Venison Pot Pie – Braised Venison in a Crispy Crust

Venison Pot Pie - When it's 0 degrees out, warm up with some braised venison in a crispy crust!
Venison Pot Pie – When it’s 0 degrees out, warm up with some braised venison in a crispy crust!

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge pastry fan. For my apple pie, PLEASE give me a crumb top – or better yet, just give me apple crisp! But when it comes to a more savory dish like braised venison and vegetables in gravy – there is something about a crispy crust on a venison pot pie that makes it totally enjoyable. Great, another addition to the book of “The Dichotomies of Don Oldfield”. As I sit here pondering this “crust acceptance” by a life long anti-cruster, I finally realize why my brain can accept this. Duh, it’s just a sandwich in disguise! Whew, costly shrink session avoided…

Venison pot pie loaded with filling and ready to be top crusted.
Venison pot pie loaded with filling and ready to be top crusted.

The Cut:

When making a pot pie, you have a ton of flexibility when it comes to your cut of meat selection. It comes down to personal preference and amount of time you want to spend cooking. Or sometimes it determined for you by “what do we still have in the freezer?”.

If you wanted to make a “quick” dinner after work (about an hour start to finish), you could cube up some loin or even tenderloin. It’s tender enough to braise for 10 minutes and be pie ready.

More typically, you would use your tougher cuts that will benefit with some slow braising time to soften them up. And here’s where personal preference comes in – how do you want the presentation to look and/or how much flavor are you looking for?

Shoulder and neck roasts are excellent choices here. They have more connective tissue which really needs a slow cook to break them down and tenderize them. This same connective tissue will give the dish more flavor. Don’t equate this to gamy-ness.. Yes, sometimes you’ll get a gamy animal, but most of the time the flavor you get from the shoulder and neck cuts is a richness (try some osso buco for the ultimate experience of this flavor) that I feel enhances the dish. Presentation wise, this same connective tissue, as it breaks down will cause your cubed meat to possibly break down. There is no downside here, unless you wanted to maintain that perfect cube look for the meat – purely visual preference.

You can also use any cut from the rear quarter. The cuts from the rump are great for slow cooking, and get to the appropriate tenderness faster than the neck and shoulder cuts. And because they have less connective tissue, they can better maintain that perfect cube look –  I mean, if you want it to look just like those frozen pot pies you had as a kid… So yes, that’s what I did for today’s presentation: I used a section of top round off the rear quarter.

Venison pot pie fresh out of the oven.
Fresh out of the oven.

The Ingredients:

  • 1 lb venison – cubed to preference (¾” is a decent size)
  • 1 quart (32 oz) venison stock or beef stock or broth
  • 3 cups of frozen mixed vegetables (or use fresh of your choice – but hey it’s wintertime, EVERYTHING is coming from the freezer!)
  • pie crust (I used pre-made here)
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil
  • salt & pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons of cornstarch
Two people can destroy a good pot pie - make two if you are having company..
Two people can destroy a good pot pie – make two if you are having company..

The Process:

Add your venison to a bowl. Splash with some olive oil and salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Mix by had to evenly coat the cubes.

Preheat oven to 250°.

In a cast iron dutch oven or similar, on medium high, heat just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Sear the venison, stirring it to brown all sides. Once browned, pour in enough stock to just barely cover the venison cubes. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven.

The amount of time you spend braising it here will depend on what cut you chose. If you picked loin, 10 minutes on the stovetop on a low simmer will probably suffice. Neck or shoulder? Probably 3 plus hours in the oven. My top round that I used here was perfectly done at 2½ hours – nice and tender, but not falling apart. The key here is to just keep an eye on it, and when it gets to your preferred tenderness, pull it out.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the venison to a bowl. Back on the stovetop, with your dutch oven with the braising liquid still in it, add your vegetables. Add the rest of the stock/broth, and simmer till the vegetables are cooked – about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the same bowl as the venison.

Get your pie crust out of the fridge.

