For lesser cuts of venison, make a great stew

There are dozen if not hundreds of ways to cook prime cuts of venison, but what do you do with the tougher cuts like the neck and shanks besides grinding them for hamburger?

A few weeks ago, the weather was cold, snowy and not fit for man or beast. I was pacing the house looking for something to do when suddenly, in an “ah ha” moment, it occurred to me. The nasty weather practically required me to cook something comforting. I would make a pot of stew.

When I get a deer butchered I instruct the processor not to grind any meat for hamburger. Instead, I asked that the meat from the neck and front legs be cubed into “stew meat.” Now, some people are big fans of spiedies – cubes of marinated meat skewered on a metal rod and grilled – but I’m not. I would never spit one out if I were offered one but I’d never order one in a restaurant or attend a “Spiedie Festival.” To each his own. Instead of marinating and then grilling the meat cubes I prefer making stew out of what some call the less desirable cuts.

Making a pot of stew is fun and it takes some time, about an hour of trimming, cutting and chopping, but I feel it’s well worth the effort. Aside from being delicious, it’s a one-pot meal that feeds a crowd and the guys at my weekly poker game love it. Besides, you can make stew a day ahead or even several days ahead of time and, in my opinion, I think the flavor improves the longer it sits.

To make a stew everyone loves using the meat from a deer’s front legs, I take the time to trim every piece of silver skin and fat from the cubed chunks. During the height of deer season the guy who processes my deer does a great job but he simply doesn’t have the time to trim every chunk of meat going into my stew meat order. By making this special effort I find the end result is meat that practically melts in the mouth and doesn’t have any unnecessary fat or chewy skin attached. Even people who tell me they wouldn’t eat venison have been fooled by the stew I make and are amazed that what they thought would be “gamey” was delicious.

There are an untold number of stew recipes and they can be found in just about any good cookbook or online. I do, however, have a few tricks for making a great tasting stew and one everyone will thoroughly enjoy.

When making a pot of stew I place the cubes of meat in a bag of flour seasoned with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. I then brown the cubes in a small amount of oil before placing them in the stew pot. Next, I add a bay leaf, some thyme and about four cans of commercially prepared beef broth. I let the meat cook slowly for at least an hour or more on top of the stove. Once the meat is tender I then add some cubed potatoes and carrots before adding my not so secret ingredient, barley. The barley thickens the stew and adds another dimension of flavor and texture to the pot. I don’t like adding tomato paste as some recipes suggest, and although I’ve never done it a good red wine could be included with the beef stock if you feel like it. Like making any soup or spaghetti sauce, making stew is a labor of love and I’ve never tasted a stew I didn’t like.

 

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