The Ultimate Game Dinner

Three Simple recipes that will transform the contents of your freezer into a sportsman's feast. There's even meat for dessert! PLUS: EXCLUSIVE ONLINE RECIPE

Elizabeth Watt, www.elizabethwatt.com

Freezer Fatigue: It's that defeated feeling you get, come February or March, as you assess the contents of your deep freeze and wonder what the hell you're going to do with all those odds and ends. There's the Canada goose you killed in November that your family just couldn't finish. And those whitetail roasts that sank toward the bottom while the loin and sausage earned swift passage to the kitchen. Maybe some squirrels, or the single pheasant you shot and never got around to cooking. In short, a lot of everything and too little of anything. No need to sigh, however. In fact, now's the time to call a few pals and rev up the stove, because that hodgepodge of cuts can be the base for the perfect deep-winter meal designed to clean out your freezer, and to end the season with a belly-rubbing bang.

The three recipes here make use of any type of game and add intense seasonings to smooth out any freezer-scarred off flavors. Prepare all three as a complete game dinner, or try one recipe at a time. Either way, these dishes are the ultimate antidote to freezer fatigue: a celebration of the season's bounty, and a final toast to all those long days afield.

The Appetizer: Wild Game Ravioli
Fill these ravioli with whatever you have--venison, small game, upland birds, or waterfowl. Just be sure that it's ground or chopped finely enough that you can seal the pasta around it.

I've introduced many people to squirrel by sneaking it inside ravioli. They always demand seconds.

Total time: About 30 minutes, Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound wild game, ground or very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
  • 24 wonton wrappers
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 16 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the meat and scallions. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the meat is browned, then set it aside to cool in a large bowl. Mix in the egg and cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Lay the wonton squares on a sheet pan or pans. (Dusting the pan with cornstarch will prevent sticking.) Working swiftly, place a tablespoon or so of the meat filling on the center of each square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, wet the edges of the squares with water, then fold them to form triangle shapes. Press the edges together tightly so that a solid seal forms. (Since brands of wonton wrappers differ in size, you may need to adjust the amount of filling to keep the edges clear.) Put the ravioli in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to cook.

Bring about 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. While it's heating, melt the butter in a large skillet or saut¿¿ pan over high heat, until the foam subsides. Lower the heat to medium and add the sage leaves, and cook until the butter browns.

Cook the ravioli in the boiling water for about 3 minutes, or until they float. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to the pan with the browned butter and gently toss for about a minute. To serve, spoon the ravioli with some butter into a pasta bowl and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste.

[NEXT "The Main Event: Venison Cassoulet"]

The Main Event: Venison Cassoulet
A wintry, crusted stew thick with meat, sausage, and white beans, cassoulet is often called the national dish of France, but don't let that scare you off. I prefer to think of it as beanie-weenies dressed up for a night on the town. This is also excellent with wild boar instead of venison.

Active time: 1 hour, total: 21/2 hours, serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried white beans, soaked for at least hours, or overnight, and drained
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 11/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 11/2 pounds boneless venison, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups fine dried breadcrumbs
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
In a large, heavy pot, combine the beans and ham hocks with 8 cups of chicken stock, 1/2 cup of chopped onion, 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of thyme, and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Skim any foam that pools on the surface. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid, and discard the bay leaves. When it's cool enough to handle, cut up the meat from the ham hocks and set it aside with the beans.

Preheat the oven to 375¿¿. Season the venison with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour, shaking off any excess. Reserve the flour. Heat the oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and brown the venison on all sides, about 5 minutes total. (You may need to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.) Transfer it to paper towels to drain and cool.

Cook the remaining onion and thyme with the celery, carrot, salt, and cayenne until the vegetables soften, about 4 minutes. Place the sausage and 1 teaspoon of garlic in the pot and cook for 2 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. Now add 1/4 cup of the reserved flour and stir constantly, for about 10 minutes, until the flour darkens to a butterscotch color. Whisk in the 2 cups of chicken stock and the reserved cooking liquid from the beans. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Combine evenly with the venison, the reserved meat from the ham hocks, and the beans. (At this point you can refrigerate it overnight if desired. Let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.)

In a blender, pulse the breadcrumbs, melted butter, cheese, egg yolks, and salt and pepper until well blended. Spread the mixture over the cassoulet and bake until the crust is golden, about 35 minutes. Serve.

