If your family has deer meat in the freezer, you may be like me, working hard to get creative to make it tasty and tender. So many people in this region of Nebraska hunt deer to keep them out of the crops that we end up being given quite a bit of venison each season. Usually my partner runs all of the meat through a grinder and freezes it so he can make jerky or sausage, or we just cook it and add it to recipes that call for ground beef. This year I asked him to leave some larger cuts so I could experiment, because I haven't cooked much venison. The first dish I cooked was the back strap (the best cut from the animal, think tenderloin). I wrapped it in bacon and made a teriyaki-type glaze and slow roasted it in the oven, done on the outside and rare in the middle. It was delicious.
My next recipe was also a success. I decided that slow cooking would help to tenderize the meat. In addition, acidity and sweetness from apples and vinegar would mellow the gamey flavor. I came up with this recipe, which adds some extra fat to balance the lean and some wonderful, rich winter flavors. If you are looking for something delicious and rib-sticking for a cold winter night, try it out. I think it turned out beautifully. Let me know what you think if you try it!
Winter Venison and Apple Stew with Dumplings
(I don't usually measure exactly when I'm winging it. These amounts are approximate, so adjust according to your tastes.)
Shoulder cut of venison, about 2 pounds, cut into cubes
1 apple, diced
2 cups apple cider
1 onion, sliced or chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sage
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
3 strips bacon
1 sweet potato (or regular potato)
Plan on slow cooking this dish for 6 to 8 hours.
Layer bacon, onions and apples in the bottom of the slow cooker. Turn it on high. If your meat is frozen, put the whole chunk in the pot and cut it up later as it thaws and cooks.
Add all ingredients except potatoes, then add water to the top of the slow cooker. Cook for 2 hours on high and then reduce to low and cook another 4 to 6 hours.
Add sliced or diced potatoes 1 to 2 hours before you are ready to eat. Turn heat back to high 30 minutes before end of cooking time. Wait 10 minutes, then add dumplings so that they will cook thoroughly.
3 tablespoon butter
2 cups flour (I milled the flour for this, so it was whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or water
Soften butter and mix all ingredients thoroughly. Drop by spoonfuls into the slow cooker, pushing dumplings down to make room for more dumplings. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. The dumpling batter will dissolve somewhat and thicken the stew.
Adjust flavors to your taste. The stew should have a slight apple cider vinegar flavor, but not be overwhelmed by it. Enjoy!