I was once given a garbage bag of freezer-burnt deer meat. Caked in frost and bleached from dehydration, the frozen boulder looked more like a giant tumor than venison. But I had a plan to turn that mass of tough meat into something tasty.
The answer was this recipe for venison saag—a slow-braised dish inspired by Indian saag curry. The spices and yogurt marinade did an excellent job of tenderizing and flavoring the meat, and it turned out to be a family favorite.
While this recipe is perfect for a package of forgotten stew meat at the bottom of the freezer, you can make this dish with any red meat, regardless of its condition. And because this recipe is a bit complicated, I recommend making a big batch, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers. If you are dealing with freezer-burnt meat, I recommend using a fillet knife to trim off the gray dehydrated parts while it’s still mostly frozen. From there, this recipe will do the rest of the work.
- 2 pounds venison stew meat, trimmed of silver skin and fascia
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons of garam masala
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 2 ounces of fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of red chili powder
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 ounces fresh ginger, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
- Sunflower oil (mixed use)
- 2 tablespoons of salted butter
- 2 teaspoons of freshly minced garlic
- 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup of chicken stock
- 20 ounces of fresh spinach, blanched and pureed
- 16 ounces of fresh mustard leaves, blanched and blended
- 2 poblanos, roasted, seeded, skin peeled, and blended
- 2 tablespoons of Kasoori methi (sun-dried fenugreek leaves)
- 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon (or more) of water to turn cornstarch into a slurry
- Fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish, optional)
Rice and Bread
- 4 cups of basmati rice
- 5-1/2 cups of cold water
- Naan bread
Trim all the venison of silver skin and fascia and cut into approximate 1-inch-by-1-inch chunks. In a food processor, thoroughly blend all marinade ingredients other than the yogurt. Add the thoroughly blended marinade mix to the yogurt and stir, mixing well. Add the venison chunks to the marinade and marinate overnight.
In a food processor, add 1 medium yellow onion, chopped; 2 ounces of fresh ginger, chopped; 1 tablespoon of garam masala; 1 tablespoon of brown sugar; 1 teaspoon of kosher salt; 1 teaspoon of black pepper; 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric; and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin. Blend until the onion and ginger are finely minced and the entire mix is basically a paste.
Add a thin layer of sunflower oil to a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the paste mix to the Dutch oven and stir for 5 minutes to brown. Do not clean the food processor. Add 2 teaspoons of freshly minced garlic along with 2 tablespoons of salted butter to the Dutch oven. Stir for a couple of minutes then add 1 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1 cup of chicken stock. Set heat to medium-low and allow to reduce for 20 minutes.
To prepare the roasted poblanos, rub the poblano peppers with a light coating of sunflower oil and roast at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes or until the peppers are slightly charred and the skin is loose. Remove and immediately place in a bowl and cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place in the fridge for a half hour so the peppers can sweat and the skin can loosen further. Once sweated, remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and peel off the skin. Reserve to add to the food processor with the mustard leaves. Turn your oven down to 300 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Briefly dip 16 ounces of mustard leaves (three bunches should be correct, minus stems) to the boiling water. Drain the blanched leaves in a colander with ice to cool them quickly and add them to the food processor and pulse several times.
Add the peeled poblano peppers and pulse again but do not puree the mixture completely. Add the mustard leaves and poblanos to the Dutch oven and stir. While that simmers, blanch the spinach leaves, drain and ice them in the colander, puree them in the food processor, and pour them into the Dutch oven. Add 2 tablespoons of Kasoori methi and stir in.
To cook the venison, heat a thin layer of sunflower oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Remove the venison chunks directly from the marinade and add them to the skillet, being careful not to crowd the pan. Sear all sides then add the meat to the Dutch oven. You will likely need to sear the venison in several batches. Add more sunflower oil as necessary. Err on the side of under-searing versus over-searing to avoid burning the meat.
Once all venison is seared and mixed with the greens and spices, cover the Dutch oven and add it to your pre-heated, 300-degree oven. Stir every half hour. Add more chicken stock if it looks like it’s drying out. After 2 hours, check the meat for tenderness. If you can fork apart a chunk of venison, it’s done cooking. Tougher stew meat from the front quarter or neck, for example, may require upwards of 3 hours in a 300-degree oven.
Remove the Dutch oven, and leave it on the stovetop with the lid on. Add 4 cups of rice to a large saucepan or pot along with 5-1/2 cups of cold water. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat to low. Once the rice fully absorbs the water, turn off the heat (it should take approximately 10-15 minutes).
To finish the saag, make a cornstarch slurry by mixing 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with enough water to turn it into a paste. Stir that slurry into the saag in the Dutch oven. Serve saag with rice and warm naan bread. Top with chopped fresh cilantro.