Venison Bourguignon

Congratulations! It’s a Venison Bourguignon!

Have a special event coming up?  We do. In early October we’re celebrating our 38th Anniversary. Maybe you have a special birthday coming up, or some other event that just demands a really special meal.  This Venison Bourguignon will fill the bill.  Literally, perhaps, because whatever red meat—or reddish meat—you have in the freezer will work very nicely.  I’ve made bourguignon with deer, elk, goose, moose, duck, antelope and even black bear—as long as it was a berry-eating bear rather than a musty, gamy, gut-pile munching black bear.

Read the whole recipe before you start, including the notes on the pot you use and the wine. They’re both important elements.

PS: This recipe is from The Wild Bowl: Soups, stews and chilies, which is going to the printer tomorrow, Sept 15, 2021. One hundred recipes for big game, wild birds and even wild pigs, plus a no-knead, simple-as-pie-bread and Corn Dodgers in a cast iron skillet recipes.   I’ll have copies in time for Christmas, but to pre-order go to: www.riflesandrecipes.com.

Venison Bourguignon

Makes 3 quarts/12 cups

According to the internet, Cognac is one of the oldest spirits in the world.  And according to French law, only Cognac made in the Cognac region of France can be called Cognac.  Made anywhere else, it’s called brandy. Yada, yada, yada. What’s important is that this is a delicious way to cook any red meat from moose to goose and deer to duck. But do read the notes about evaporation further down before you stick the pot in the oven.

Do-Ahead  Brine Ingredients

  • 2 pounds red meat, in 1” chunks
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Cooking Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 8 slices bacon, about ½ pound
  • 2 white onions, chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preparation

  1. 48-72 hours ahead: Place the chunks of meat in a gallon resealable bag.  Add the cold water, salt and brown sugar, mix and seal the bag.  Let the meat brine in the fridge for 48-72 hours.

Cooking

  1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Drain the brine off the meat, wrap the meat into 3-4 paper towels and give a little squeeze to remove excess liquid. (That helps to get a nice golden browning in the pan rather than steaming the  meat.)
  2. This is a large amount of meat, and should be browned in batches. Four of them in fact, if you’re using a 9 to 10” skillet. So divide the oil, bacon and meat into four parts, then cook each batch on medium heat. Add the oil first, then when it is hot, add the bacon and brown it. Transfer the chopped bacon to a small bowl lined with paper towels as you brown it, leaving the fat in the skillet. Add the chopped meat to the bacon fat,  brown about 5 minutes for the first side a little less for the second.  Transfer the browned meat to a second bowl.
  3. Add the chopped white onion and carrots. Sauté  the onions until they’re soft, then add the salt, pepper and Cognac, give the pot a good stir, and continue on medium-low until the Cognac is almost gone. (Swipe the bottom of the pan and watch how fast or slow it backfills with sauce; wait until it takes 5-6 seconds, then add the broth, wine, tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme, increase the heat to high until the pot starts bubbling.  Turn it down to a simmer, cover the pot with foil, then set the lid firmly  and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for about 90 minutes, adding water if needed.  (The finished dish should be a pretty thick stew, rather than watery soup.)
  4. In the last 30 minutes of cooking, melt the butter in a pan, sauté  the thawed pearl onions until lightly browned.  Add the mushrooms and sauté  until they’re soft; add the chopped bacon.  When it’s all hot, add to the DO and stir together.  Traditionally this dish is served over mashed potatoes or pasta. Depending on the saltiness of the wine, add a bit of salt and pepper to taste at the table.

Two things to remember:  The Pot and the Wine

Let’s talk about the pot first. The bourguignon cooks in the oven for 90 minutes, and that little wisp of steam that constantly escapes the heaviest of lids can be an issue.  You’ve invested half a bottle of wine and a bunch of exotic mushrooms, not to mention precious game meat and a couple of little airplane-sized bottles (¼ cup each) of cognac, and burning the stew is annoying, to say the least.

The first time I made the dish in the Lodge Dutch oven, I innocently didn’t check the moisture level during the 90 minute oven time. It burned. As much as I love Lodge enameled cast iron Dutch ovens for cooking soups on the stove top, it didn’t keep the moisture in during 90 minutes in the oven.  (Had I been making it with beef, which has fat marbled throughout, the fat would have rendered out and added extra liquid to the sauce, and probably not then run out of liquid. That’s one of the dangers when using beef recipes to make a dish with venison–or using any commercial meat recipe with a wild counterpart. Wild meats just don’t have the marbled fat and in long-cooking dishes like this you have to allow for not gaining liquid via the rendered beef fat.)

I recently invested in a Staub Dutch oven.  And made a pot of bourguignon, which actually ended up having too much moisture left after 90 minutes in the oven.  Bourguignon should be a thick stew, and it turned out to be a loose soup in the Staub. That was easily fixed by letting it simmer on the stove top for a few minutes. Burned, is not so easily fixed.

Oddly, the Lodge lid weighs 3 pounds 10 ounces.  The lid on the Staub enamel pot is several ounces lighter than the Lodge, at 3 pounds 6 ounces.  And despite that weight, with the Lodge, I have to add liquid during the cooking of dishes like this.

Staubs are French, like Le Creuset and according to reputable food magazine reviews these two are the gold standard in cooking.  Of course measuring quart to quart, the French pots are 5 times the money.  Place a piece of foil over the Lodge pot, then place the lid snugly on top of that and it works almost as well as the high-priced pots.  But do check the liquid 2-3 times during the oven cooking, the first time you make this at home, whichever pot you use.  (Add water if needed to maintain a thick stew look; conversely, let the pot simmer a few minutes on the stove top, uncovered, if you need to thicken the broth.)

So what about the wine?  The last time I made bourguignon, I discovered that my state liquor store doesn’t carry burgundy anymore. I didn’t want to drive 70 or 120 miles hoping the state liquor board hadn’t eliminated burgundy completely, so I googled burgundy on my cell phone. Turned out the Menage à Trois (Silk Red Blend) was a good match and the Bourguignon was delicious.   Apparently burgundy has experienced a huge growth in popularity and price lately, but there are options.

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