The opening day of deer season is one of the Southern High Holy Days (up there with Christmas, Easter, and Super Bowl Sunday), but there doesn’t seem to be very much variety in how folks cook their meat: either thin slices, dipped in flour and then fried, or ground into hamburger and put into chili or sausage. We’re huge fans of all those, but venison is very versatile and can benefit greatly from one of our favorite ways of cooking meat: braising. Slow cooking the meat in a mixture of beef stock and red wine is not only flavorful, it also results in extremely tender meat. This is a good way of cooking deer steak for folks who claim they don’t like the stuff because it’s too tough or gamy tasting.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 pound deer steak, sliced thin. We prefer (of course) the back strap, but this method is perfect for cooking the hams, too.
- 1 bottle red wine. I’m keeping it cheap and local with Post Familie‘s Traditional Red.
- 2 cups beef stock. If you aren’t making your own, make sure you get a low sodium version from the store. We’re going to be cooking this stock down and it can get too salty quite fast. It’s not a bad idea to have a cup or so in reserve, too – sometimes the meat needs extra cooking – which means extra liquid.
- 1 large onion.
- 4-6 stalks celery.
- 2-4 large carrots.
- Several sprigs fresh thyme.
- 1-2 cloves fresh garlic.
Soak your sliced venison overnight in cold water, sweet milk, or buttermilk. Change at least once. This will take out some of the wild taste that might be present in the meat (and in the case of buttermilk, helps tenderize). For older deer, you might want to up the time the meat soaks to two days, but overnight is usually sufficient. After soaking, drain the meat and dry well. Sprinkle with kosher salt and set aside.
Now it’s time to make our red wine reduction. Cooking down red wine with aromatic vegetables is a wonderful way to add flavor to meat, and when mixed with stock and used as a braising liquid also results in a wonderful sauce. Chop half of the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and put into a saucepan. Add a sprig or two of the thyme. Pour in half the bottle of red wine and simmer on the stove top until the wine is reduced by 1/2 to 2/3 – you want the consistency of the wine to be syrupy. When the wine is reduced, strain into a bowl and discard the cooked vegetables.
To cook the meat, heat some fat in a cast iron skillet. You can use shortening, canola oil, or lard, but what I’m using tonight is a bit of home-rendered schmaltz, a mixture of duck and chicken fat. Home-rendered fat is a good little secret to have up your sleeve because the flavor is so much better than anything you buy in the store. When the fat is hot, brown your meat, being careful not to overcrowd your skillet. It’s better to do the meat in batches because overcrowding the pan causes the meat to steam cook rather than brown – and we want a nice outside flavor and texture to our meat.
When the meat is browned, drain the oil from the skillet and deglaze the pan with one cup of the beef broth. Scrape the bottom of the pan lightly with a wood spatula to loosen up all the good, caramelized bits of meat that are on the bottom – they add great flavor to the sauce. Return the meat to the pan along with the wine reduction, the rest of the stock, and the rest of the vegetables. Add a dash of salt and pepper, being careful not to overdo it (again, flavors will intensify as the meat cooks down). Cover and place into a 400 degree oven until the meat is fork tender.
To make the sauce, remove meat from skillet onto a platter and strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables. Return the liquid to the pan, reduce further if needed, and whisk in 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over meat and serve alone or over rice. Enjoy!