At the Quaker Creek store in Pine Island, New York, about 50 miles northwest of Manhattan in the rural black-dirt bottomlands of the Warwick Valley, owner Bob Matuszewski sees a lot of venison. Come deer season, area hunters stream into the small roadside delicatessen hauling coolers filled with boned-out whitetails, ready to put their harvest into Matuszewski’s gifted hands. As a third-generation butcher and sausage maker, he has an artist’s touch with meats. For the fortunate local hunters, he can elevate ground venison to wild and glorious new heights.
“We had a game dinner for my dad’s hunting club recently,”he tells me, “and I did an olive loaf, a summer salami, and a cheddar-jalapeño bologna. Most of the guys who come in order breakfast sausage, sweet Italian, kiel-basa, snack sticks, jerky, but some of the farmers who ‘ve got nuisance permits for hunting deer get bored with all that. For them, I’ll make bratwursts and meatballs and pierogies and pretty much anything else we can think of.”
Matuszewski’s virtuoso skills and services may only be available to Warwick Valley hunters, but his ingenuity should be an inspiration to anyone weary of making the same old deer burgers and chili from the packages of ground venison in the freezer. With its intense, woodsy flavor, venison enhances any dish that normally uses ground beef: meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, etc. The only catch, according to Matuszewski: You have to add fat to the grind to give the meat the proper texture.
“Venison is so lean, and without fat, it can feel like sawdust in your mouth,”he says. “Some old-timers like to use beef suet, but that’s a little too fatty for me. We use beef trimmings here–a half-pound to every pound of venison. When you’re trimming beef steaks at home, cube the fat and freeze it so that you’ll have some trim to grind in with your venison later.”For his pierogies (a Polish pasta pocket akin to ravioli), Matuszewski stuffs a simple dough with a mixture of venison, chopped onion, and butter, then fries it in butter and serves it alongside some sauteed onions.
Take a bite and you’re instantly transported to the feast at the end of a red stag hunt in the mountains of Poland– pretty good mileage for a few ounces of ground venison.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with deer burgers and venison chili, but with a little gusto those stalwarts can go from satisfying to sublime. At Charlie Trotter’s, the legendary five-star Chicago eatery, executive chef (and hunter) Matthias Merges cranks up ordinary deer-camp chili by adding juniper berries and bittersweet chocolate and serving it over four separately cooked batches of beans. “We wanted to see if we could elevate chili to a whole other level,”Merges says. “By adding northern beans and rice beans, we brought some different textures and flavors to it that make it a little more complex.”
For the recent book Burgers (Clarkson Potter), David Waltuck, the chef at Manhattan’s vaunted Chanterelle, conceived a venison burger au poivre–that is, a venison patty bathed in a sauce made from brandy, Madeira, veal glaze, and three varieties of cracked peppercorns–that tastes like the creation of a French brasserie chef channeled through an American deer-camp kitchen. The same playful spirit evident in those dishes is what keeps Matuszewski content as his autumn workdays stretch to 14 and 16 hours. “We like to do a little experimenting and have a little fun here,” he says, launching into a description of a recent concoction–a venison-chorizo burrito–before heading back to man the old grinder.
Quaker Creek Store Venison Pierogies (Serves Four)
Bob Matuszewski’s grandmother–the original source of this recipe–typically made these pierogies by shredding some roasted shoulder meat or by running cooked shoulder through a grinder, for a deeper texture. But ground venison works equally well, yielding a golden-hued venison pocket similar to tried ravioli.
2 cups flour
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
½ cup ground venison, browned
1 finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 To make the filling: Sautethe onion in the butter until translucent, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix with the browned venison and let cool.
2 To make the dough: Mound the flour on a kneading board (or any non-stick counter surface) and form a hole in the center. Drop the eggs into the hole and cut them into the flour with a knife. Add the salt and water and knead the dough until it’s firm. Cover with a warm towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two halves and roll out the halves until thin. With a biscuit cutter or a glass, cut the dough into rounds.
3 Spoon a dollop of filling onto the middle of each round. Moisten the edges with water, fold the dough over, and seal the edges together firmly with the tines of a fork. (Be sure they’re well sealed so they don’t open while cooking.)