ONLINE BONUS STEP: An Optional Stew Step for Overachievers
Traditionally, cassoulet is served with duck or goose confit--waterfowl that's been slowly simmered in fat until the meat falls apart in rich, ultra-tender pieces. If you have extra ducks or geese in the deep freeze, this age-old French technique will put it to sublime use. Add the confit to the cassoulet when you add the browned venison, making sure to scrape off any congealed fat before you do.

Wild Confit

  • 4 goose or duck legs
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 pounds rendered duck or goose fat*

Put the goose or duck legs in a large bowl with the salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and garlic. Mix well, coating the meat evenly, then cover the bowl and let marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning them two or three times. The next day, preheat the oven to 225¿¿ and bring the fat to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Add the marinated legs, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and place on the oven's middle shelf. Cook for 3 hours. Remove the duck legs from the pot and transfer them to an airtight storage container. Pour the fat over the legs, covering them completely, and let cool. Store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use.

*If you have enough waterfowl fat, you can render it yourself by slowly melting pieces of it over medium-low heat. You can also purchase rendered fat from 800-327-8246; dartagnan.com.

[NEXT "The Big Finale: Wild Game Mincemeat Cobbler with Cornmeal Crust"]

The Big Finale: Wild Game Mincemeat Cobbler with Cornmeal Crust
You rarely think of pie when you're cleaning your deer. But here is dessert for the seriously devoted carnivore. Ground or very finely chopped game gets stewed with apples, raisins, dried cherries, spices, and a few splashes of dark rum, then baked under a sweet and golden cornmeal crust.

Active Time: 20 minutes, Total: 3 hours, Makes: 1 cobbler

Ingredients
Filling:

  • 2 cups apple cider or juice
  • 1 cup dark seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or currants
  • 11/2 cups chopped, peeled apples
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 pound ground or finely chopped venison or other wild game
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or brandy (optional)

Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons

Directions:
In a heavy saucepan, combine the cider, raisins, and cherries. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add the apples, spices, and game. Simmer for 2 hours more, adding more cider or water if the mixture sticks. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Work in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in 2/3 cup of the cream until the dough comes together just enough to be rolled into a ball. Knead it gently two or three times, then dust it with a bit of flour and place it on a floured surface. Roll it or pat it so that it approximates the shape of the pan you'll be cooking the cobbler in (e.g. a glass pie pan or square baking pan).

Preheat the oven to 350¿¿. Spoon the mincemeat mixture into the cobbler pan and, if using, splash with the rum. You can cut the dough into pieces of any size or shape for the crust, cobbling them together, or place the dough whole atop the mincemeat (if the latter, poke a few holes in it with a fork to vent steam). Lightly brush the top of the dough with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream, and sprinkle on the remaining eady to use.

*If you have enough waterfowl fat, you can render it yourself by slowly melting pieces of it over medium-low heat. You can also purchase rendered fat from 800-327-8246; dartagnan.com.

[NEXT "The Big Finale: Wild Game Mincemeat Cobbler with Cornmeal Crust"]

The Big Finale: Wild Game Mincemeat Cobbler with Cornmeal Crust
You rarely think of pie when you're cleaning your deer. But here is dessert for the seriously devoted carnivore. Ground or very finely chopped game gets stewed with apples, raisins, dried cherries, spices, and a few splashes of dark rum, then baked under a sweet and golden cornmeal crust.

Active Time: 20 minutes, Total: 3 hours, Makes: 1 cobbler

Ingredients
Filling:

  • 2 cups apple cider or juice
  • 1 cup dark seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries or currants
  • 11/2 cups chopped, peeled apples
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 pound ground or finely chopped venison or other wild game
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or brandy (optional)

Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons

Directions:
In a heavy saucepan, combine the cider, raisins, and cherries. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add the apples, spices, and game. Simmer for 2 hours more, adding more cider or water if the mixture sticks. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Work in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in 2/3 cup of the cream until the dough comes together just enough to be rolled into a ball. Knead it gently two or three times, then dust it with a bit of flour and place it on a floured surface. Roll it or pat it so that it approximates the shape of the pan you'll be cooking the cobbler in (e.g. a glass pie pan or square baking pan).

Preheat the oven to 350¿¿. Spoon the mincemeat mixture into the cobbler pan and, if using, splash with the rum. You can cut the dough into pieces of any size or shape for the crust, cobbling them together, or place the dough whole atop the mincemeat (if the latter, poke a few holes in it with a fork to vent steam). Lightly brush the top of the dough with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream, and sprinkle on the remaining