Now, we make the gravy. To the liquid in the dutch oven, add cornstarch to reach your thickening preference. I added 4 tablespoons for a nice thick consistency. You could go with 3 if you like it more brothy. Simmer for about 10 minutes uncovered, or until it reaches a nice consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. If you used broth instead of stock – you may not need any more salt.

Kick the oven up to 350°.

Add the venison and vegetables back to the gravy, and let them simmer while you get your bottom crust ready in a 9″ pie plate. Spoon the filling into the crust, cover with another crust. Pinch the edges, and cut slots in the top. Cook in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Tip: cover the edges of the crust in aluminum foil while baking, and remove the foil once the center has reached a golden brown. This will keep those edges from burning.

This is another recipe that seems like a lot of work – but most of it is just sitting around waiting. If you double or triple the recipe, you can make multiple meals at once: freeze the extra filling, and on days when you want a quicker meal, all you have to do is heat the filling, stuff in a crust and bake. Still not a 10 minute meal I know – but well worth the time.

Venison Swiss Steak – From Tough to Tender

Venison Swiss Steak - get a super tender result with with a double tenderizing method - pounding then braising.
Venison Swiss Steak – get a super tender result with with a double tenderizing method – pounding then braising.

Swiss steak is one of my wife’s favorite wintertime meals. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is one of her favorite venison recipes as well. Between the deer and the vegetables, I typically make this mostly with ingredients we’ve grown or collected ourselves – with the exception of the spices and noodles. Fine, and the celery. We haven’t tried growing celery yet. Anyways, knowing where (most of) your ingredients come from seem to make a meal better.

Swiss steak is typically made from a tougher cut of meat, and goes through a double tenderization process: you bludgeon it into a flat steak, then you braise it low and slow.

I was curious why the Swiss were credited with this method of cooking. Perhaps some dark history of how they treated witches in the middle ages? Alas, it turns out the phrase has nothing to do with the Swiss as a people, but a textile preparation involving pounding and/or rolling it to make it easier to work with. Sigh. Not quite as interesting.

Venison Eye of Round - looks like a tenderloin, but you DON'T want to confuse the two!
Venison Eye of Round – looks like a tenderloin, but you DON’T want to confuse the two!

The Cut:

So, we know we need a tougher cut of meat. If you use a more tender cut, it will disintegrate as it cooks. Which is fine if you want it to be more of a meat sauce, but then you might need to change the name of the dish…

My personal choice is to use either blade steaks from the shoulder, or eye of round from the rump.

The way I process the front quarters, I’ll get two triangular steaks per shoulder: one from either side of the blade. I’ll package these together for a meal such as this.

For the rump, I break the rear quarter down to its main roasts: sirloin tip, top round, bottom round, and eye of round. The eye of round sits on the back of the leg between the top and bottom rounds. It looks kind of like a tenderloin, but it’s about 50 times tougher. I take the eye from both rear quarters and freeze them together – they aren’t that big on their own –  a nice sized doe will net you about 1.5 lbs for both eyes combined. Again – perfect for this recipe.

This swiss steak nicely holds it's form when it's done, but is tender enough to shred with your fork.
This swiss steak nicely holds it’s form when it’s done, but is tender enough to shred with your fork.

The Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs of venison
  • 20 oz of diced, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, diced (I know, I always say 1 HEAD of garlic. Who doesn’t like garlic?)
  • 1 cup of green peppers, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef broth or stock
  • 1 tablespoon of worcestershire  sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder to season
  • flour
  • vegetable oil

The Process:

Start out by tenderizing the venison like I cover here. If the roast is particularly big, slice it ALONG the grain in half. It will take more work than the loins do, but I was able to flatten the eye of rounds you see in the pic to a nice even 3/4ths of an inch steaks without needing to slice it.

