Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 20 Oct 2008.
My husband came home from work the other day with a leg of venison under his arm. He doesn’t hunt but we have plenty of friends who do. And lucky for us, they like to share. I didn’t grow up eating wild meat, but I’ve come to appreciate it in many ways.
Wild meat is pure, lean and healthy—very little meat we eat these days is as naturally-raised and unadulterated as wild game. It’s guaranteed to be fresh and local, something we can’t always ascertain when buying meat at the grocery store. I also appreciate the fact that wild animals live free and unfettered lives, doing what comes naturally to them; that can’t be said of most of the animals raised for human consumption.
Thanks to our friends who hunt, our freezer has been blessed with venison, moose and elk—some in the form of sausage and pepperoni sticks—as well as goose, duck and grouse, all cut and wrapped.
Some people dislike the “gamey” flavour, but I maintain that if the animal is slaughtered correctly and cooked properly, most picky eaters could not tell the difference. Just the other day, I made my husband’s favourite meatloaf with a mix of grass-fed beef and elk. One of my most successful recipes is a slow-cooked stew from Portugal which is flavoured with cinnamon, cumin and allspice. The recipe calls for beef but I make it with moose.
Another successful recipe is beef bourguignon, a traditional stew from France made with bacon, red wine and vegetables. I made it with elk and the meat was delicious. My husband John has a nice touch with venison: cut the meat in 3/4 inch slices, cross-hatch it with the edge of a plate (to flatten and tenderize), soak in milk 5 minutes, shake in a bag of flour, salt and pepper, then quick fry in hot lard.
The goose came to us as a bag of freshly cut breasts which I flattened and rolled with a mix of potato, apple and caraway seeds (a Mario Batali recipe) which we ate at Christmastime. It wasn’t exactly the golden goose of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, but I thanked my benefactor all the same.
A couple of years ago, I decided to try hunting myself. I enrolled in an online hunter education course that could be completed at one’s leisure, but somehow I never found the time—always too busy with my own garden, picking and canning and cooking. Hunting season came and went. Now I’m having second thoughts. Perhaps back in prehistoric times, my ancestors were the gatherers and the farmers, not the hunters of the tribe. Perhaps it is their legacy that I should wield a hoe, not a gun, and rather than take up hunting, I should cultivate friends who do.
So to Jeff, Sue, Vance, Rick, Greg and Mark (of the leg of venison) thank you for sharing your bounty. Would you like some potatoes?
This recipe comes from Saveur magazine (for original recipe, click here). For more recipes with wild Saskatchewan ingredients, click on the word "wild" at the bottom of this post.
1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
4 lbs. venison roast
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup tomato purée
(I use my own tomatoes, peeled)
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
16 slices day-old soft French or Italian bread
Leaves from 3 sprigs mint
Put allspice, cumin, and cloves on a small square of cheesecloth, gather corners, and tie shut with kitchen twine. Put spice bag, meat, garlic, bay leaves, onions, tomato sauce and purée, wine, ketchup, cinnamon, 3 cups water, and salt to taste into a large heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender and falling off the bone, 5–6 hours. Adjust seasonings.
Transfer meat with a slotted spoon to a large bowl, then shred with two forks, discarding fat and bones, and put into a large serving dish. Skim fat from meat broth and discard bay leaves and spice bag. Arrange bread in another large serving dish and scatter mint on top. Ladle broth over bread and mint and set aside briefly to allow bread to swell and absorb broth before serving. Serve meat and broth-soaked bread together.