4 Drop the pierogies into boiling salted water and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon.
5 When ready to serve, melt a few pats of butter over medium heat. Sautethe pierogies on both sides until they’re golden brown. If desired, serve with sauteed onions.
David Waltuck’s Venison Burger au Poivre (Serves Four)
This recipe was adapted from Burgers by Rebecca Bent with Tom Steele (Clarkson Potter).
2 pounds venison ground with 4 ounces beef fat
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons brandy
¼ cup medium-dry Madeira or French dry white vermouth
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarsely ground Szechuan peppercorns (where available; substitute green peppercorns if necessary)
1 pint heavy cream
1 tablespoon veal glaze (veal stock reduced to a syrupy consistency, available at gourmet food shops), optional
Juice of ½ lemon
1 Gently form the ground venison into four thick 8-ounce patties. Lightly flour them and season with the salt.
2 Heat a sautepan over a high flame, add the oil, then the burgers. Promptly turn the heat down to medium and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side for rare; do not cook beyond medium-rare or the meat will get dry. Remove the burgers from the pan and set aside on a warm plate.
3 While the burgers cook, make the sauce in a clean pan. Off heat, add the brandy and Madeira. Put the pan over medium heat, and reduce the liquid until almost dry, about 15 minutes. Add the peppers, cream, veal glaze (if using), and lemon juice. Reduce over high heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
4 Put the burgers on plates (don’t serve on a bun) and pour the hot pepper sauce over them. Serve with fries or mashed potatoes.
Four-Bean Venison Chili with Black Diamond White Cheddar (Serves Four)
Charlie Trotter’s complex venison chili is the culinary equivalent of a symphony orchestra playing around a campfire. Over the top? Absolutely. But it’s worth the trouble, and truth be told, it’s not all that much trouble. As long as you’ve got enough pans and stove-eyes to go around, the four individual batches of beans can be prepared simultaneously. If you can’t find rice beans (they’re like miniature white beans), substitute any other kind of bean. Black Diamond is a Canadian cheese company whose distinctive, blade-sharp cheddar can be purchased in 10-pound wedges on Amazon.com, but any decent extra-sharp cheddar will suffice. This recipe is adapted from Workin’: More Kitchen Sessions With Charlie Trotter (Ten Speed Press).
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup black beans, ½cup pinto beans, ½ cup Great Northern beans, and ½ cup rice beans, each soaked in water overnight and drained
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 halved jalapeño chiles
2 dried chipotle chiles
¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
8 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ pounds ground venison
2 minced garlic cloves
1 ½ cups diced red onion
1 ancho chile, soaked in warm water and chopped
¼ cup chili powder
½ cup tomato paste
3 large diced tomatoes
3 finely crushed juniper berries
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons crushed cumin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 cups bean cooking liquid (see below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups grated Black Diamond white cheddar
¼ cup minced red onion
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped scallion tops
1 To prepare all four types of beans, do this separately for each batch: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, saute ¼ cup of the onions in 1 tablespoon of the butter until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and their seasonings (black turtle beans with the cumin; pintos with the jalapeños; Great Northerns with the chipotles; rice beans with cilantro) and 2 cups of water; bring to a slow simmer. Cook the beans over low heat for 2 hours or until tender. Discard the jalapeños and chipotles. Drain the excess liquid into a single bowl and reserve it, keep all beans separate, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
2 To prepare the chili: In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, brown the ground venison with the garlic and onion (about 10 minutes). Drain off any excess fat and add the ancho chile, chili powder, tomato paste, tomatoes, juniper berries, bay leaves, cumin, vinegar, chocolate, and 2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid. Simmer the chili slowly for 30 minutes or until all the flavors have melded. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3 To serve: Place the beans at four different points in a shallow bowl. Ladle the venison chili over the beans and sprinkle with the garnish.
For more venison recipes, go to fieldandstream.com/outdoorskills.
THE HOME GRINDER
•For do-it-yourselfers who prefer to butcher game at home, L.E.M. electric meat grinders are the industry standard. The .35-horsepower #8 model ($249; 800-536-7763; www. lemproducts.com) grinds up to 240 pounds of meat per hour and comes with four stuffing tubes for making sausages. –J.M.