Salt, pepper, and garlic powder both sides of the steaks. Put enough vegetable oil in the bottom of your dutch oven to cover it, and heat it on the stove on medium. Dust both sides of the steaks in flour, and sear both sides in the dutch oven. Don’t crowd them – if the steaks are large, do one at a time. Once both sides are nicely browned (few minutes per side), put them on a plate to the side.

If you got a lot of burned residue in the bottom of the dutch oven, wipe it out (I have a habit of doing this – cooking it a little too high!) and add more oil. If not, continue to use the oil and drippings that are in there. Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery, till the onions turn translucent.

Preheat the oven to 300°.

Add the peppers and sauté for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes, the broth, the worcestershire sauce, and the paprika, and stir. Bring to a boil. Submerge the venison, cover and transfer the dutch oven to the oven.

Cook for 3 hours, or until the venison is tender. Serve on your choice of noodles, potatoes, or polenta!

 

Venison Burgers – Skip the fat, use a binder

venison hamburger
A pan fried venison cheeseburger with salsa on an english muffin roll.

When you process a deer, you will always end up with some meat that is destined for the grinder. Making venison burger is an expectation for most families, some will even grind the whole deer before they freeze it, making it an easy meal ingredient when needed throughout the year.

I often struggle through some internal conflicts when I cook venison. Many venison recipes you see call for the addition of some kind of fat – usually ground pork, ground beef, or everyone’s favorite: bacon! Fat adds flavor and moisture. And fat helps hold your burger together. As a hunter though, having gone through the full process of of the hunt, the kill, the field dressing, and the butchering – I feel I owe the deer a bit of purity when I cook it. I’m not saying it’s logical, but anytime I cook venison, I strive to cook it on it’s own, and appreciate it as it is without mixing other meats in.

So, what’s the solution? For my venison burgers, I use binders to hold them together and help keep moisture and flavor locked in as I cook them.

venison burger binders
Instead of adding fat to your ground venison, use a binder and pan fry for a perfect burger.

There are many ingredients that can serve as binders. Raw eggs are a top choice, but I don’t use them for burgers because I like them on the rarer side. I lean towards dry binders like dried eggs or dried milk. Dried milk is readily available in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Dried eggs can be a little trickier to find as not all grocery stores carry them.

With either milk or eggs, I use roughly a tablespoon of binder per half pound burger. Personally, I can’t taste a difference between the two, but as you can see from the pictures, they do cook a little differently. Dried egg seems to give a browner sear, where  dried milk sears a little darker.

As a general rule, I almost always pan fry my venison burgers as well. This adds a little bit of fat, but let’s you get a good sear on your burgers without losing moisture and flavor to the grill flames. Another reason to keep some cast iron skillets around..

Venison burgers sizzling in the pan.
Venison burgers sizzling in the pan.

The Cut:

Ok, we know we are using left over bits and pieces that were too small to save as anything else. Keep in mind though, better meat makes a better burger. When I butcher my deer, I like to keep two or three different bags going for my trim pieces. I fill them according to the quality of the cut the trim is coming from. That way I can use a high quality ground meat for burger, and save the lower quality (tougher, more connective tissue, etc.) for jerky.

Or sometimes my burger comes from a leftover chunk of a large roast that was too big for the recipe I’m cooking. When butchering, I try to freeze everything as a whole roast if I can. This does minimize my trim meat that ends up as burger, but it gives me more flexibility in the long run –  I can pull a roast out and grind it anytime if I need more burger.

So next time you go for a venison burger, try a low fat venison only version. Bacon should be a topper, not a filler. For some reason, my mind can justify that…

 

Crockpot Venison Beef and Broccoli

Crockpot venison beef and broccoli is an easy slow cooker meal with an asian flare.
Crockpot venison beef and broccoli is an easy slow cooker meal with an asian flare.

Ok, there is no beef in this venison beef and broccoli. But “venison and broccoli” just doesn’t conjure up the same pretty picture in our minds that we always see in the menus of the local chinese restaurants.

