Something about a savory stew warms the heart and soothes the soul.
Maybe it’s the ingredients — meat tenderized by a few hours of simmering, hearty vegetables taking a natural place alongside the feature meat, a thick and rich broth that ties all of the flavors together but doesn’t overwhelm them.
Maybe it’s the warmth — a deeply satisfying meal, all in one bowl that just makes you feel good all over because you know it’s good for you. And it just physically warms your insides, too.
Maybe it’s the idea — when you base your creation on venison killed by you or your family, stew becomes all the more special because the meal is a symbol of a successful hunt, a special animal and great memories. There is no better way to celebrate the bounty from your whitetail hunt.
Memorable venison stew is easy to make, but it doesn’t just happen. Let’s examine what stew is and explore why venison is an ideal meat for making it and which venison cuts are good candidates for stew. Then we’ll
outline key preparation techniques and processes for perfect stew, and provide some guidelines for creating your own wonderful stews. (Fact: It’s difficult to ruin stew!)
In its basic form, stew is a meat-and-vegetable-based dish, with a thick broth or gravy resulting from the slow simmering or cooking of the ingredients. Stew is often presented in a bowl, but it’s usually thick enough that it can also be served on just a high-sided plate.
One secret to making great-tasting stew is to cook it on relatively low heat for a few hours. A “simmer” is the best way to describe this process. Stew is simple to make, but it is not fast.
The factor that differentiates stew from soup is the thickness of the broth, which is usually called the “gravy” in stew. The vegetables used — especially the starch added by potatoes — provide natural thickening agents. A little cornstarch can also do the job, as will a flour-water paste (roux), as with making regular gravy.
Rich, flavorful, wholesome and willing to take on the flavors around it, venison makes the perfect stew meat.
Stew’s long, slow-cooking method breaks down even the toughest cuts of meat nicely so that they are tender when you eat them. Even a gristly buck that isn’t the best eating otherwise, can be rendered into an epicurean delight in stew. But you’ll want to make a few stews from every deer you harvest, not just the rare tough specimen.
The best cuts for stew meat exist on the front legs and lower part of the back legs. The stringy nature of these non-prime cuts, along with their tendons, fibers and gelatinous membranes between muscle fibers, add character to the stew’s favor, as well as fullness to the gravy.
On a smaller deer, I will sometimes freeze a whole leg when butchering, or divide it up into a couple chunks of a few pounds each for stew. The meat lasts longer in the freezer without yet being chunked up into stew-sized pieces that expose more meat to air. Instead, carve up the chunks after thawing.
The lower back legs are a close second for being non-prime cuts that convert wonderfully into stews. In addition, if you take the time to trim up a carcass after butchering (look to the neck, front of chest, rib and upper back leg areas), you can usually come up with a few more pounds of chunk meat for stew.
Finally, you can also use steak and roast meat for stew when and if needed. While these “better” cuts of meat are often reserved for other cooking methods, you can also chunk up that meat for a stew in a pinch.
Making stew is not a complex process, but there is a specific progression of steps to follow.
Prepare the Meat
Cut up meat into chunks that are approximately 1-inch-square. If some are a little bigger or smaller, no big deal.
Coat the Meat
Roll meat chunks in seasoned flour, coating all sides well. Seasoned flour is easy to make with salt, pepper, garlic powder and other spices you like. Two of my favorites are McCormick’s Garlic & Herb Seasoning or Montreal Steak Seasoning. Rosemary also makes a great addition to seasoned flour.
Brown the Meat
Cover the bottom of a pot with vegetable oil, heat it up to sizzling and brown the coated meat chunks. This is the one pot you will use start-to-finish to make your stew. You want all the drippings and other materials from browning to stay with the stew! You don’t have to cook the meat through now, but do sear it well on all sides, getting a good “seal” on it. Brown meat in batches so that the meat chunks are always in contact with the bottom of the pot, and cooking.
After dumping the browned meat back in, add liquid. There are many options here. I like to combine at least a couple of these ideas:
• Beef broth. Make a salty broth from beef bouillon, or use beef stock you buy.
• Beer. A bottle of beer makes a great liquid starter.
• Wine. A merlot or sweet, deep red wine adds zing and flavor.
• Diced tomatoes. Along with one of the above liquids, diced tomatoes are essential for adding a tomato-based flavor for stew gravy. Have several cans on hand. Use “straight” diced tomatoes, or try flavored versions such as garlic or Italian.
