Recipe: Nickens's Easy Venison Meatballs

You can dress ground venison up as fancy as you please, but going back to basics is never a bad idea. This meatball recipe is as easy as it gets, but it's still a favorite around the 3-5 Ranch. I grind my venison with a hand grinder affixed with the coarse plate, and it's a snap. Cook a big batch of meatballs and freeze what you don't eat. Here's the drill. Ingredients:
Ground venison and ground pork, in a 3-to-1 ratio
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 medium onion, diced
2 teaspoons basil
2 teaspoons oregano
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
Olive oil
T. Edward Nickens

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I grind my venison without mixing in any fat, and wait until I'm ready to cook before adding pork fat, tallow, etc. The dark meat is venison, obviously. The other is standard issue ground pork from the grocery store. Go ahead and finely dice onions, then saute them in olive oil until they're about 2/3 cooked. They'll cook the rest of the way as you add heat to the meatballs.

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There's only one way to mix it up--wash your hands very thoroughly, then dive in with the digits. Grab, squish, muddle it up.

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Once the two meats are pretty mixed up, add the dry ingredients: bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, spices. Mix some more. Add onions. Mix some more. Keep at it until all the ingredients are distributed throughout the ground meat.

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Form meatballs by working fingerfulls of the mix into a pocket on one hand. I made two sizes: ping-pong balls for the saute pan (any larger and it's harder to cook them all the way through) and larger meatballs for a baking experiment. I've always sauteed the meatballs in olive oil, which can take a pretty long time--or multiple pans--when you're making this many. So I sauteed half and baked half in a 350-degree oven until they browned. Much less trouble and mess that way. I'll let you know if they're as good.

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I turn the meatballs three times so they cook on four sides. It helps to have them close together in the pan so they'll lean against each other and not roll over.

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The end result: Enough meatballs for at least three meals. How easy is that? The baked meatballs were just as good, if slightly less browned, than the sauteed meatballs. And they were a lot less trouble.

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What you've got are the makings of a meal you can dress up or down. Fancy it up with whipped potatoes made from a heritage strain of Yukon Gold spuds and chives, and a homemade marinara sauce of Roma tomatoes. Or do like I did. I had one kid going to soccer practice, another to a swim meet, and a darling wife fed up with work and nearly comatose on the sofa. Instant mashed potatoes, some good-quality prefab marinara sauce, and dinner is served with no apologies. I did dress up the plate with a SHOT Show special I gotta tell you about. I had this salad three times at the hotel restaurant in Orlando, and SHOT Business top dog Slaton White and I have both made it at home. Easy as falling off a log. Split a head of Romaine lettuce lengthwise. Drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil on the split surface, and smear it around with your fingers. Cook split side down on a hot grill about 5-7 minutes. The grill's gotta be hot--cook it too slowly and you'll wilt the entire head. You want the surface to char. Top it off with a Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese, some black olives and roasted red peppers. Crazy good, and makes the most mundane meatball look like the school nerd who'd scored a prom date with a cheerleader.