This recipe pulls off those same flavors, with minimal prep – and because it’s cooked in the crockpot, the hardest part of this meal is making the rice. Unless you are one of those people who buy the pre-cooked rice packets from the store…

This is a half day slow cooker recipe. Going longer will only hurt the dish from a presentation perspective – those nice slices of venison WILL eventually break down. You want to keep the cook time down to a point where the meat is tender yet it still holds together. Otherwise you will have more of a “venison gravy and broccoli”.

The Cut:

Because this is a slow cooker recipe, you can use slices from any roast of venison that you like. Keep in mind that if you use anything from the front half (shoulder or neck), it will have more gristle and be tougher –  it won’t be as pretty, and will take a little longer to cook – but just as tasty. I like to use slices from rear quarter roasts: top round, bottom round, or eye of round. These three muscles make up the hamstring of the deer, the rear of the rear quarter so to speak. I normally freeze them all separately. I used a bottom round in today’s meal, which was close to three pounds. I only needed half for this recipe, so I had enough left over to grind for some burgers for later in the week. Bonus!

Your venison will get better (prettier) slices if it's partially frozen when you go to cut it.
Your venison will get better (prettier) slices if it’s partially frozen when you go to cut it.

The Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs venison, in quarter inch slices
  • 1 cup of beef stock or broth
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • crushed red pepper flakes – to taste
  • 4 cups of broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons of water

The Process:

Spray the inside of the crockpot with a no-stick spray or vegetable oil. Add everything BUT the broccoli, cornstarch and water. For the pepper flakes, I like a few good shakes to give it a little heat.

Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours. When the venison is tender but not falling apart, mix the cornstarch and water, and stir into the pot. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Get your rice, or noodles going!

Separately cook the broccoli (microwave or stovetop) so it’s tender. Stir the cooked, drained broccoli into the crockpot and serve!

Simple Slow Cooker Venison Meals

Keep things simple, especially if you are new to cooking venison.
Keep things simple, especially if you are new to cooking venison.

Venison can be a temper-mental meat to cook. An over cooked roast will give your jaws a work out. An over grilled back strap could be sliced up for hockey pucks.

If you have never cooked venison before, start with something easy and foolproof. You can’t go wrong with a crockpot. Low and slow, with almost any kind of sauce will give you a tasty meal that everyone will enjoy.

The key with crockpot cooking is definitely time. You want the low heat to break down the connective tissues. This accomplishes two things: the meat will be tender, and the meat will be tasty. This may run contrary to what many people will tell you, but the connective tissue does not taste gamy. If you get a gamy bite, odds are there was some other material in there that wasn’t properly removed during the butchering process.

Now granted, there are no guarantees in life – especially with venison – there are some small odds that you got a deer that just has a bit of funk to it. But the odds are much better that your deer is not gamy –  a quick test is to just smell it. Most venison will have a nice clean “meat” smell, and will smell very similar to a raw beef steak or roast.

Back to my point – don’t try to cut all the connective tissue out of a roast. Do try to cut anything visible off the surface – this will just help speed up the cooking/breakdown process, but any “seams” you see going into the roast – just leave them be. Over the slow cook, they will melt down, allowing the meat to naturally fall apart.

The Cut:

You can cook ANY cut of meat in a crockpot – BUT, you should stick with the tougher cuts. Save the loin for a pan fry or the grill. These are the cuts in order of my preference for slow cooking:

  1. Neck
  2. Shoulder
  3. Trim Meat (those left over morsels you found when butchering the deer to get every scrap of meat you could).
  4. Any hindquarter roast – Top/bottom round, eye of round, sirloin tip – though I usually reserve the sirloin tip for corning.
SlowCook2
Easy Apple Bourbon Pulled Venison on Polenta

Easiest Recipe Ever

Ok, you could probably do this with any bottle of BBQ sauce, but, I have become a huge fan of the Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces. They make a variety – the pot roast is especially tasty. In this example, I used the Apple Bourbon Pulled Pork.

To make: put your roast/meat in the crockpot (2-3 lbs or really anything UP to that). Dump the sauce in. Put it on low. Walk away for 6-8 hours. Get a fork. Enjoy!

