How to Cook Venison Sous Vide for a Perfect Roast

You probably have everything you need at home to do simple sous vide – except maybe a cheap temperature controller. For less than $30, you can turn your crockpot into sous vide machine!

I hate cooking roast venison (or even beef for that matter). As a roast in the oven that is. I always overcook them. Or they end up as flavorless blobs of meat. I know, that’s why gravy was invented. It’s really a matter of more practice, but you know how it goes – if something doesn’t come easy, you resist it and fall back to what you KNOW will work (ie: can do easily and not have to actually LEARN). I’ve been hearing more and more about cooking using a method called “sous vide”. It seemed to be a promising way to consistently cook a steak or roast to the perfect temperature. Easily. SIGN. ME. UP.

Continue reading “How to Cook Venison Sous Vide for a Perfect Roast”

Venison Chili – and don’t forget the Cornbread!

Chili is an easy meal to make with venison, and you won't need a grinder for this recipe.
Chili is an easy meal to make with venison, and you won’t need a grinder for this recipe.

If you hunt, I’m willing to bet you make chili too. And I know, I know, you already make the BEST chili. Wait, why are you searching online for “venison chili recipes” then?

One of the reasons I like making chili is that it’s like a science experiment that can’t go wrong. Well, assuming you don’t make it too spicy, or burn it. You throw a bunch of vegetables together with some meat and cook it low and slow till it’s thick and saucy. I sometimes find it difficult to think of cooking chili in terms of a “recipe”, because it’s almost always different when you cook it, depending on the spice or vegetable of the day, or what kind of meat you have available. Well, this is a “venison cooking” website, so let’s talk about the meat you are putting in your chili.

A venison neck roast contains a lot of meat. But it also contains a lot of connective tissue. Comparing it to beef, it would be called chuck, where it often ends up as stew meat or ground. This is typically how it should be handled with deer as well.
A venison neck roast contains a lot of meat. But it also contains a lot of connective tissue. Comparing it to beef, it would be called chuck, where it often ends up as stew meat or ground. This is typically how it should be handled with deer as well.

The Cut:

If you are making chili, and you are going to the store to pick up your ingredients, odds are you are going to go with some ground meat of some kind. It’s usually the cheapest route to go, and hey, it tastes great. Nothing wrong with that. But if you are a hunter, you have a freezer full of options. And if you process your own deer, you probably have minimal ground venison. I always recommend freezing your deer as full cuts/roasts to give you the most options down the road. I normally won’t even grind the trim pieces that I have left over after butchering – I’ll bag them in 2 lb portions. Then I can pull them out later and grind them or stew them, or whatever I need them for – keep the options open.

For chili though, I prefer chunks of meat over ground meat. And my favorite cut for chili is a neck roast. If you have been relegating the neck portion of your deer to the grinder, you have been missing out. Yes, the neck is tough, and it’s full of connective tissue. But when it gets slow cooked, that connective tissue will break down and add flavor to whatever you’re cooking, as well as adding some texture to the meat. This is one of those things that is hard for me to sell in words here, but trust me, give it a try and you’ll see what I mean – and may just have a new favorite cut of venison! For slow cooking anyways…

The Ingredients:

  • 1½ to 2 lbs of venison neck roast cut in ¾ inch cubes (or your preference)
  • 1 to 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 2 cups of diced peppers – I like to mix whatever I have available, usually some sweet and some hot varieties
  • 28 oz of diced tomatoes – fresh, frozen, or canned (hey, this is a science experiment, remember?)
  • 8 oz of tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 15 oz can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
Sides and toppings make any chili - some cheddar and sour cream, and don't forget the cornbread muffins!
Sides and toppings make any chili – some cheddar and sour cream, and don’t forget the cornbread muffins!

The Process:

Add a little olive oil to your cubed venison, and generously season with salt and pepper, and mix it around a little.

In an enameled dutch oven, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom over medium high heat on the stove top. Preheat the oven to 275°.

Add the venison to the dutch oven and sear, stirring occasionally to brown all sides. Add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and cook until for a few minutes till they get fragrant.

Stir in the sauce, the chili powder, and kidney beans.

Stir in the diced tomatoes. You want to make sure all of the ingredients a fully covered – if the fluids from the tomatoes don’t cover them, add a little water. If there was too much in the tomatoes, hold back a little on them.