The bottom line with your starter liquid for stew is, don’t just use water. You’re forming the flavor base of the gravy, and that calls for something with some character to meld the juices from both meat and vegetables.
Simmer the Meat
It’s too early to add vegetables yet; they would turn into total mush. Instead, slowly heat up the liquid/meat mixture and cook the meat on that slow/low heat. This is called braising. Monitor the liquid as you go and add as needed. But if you’re cooking “slow and low” enough (approximately one- quarter to one third heat), and use a cover, you shouldn’t lose much liquid
Remember: Gentle cooking is the watchword. You should simmer meat at least a couple of hours; more time is fine.
Cut up your vegetables at some point as the meat simmers. But don’t start adding them until the last hour or so of cooking. Start by adding vegetables that can take more cooking (such as potatoes or parsnips). Wait awhile for carrots. Add any green vegetables (green beans come to mind) for only the last half-hour or so; same with mushrooms.
Serve and Enjoy
One of the culinary beauties of stew is its flexibility. A little early or an hour late, all is good! Stew will be ready when you are, whether guests are running late or everybody’s having fun with other activities.
SEE ALSO: 3 Great Venison Chili Recipes to Try NOW
A culinary adventurer at heart, I seldom write down exact recipes, but experiment constantly and try different twists. The danger is that perfection achieved can be lost forever. The excitement is, it’s never the same meal twice. That said, there are a couple of vegetable combinations that seem to make great venison stew.
One favorite is traditional potatoes, carrots and green beans. The colors are appetizing and the potatoes add essential starch to thicken the broth. Keep the skin on the potato chunks for all the flavor. Pull, mash and return several of the potato chunks if your gravy needs thickening.
A root vegetable stew is good, too — carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Mushrooms can make a great addition to any stew, but add them for only the last half-hour or so of cooking, or they will turn to mush. Onions are another prime ingredient for any stew, adding great flavor and a hint of sweetness. Garlic is a final suggestion: Crush individual cloves and put them in the first simmer, to infuse the meat chunks with garlicky goodness.
Get Busy Making Stew
Stew is easy to make, fun to experiment with, and for all practical purposes, impossible to ruin if you follow the basic cooking outline and techniques offered here.
The secrets to great venison stew are simple: one pot start to finish; venison from the deer’s front or lower rear legs; a good sear on the seasoned and coated meat; slow simmering in flavorful liquids; fresh, wholesome vegetables; and a thick, rich gravy. Adjust as you go and make your own great stews.
Now, I admit to getting tuckered out after a long fall chasing whitetails. But making a stew at home on a wintry afternoon is, to me, a beautiful extension of any hunt. And relaxing with my family as we watch a ballgame on TV, and a venison stew simmers over on the stove with its wonderful aromas wafting through the house, makes me remember what’s great about hunting and life.
Try This Great Venison Stew
Make this fantastic venison stew, courtesy of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and give Ol’ Man Winter a punch in the nose! Marinate your stew meat with a Weston vacuum sealer and your favorite spices for some added flavor. Crack open your favorite beverage, toast some crusty bread and you’ll have a fantastic meal the whole family will enjoy.
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 pounds lean venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 large sweet onion, chopped
6 small red potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 medium celery stalks, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, sliced, slightly drained
1 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup burgundy wine
4 cups beef brothSalt and pepper, to taste
Combine flour, sea salt, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano and dried thyme. Mix well and place in a large resealable bag. Add the venison cubes and shake well until all meat is evenly covered.
In a large heavy pot, add olive oil and heat to high. When oil is hot, add the meat and sear for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to medium, add the onions and garlic and saute for two minutes. Add the potatoes, celery and carrots. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper and saute for three minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme and bay leaves. Deglaze the pot with the burgundy wine and add the beef broth. Bring to
a low boil over high heat. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently until stew is tender, about one hour. Add
a little more beef broth or burgundy wine if needed. Discard the bay leaves before serving.
From Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, the 2016 Whitetails Wall Calendar features the work of deer researchers Wayne Laroche and Charlie Alsheimer, who reveal the 2016 whitetail rut prediction, based on years of lunar cycle research. Utilize this deer moon phase calendar to find out which days the deer will be seeking and chasing so you can time the rut for the best time to hunt.