It really is that easy. When it’s done, it will shred just like a pulled pork. Use it the same way: sandwiches, tacos, or in my case, I like to serve it over polenta. The sky is the limit! Sometimes, if it seems a bit saucy, I’ll run it through a strainer – but that is mostly for presentation purposes.

So, get your crockpot, get a few bags of sauce, and try them out for an easy meal that everyone will enjoy!

How to Cure Corned Venison

With just a few ingredients and a little time, you can easily corn any meat.
With just a few ingredients and a little time, you can easily corn any meat.

One day, I was doing some random searching on wild game meals. I came across a recipe for corned venison. Venison corned beef? Mind. Blown. You can CORN venison?! I LOVE corned beef, so I had to try it out.

I’ve corned a good half dozen or so venison roasts, and learned a few things along the way. Once you corn it (soak it in a brine solution for a few days to a few weeks), there are two main ways to can prepare it. Boil/braise it and you have your classic corned “beef”. Coat it with various seasonings and throw it in a smoker, and you have pastrami. Yup, they are the same thing up till you get to the cooking part.

Here I’ll cover the basic brining, and I’ll cover the magical transformation to the end pastrami/corned beast in other posts. This may seem like a lot of work to some people, but in the end, there’s about 15 minutes of prep time, then a lot of letting time do it’s thing.

Corned Venison Sirloin Tip
The Sirloin Tip is a great choice for corning your venison.

The Cut
You can corn ANY cut of venison, however, it may be considered a crime if your corn the loins/tenderloins. Corning is brining. Brining is taking a tough cut of meat, chemically assaulting it, and turning it into something tasty that you can actually chew. You’ve heard of corned beef brisket. You have NOT heard of beef brisket steak. Hopefully. Now, the final cooking method will have just as much to do with the tenderness, this is the starting point. Venison brisket is just too small. Same for shoulder roasts – I want to be able to slice the end product thin and make a sandwich. So, hind quarters it is.

I like to use the sirloin tip or the combination of the rump roast muscles: top round, bottom round, eye of round  (all 3 kept together). The sirloin tip is a nice small football shape, and will not have any connective tissue in it – great for clean looking sandwich slicing. The rump roast is bigger in comparison, so even bigger slices of meat can be had. It also has a bit of grizzle in it, but nothing that is a deal breaker. It does NOT taste gamy – the fibers are just chewy. I’ll usually just pull out any obnoxious chunks when I actually make my sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • An up to 5 lb venison roast. Double the recipe for larger cuts.
  • 1/2 gallon distilled water
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 3 teaspoons Instacure #1
  • 1 head of garlic chopped. If it’s small, go with 2

Process:
Put everything except the venison in a pot. Bring it to a boil to get the sugar and salt to dissolve.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. I like to stick it in the fridge because I’m impatient.

Once it’s cool, find a container that can hold the roast and enough brine to keep it submerged. I like to use the Briner Jr. You want something plastic or enameled, not metallic.

Put the roast in with the brine, make sure it’s covered, and put it in the fridge. Now the tricky part: timing.

Small roasts will need less time, large roasts more time. In my experience, you can’t go too long. A 5 lb roast will take about a week. A 2 lb roast may only need a few days. I kept a 7 lb roast in for 2 weeks. You need to keep it in the brine long enough for the salt/sodium nitrite to permeate the whole roast. If you take it out too soon, it’s not a problem – the flavor just may not be as strong, and you may end up with some brown sections in the middle when you cook it. The sodium nitrate keeps the meat a nice pink color. Where it doesn’t get to will just be the natural brown of cooked venison.

Swirl or stir the container everyday it’s in the fridge to ensure good spice/salt concentrations. Take it out and rinse it thoroughly after the appropriate number of days. Don’t leave any spices on. Discard the brine – do not reuse it.

That’s all there is to it! From here, you can follow your normal corned beef or pastrami recipe.