Most experienced, and even not-so-experienced, game cooks know just what to do with the prized tender loin of elk or venison. We’re talking about the filet mignon of the hunter’s catch, and a well-seasoned simple sear to medium rare produces the tastiest results in no time.
Well it’s all the other cuts that take a little savvy to tenderize as well as balance the potentially “gamey” flavor. Typically these tougher cuts are processed into roasts, cubed stew meat or ground like hamburger.
Marrying bold flavors and contrasting “sweet” elements, then cooking “low-and-slow” is an approachable blanket technique for the roasts and stew meat. These techniques, including braising and stewing (see Braise The Winter Roof , Winter 2011/12), demand the same initial seasoning and sear as their tender cousin the loin – then the cuts are covered for a long simmering bath in flavorful liquid to create that fall-apart tender quality we love. The amount of time will depend on the size of the pieces, but for stew meat cubes I recommend at least two hours stovetop or in a 250-degree oven.
The ground meat is, by process, “pre-tenderized” but it also benefits from the same flavor balancing. However, this product can actually become tough if overcooked and, as far as burgers go, are most succulent at medium-rare like their beef counterpart.
Substitute game in your favorite recipes calling for beef and you will be surprised by how easily they interchange. I love making exotically-spiced tagines, rich classic stews, hearty pasta sauces and ragouts.
Try this yummy authentic Bolognese recipe with either stew or ground meat, as both textures benefit from this method. Though often we equate classic Bolognese to the common American tomato-centric meat sauce, you will find the ingredients are quite different and result in something far more luscious and with greater depth of flavor. Whether you use stew or the more tenderized ground, this recipe can benefit from a full day of simmering stovetop. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself with unexpected dinner guests!
½ cup heavy cream
10 ounces pancetta, diced*
1 cup carrots, diced small
¾ cup celery, diced small
1 cup onions, diced small
¾ pound ground chuck (elk or venison in our case)
½ pound ground veal (since this recipe uses game meat, you can replace
this with ½ pound of ground venison or elk)
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste, diluted in 10 tablespoons meat stock
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1. The building of a ragu (or ragout) involves three simple steps: browning the vegetables and meats, reducing flavorful liquids over the browned foods to build up layers of taste, then covering them with more liquid and simmering gently until the flavors blend and the meats are tender. Ragus should be rich without being heavy. An Italian ragu is a meat sauce with tomato, it is not a tomato sauce with meat.
2. In a small sauce pot, bring the cream up to a simmer and reduce by 1/3. About 6 tablespoons of cream should remain.
3. In a large sauce pot, cook the pancetta over medium heat, about 8 minutes, or until almost all the fat is rendered. Stir in the carrots, celery, and onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sauté the vegetables for about 3 minutes or until they are translucent.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the meats and season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat under the sauce pot, and stir in the meat. Brown the meat for 5 minutes, or until it is medium brown in color. Stir in the wine, garlic and diluted tomato paste, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Reduce the heat to very low. Cook at a low simmer, partially covered, for at least two hours. From time to time, stir in a tablespoon or so of the milk. By the end of the two hours, all the milk should be incorporated. Stir in the reduced cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
5. To complete the dish, cook a pound of hearty pasta in well-salted water to al dente. I prefer rigatoni. In true Italian style, add the pasta to the sauce, not vice versa, tossing and simmering for a couple minutes to incorporate the flavors. Generously heap into bowls and smother with grated cheese and dig-in to this stick-to-your-ribs classic.
*Pancetta is basically Italian bacon and is available, cut to order, in the deli section of groceries and specialty shops. Unlike American bacon, it is cured, not smoked. If it is not available to you, substitute cubes of slab bacon.