Bring everything to a simmer on the stove, and then transfer to the oven. Cook in the oven for about 4 hours, or until the meat is tender.

Serve it with some cheddar and sour cream. And make sure you have some corn bread so you have something to wipe the bowl clean with…

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 Shank Osso Buco

Osso Buco made with venison shanks - you'll never grind your shanks again once you try this recipe.
Osso Buco made with venison shanks – you’ll never grind your shanks again once you try this recipe.

Let’s start out with what the shanks are. The shanks are the forelegs. There’s a lot of bone, a lot of tendons, and not a lot of meat.

If you process your own deer, as you break down the quarters, you get to the shank and think: “ugh, there is NO WAY I can get any clean meat off of that”. All gristle and bone – not worth the effort. Many hunters don’t even try to separate the meat out – just cut off what you can, and throw it in the grinder pile to let it do the hard work. I guess that is a fine way to go, but I don’t want all that gristle in my burgers OR jerky.

Well, fortunately, there is a MUCH easier way to harvest the meat from the shanks. Plus you can save time butchering – simply free the shank bone with all the meat on, and package it up for the freezer.

As I’ve discussed before, I like options. The choices you make when you butcher your deer will impact your options when you want to cook your meals. By saving the shanks whole, with the bone in, you have an array of choices, from osso buco, to whole braised shanks, to, if you really wanted, sure, scrape the meat off and grind it. Because of the nature of the shanks, they are a tough cut. Even if you choose to debone them, you will need to plan on some slow cooking method – and personally, I’ll take any form of braised shank over a ground venison meal – any day.

Venison shanks are a pain to cut by hand - unless you use something to hold them in place. A plastic miter box works great!
Venison shanks are a pain to cut by hand – unless you use something to hold them in place. A plastic miter box works great!

The Cut:

Ok, so we already know what the shanks are. You can leave them whole – there are some great braised shank recipes out there, but my preference is to cut them up and make osso buco. Osso buco is Italian – literally “bone hole”, a reference in the dish to the marrow in the bone as it cooks.

But how do we get them into those nice little disks? The best way? Have a friend with a meat bandsaw that can cut them for you. You can even use your own bandsaw if you want, but it will NOT be fun to clean. You can use a reciprocating saw too, like we did for our stew. A lot of times, I just use a good old fashioned hand saw and a plastic miter box. Perfect cuts in wood works for perfect cuts in deer too!

Regardless of the saw you use (outside of a bandsaw), the hard part is holding the shank steady as you cut. That is what I use the miter box for. Without something to hold it steady, you will go back to dedicating your shanks to the grinder again in a hurry. On top of that, always cut it straight out of the freezer. You want the shanks frozen solid as you cut them – and the saw will cut it as easy as wood. I usually freeze two shanks together, and as they are frozen together, I cut them as one – two disks from one cut!

I mount my miter box to a board, and then I clamp that board to my counter. This keeps everything set up rock solid, yet easy to break down for cleaning.

After you cut your shanks, they will likely have some “bone dust” on them. This scrapes right off with a butter knife. I’ll scrape them down then rinse them off and they will look like they do in the pictures here.

Using an enameled cast iron dutch oven makes this a one pot meal - well, if you don't count the holding plates, and cutting boards, and...
Using an enameled cast iron dutch oven makes this a one pot meal – well, if you don’t count the holding plates, and cutting boards, and…

The Ingredients:

  • 2 whole venison shanks, cut into 1½ to 2 inch disks
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 1 cup of carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 cup of peppers, diced
  • 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 cups of venison stock or beef broth
  • flour
  • vegetable oil
  • butter
  • rosemary, thyme, parsley, and oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
Two shanks from a deer will nicely fill a 4.5 quart dutch oven.
Two shanks from a deer will nicely fill a 4.5 quart dutch oven.

The Process:

After you cut your shanks into discs, salt and pepper both sides and let them defrost. Once defrosted, preheat your oven to 325°. In a dutch oven, add enough oil to cover the bottom, and heat it on the stove over medium high heat.

Dust the shank disks in flour, and brown on all sides. Don’t overcrowd the dutch oven – only brown a few pieces at a time, or what will reasonably fit. Set the venison to the side once browned.

