Tough Luck

His muzzle is gray. The knobs at the bases of his antlers curl up like wrinkled thumbs, the tines stubbed by age and encrusted with lichen.

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His muzzle is gray. The knobs at the bases of his antlers curl up like wrinkled thumbs, the tines stubbed by age and encrusted with lichen. When you open him up, he smells like all the other deer you ever shot-put together. You've had a spot on the wall waiting for him all these years, but is there a place for him in the kitchen?

Dealing with tough venison from an old buck is an exercise in patience on two fronts. First, patience because one of the better ways to tenderize venison is with slow-very slow-cooking in a liquid base. Second, patience because when you cook venison in liquid, the meat will contract around the fascia, or silver skin. Unless you remove it first, the result will be boot leather, except tougher to chew. Isolating the meat from the connective tissues with the flat side of your knife blade takes a few minutes, but perform this step thoroughly and even the toughest cuts will suffice for the following savory, and very tender, stew, which I like to call Mossyhorn Bourguignonne:

3 pounds venison, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, quartered
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 carrots, cut in 1-inch sections
20 button mushrooms (or a dozen big ones, halved)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 cups beef broth
1 cup hearty red wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Dust venison with flour, salt, and pepper and brown it in oil in a hot skillet. Remove venison to a big pot or Dutch oven, add herbs, and simmer in wine and beef broth, covered, for 2 hours or until fork tender (it might take twice that long for a Methuselah buck). Saut¿¿ the onions, carrots, and garlic and add to the stew; simmer, covered, for another 40 minutes. Brown mushrooms in butter, add to the stew, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and brown sugar and turn off the heat. Serve with green beans and boiled potatoes (you can dump them into the stew for the last half hour if you want, but don't put them in earlier or they will disintegrate).

Note: When in deer camp, try experimenting with ingredients that are on hand. Crush in some leaves from a nearby sagebrush. Turnips add a nice touch; so do cattail roots. In a pinch, bourbon, brandy, or even gin can substitute for the wine.