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Thick & hearty: A case for stew: winter is coming and what better time to slow cook tough meat for a warm, hearty meal to get you through the cold spell.

As hunters brace for another long, cold winter, we long for those comfort foods that stoke the fire in our core and warm the soul long after the pot has been scraped clean. Rich in taste and long in pleasure, a satisfying meal often takes the form of large chunks of tough meat cooked until they become tender. These extended cooking times demand bold flavors. Rarely is a comfort food something as mincing as summer salad. Instead, they're delivered to the table in a much heavier bowl.

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Consider the stew. If braising is the most important technique for the wild-game cook, stewing comes in a close second. In fact the two cooking methods are essentially the same, separated only by the amount of liquid left over to be ladled into the bowl along with meltingly soft hunks of meat and hearty root vegetables after a few hours under a gentle simmer.

This low, moist heat concentrates flavors, but most importantly, it breaks down tough proteins, turning those difficult cuts of venison like shoulder and neck roasts into a bite as tender as a fawn's filet. Yet unlike that tenderloin, these overworked muscles are full of flavor just waiting to be accessed through the stewing process.

Vegetables are also an important ingredient. Otherwise, you're just left with a meat soup. This is the place for those strong aromatics like onion and garlic; stout root vegetables; potatoes, turnips, and carrots; and the last crop of overripe tomatoes that are quite literally bursting with flavorful juice. But remember the classic cooking adage "quality in and quality out"--the strength of your stew will be dependent on the freshness of the ingredients that go into it.

As for the ratio of meat to vegetables, the cook becomes the best judge of what's on hand in the kitchen. In her classic Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer asserts 1/4 pound of vegetables to round out % pound of meat, but I often tilt the scale one way or the other depending on my mood or if I need to stretch a pound of stew meat to feed a crowd.

The third leg that holds up a heavy stewpot is the liquid. Where the meat and vegetable rotation remains fairly standard, even as you go around the globe, the wet element varies greatly. Bold red wines are probably the most standard across borders, but beer--consider the classic Flemish carbonnade--also makes its way in. A heavy pour of whiskey goes a long way, too. Stock made from roasted bones is a pro move I expect you to try. But beef or vegetable stock will do just fine. There's even a case for heavy cream and egg yolks--as in the French blanquette--though always added near the end of the cooking so as not to curdle. Plain tap water should be used only if there's nothing else on hand, and even then it should be spiked with Worcestershire or ketchup or some other lively addition.

Once the ingredients are gathered and the fire set to, stews come together with an amazing simplicity. Most always a browning of the meat in some type of fat or oil is essential to add deep flavors to the mix. Then saute the aromatics, adding salt and spices in layers, and cover with liquid. Brought not quite to boiling then set over a low heat to simmer, the stew can bubble away, covered, throughout the day with just a quick peek in the pot from time to time to check that the liquid doesn't fall below the contents. It's generally best to add vegetables about an hour before service so they can soften without falling apart. Of course, like all rules, these are made to be broken, and it's up to the cook to decide when and where to flout them.

The magic of stew really becomes apparent when it's ladled for service. Here the meat should fall into chunks, accompanied by big pieces of vegetables with all covered in a not-too-thick, lightbodied gravy that Rombauer calls, in her continental French, du corps. This sauce is the stew's identifying characteristic, separating it from soup and lending a soul-satisfying characteristic that raises it above its watery cousin. Just be sure to have plenty of crusty bread on hand for sopping.

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VENISON STIFADO

INGREDIENTS

1 pound venison roast, sliced
into thin strips
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
6-10 small, yellow, onions, quartered
2 tbs. tomato paste
1 14.5-oz tomato paste
1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, chopped
1 cup red wine
1/2-1 cup game or beef stock
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

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VENISON STIFADO

DIRECTIONS

Place the sliced venison in a medium
bowl. Pour the lemon juice over
the venison. Stir until all the meat
is coated.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or
heavy pot and brown the venison in
batches. Once browned, remove the
venison from the pot and set aside
in a separate bowl.

Add the onions and a pinch of kosher
salt and cook until the onions are
translucent. Add minced garlic and
cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the tomato paste and
cook for a few seconds until
browned. Add the remaining ingredients
to the Dutch oven, along with
another pinch or two of salt.

Cover and lower the heat to just
below simmering. Cook 2 to 3 hours
or until the meat is tender.

Serve with orzo or egg noodles,
along with thick slices of bread.
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Title Annotation:FARE Game
Author:Draper, David
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Nov 1, 2016
Words:931
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