Holiday recipe: Venison camp stew
Why is this a holiday recipe? Because it feeds lots of people good food with little prep time, and is a great hearty warming dish for trans-solstice in the northern hemisphere.
I’ve done this several times this month with venison shank and stew pieces from lower on each limb. Beef is a fine substitute. Bone in or out shank cuts are ideal, but a good, marbled, bone-in blade roast also works and can usually be found in most grocery stores. For a 2-3 gallon pot you want 2-4 pounds of meat with lots of connective tissue. Deer shanks, complete with all the tendons and silver skin, are perfect for this.
Cut the meat into big (4-6 oz) pieces. Thoroughly coat each piece in salt and garlic powder. Brown them in bacon grease, heated almost to the smoking point in a big, heavy stew pot or thick skillet. Cast iron is ideal here. In my book, the flavors of venison and bacon complement each other perfectly. Once the pieces are browned on all sides, add a liter of stock (vegetable is best) and a full can/bottle of dark beer. Add at least one full chopped white onion, a bunch of chopped celery, a skinned and chopped parsnip or two, and lots of coarsely chopped garlic. Cube a half dozen red skin potatoes and add those too. Chuck in a couple heaping tablespoons of sage, and a tablespoon of oregano.
Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for at least 6 hours. Do not shortcut this part. Transferring the ingredients to a crock pot and leaving for the day is just fine.
45 minutes before serving, add a few chopped carrots, a can of cannelleni beans, and perhaps a bit of water as needed. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste. Bring up to a healthy simmer. Serve with meaty slices of a meaty bread.
On Christmas Day, I made this at our rental cabin up north beyond cell range. I stuffed the wood stove full, damped it all the way down, and left the pot on the stove as we went out skiing for 7 hours. On the way back I zipped ahead, completed the final prep, and hoped in the car to head back and save everyone else from the final half mile of double poling down an icy road. By the time we were all back in the cabin and changed out of ski gear, dinner was ready. It was perfect.
So perfect that I’m not going to write about it. Our emerging tradition of winding down the year in a place which almost forces quietude was only enhanced by my parents and a friend joining us for four days. Now I’m ready for next year.