In the same dutch oven, add a little butter, and sauté the onion, garlic, peppers, carrots, and celery, until the onions turn translucent. Add the spices to taste, about a half tablespoon each if using dried. Stir.

Layer in the venison, so you can see the flats of the disks. This can be a bit like playing Tetris – I can usually fit all pieces from two shanks in if I cut them closer to 2 inches.

Add the crushed tomatoes (try to fill the gaps). Add enough beef broth to just cover the shanks – usually about a cup. Add more broth as it cooks if needed to maintain this level. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 4 hours, or until the meat easily separates, checking the fluid level every hour.

Serve over rice, noodles, or polenta!

Venison Osso Buco on beef broth polenta.
Venison Osso Buco on beef broth polenta.

 

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!

 

Dutch Oven Venison Stew

A hearty venison stew with slow cooked tender meat.
A hearty venison stew with slow cooked tender meat.

I’ve never viewed a recipe as a hard and fast rule. Then again, I’m not much of a baker. In learning how to cook venison, you will become a better chef by learning how you can twist recipes to suit your needs. You can make this venison stew recipe exactly as I lay it out here and create an excellent meal. Or tweak it to give it a twist: use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Use beef instead of venison (if you run out of venison that is..).

This actually started out as a beef stew recipe. When I look for ways to cook venison, very seldom do I search for a “venison recipe”. Instead, I think about the cut of meat I’m cooking, and I’ll look for interesting recipes for more common meats with the same cut. This vastly increases the options.

When doing this, what you need to understand is the difference between the meat in the recipe you use, and the meat you are actually cooking. Venison is leaner than almost any other meat you will compare it to. What this means for a beef stew to venison stew conversion is: cook it a little lower, and cook it a little slower.

There are no hard and fast rules here, and experience is the best teacher when trying to wing it. Though stewing is pretty easy: if the meat is still tough at 2 hours, give it more time. If the meat completely breaks down, well, you over did it, BUT hey, it will still be tasty stew!

Cooking stew in a dutch oven IN the oven helps prevent scorching.
Cooking stew in a dutch oven IN the oven helps prevent scorching.

One last tip before the recipe: invest in a enameled cast iron dutch oven. You can use this for your stews, chilis, and many other things. The benefit: you can use it on the stove AND put it in the oven. For a stew, this means you can sear the meat and anything else that needs browning on the stove, and then finish it in the oven in the same pot. You’ll have fewer dishes to clean. Plus, by simmering in the oven, you avoid the chance of food burning to the pot that can happen on the stovetop.

The Cut:

With a stew, you are slow cooking. You are letting flavors breakdown and mingle from the ingredients over a long time. If you want your meat to still be recognizable as meat, you want to select a cut that can handle that and still stay together. For stews and chilis, go with the “chuck” steaks or roasts cubed up. The chuck as they call it in beef would be the neck and shoulder cuts of a deer. These cuts have more connective tissue and are a lot tougher than the rest of the deer, so they are the perfect candidate for a low and slow cooked stew.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ lbs venison in 1 inch cubes
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup of AP flour
  • 6 cups of venison stock or beef stock/broth
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ¼ lbs of potatoes, cubed
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • salt and pepper

Process:

Generously season the venison with salt and pepper. Cover the bottom of a large dutch oven in oil and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add half the venison, and brown all sides. Transfer the browned venison to a plate and brown the rest. Move the remaining venison to the plate once browned.

Preheat the oven to 325°.

If you used a lot of oil to sear the venison, you can remove some of it. I like to leave it as it now has some nice meaty flavor, and again, venison is so lean to begin with. Add the butter to the dutch oven (venison is on the plate still). Add the onion and cook till it turns translucent. Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir till lightly browned (about 1 minute).

Add the venison. Scatter the flour over everything, stir to lightly coat, and let brown, stirring occasionally.  Add the broth and the spices. Bring to a simmer.

Transfer the dutch oven to the oven. Cover and cook till the meat is tender, about 3 hours. You could do this on the stove, but plan on doing a lot of stirring to prevent burning!

Once the meat is tender, add the vegetables and potatoes, and cook uncovered until the vegetables are tender (about another hour).

Stir in the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and serve…