich and invigorating and somehow simultaneously centering. Nutritionally it is a wonderful source of protein and Iron and is a good source of Zinc, B vitamins and some trace minerals such as phosphorous and selenium.
Venison is one of my favorite wild meats; it’s plentiful, nutritious and the flavor is not overly gamey (read can be served to those hesitant to eat wild meat). This recipe is largely based on one by Guy Grieve and Thomasina Miers in their fantastic book The Wild Gourmets with a few adaptations from me. As wild currants aren’t very plentiful around me I replaced them with the much more available autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and used wild juniper berries (Juniperus virginianus) in place of store bought ones. Of course, any fruit jam would do but there is something to be said for pairing wild fruits and berries with wild meat. Autumn olives are a rich source of the antioxidant carotenoid lycopene (up to 16x as much as tomatoes!) and have a wonderful sweet tartness that matches well to rich dark chocolate. The chili adds fire to an already full flavored dish, providing an extra bit of warmth when the weather is causing bones to chill. Finally, the juniper berries provide a wild aromatic note lifting the whole dish to nirvana.
Venison braised with chili, chocolate and wine
For the marinade:
1 bottle red wine
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 fresh red chilis, deseeded and minced
3 Tb. Olive oil
15 juniper berries, crushed
Salt and pepper
For the stew:
4.5 lbs venison (shoulder or haunch)
1 large onion
2 carrots, diced
5 celery stalks, diced
3 parsnips, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 dried chilis, crumbled
2 cups stock
2 cups red wine
3 oz dark chocolate
1 Tb. Autumn olive jelly
Cut venison into cubes, removing large bits of fat and gristle. Place in a bowl covering with marinade ingredients and let marinate in refrigerator for several hours to overnight.
When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and save marinade for later. Heat a large casserole or dutch oven on high heat; add a tablespoon of olive oil and sear the meat, a few pieces at a time, on all sides until browned. Set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sweat onions for 5 minutes. Then add other vegetables and cook a further ten minutes. Add the garlic and cook another five minutes.
Return venison to casserole along with reserved marinade and the rest of the ingredients. Bring up to a simmer and stir to melt the chocolate. Cook in a preheated oven at 375 for 1.5 hours. If the chocolate is too heavy or gritty feeling bring it back to a boil on top of the stove with the lid off and add a splash of wine or vinegar. If desired, add a slurry of flour and water to thicken and let cook a minute or so more, adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of whipped mashed potatoes.