Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Venison Chili

Venison Chili, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Deer hunting is so popular where I grew up that it borders on religion; hunters have their tried and true rituals and favorite locations, honed over years (even generations) of practice and experience. Recipes for how to prepare "deer meat" (no one calls it venison in the country) have also been handed off over time. Most recipes feature slow roasting deer steaks in a thick gravy to add moisture and soften the meat, as it's fairly lean and can be a bit dry and tough if not prepared correctly.

While that method is a country classic, and one that my mom and aunt make with skill, I've become a fan of using venison in chili. Venison can be slightly gamey and I find it mellows really well when cooked with acidic foods like tomotoes, and with ground venison you don't have to worry about tenderizing it through a slow cooking process. The recipe below takes some cues from fairly traditional chili ingredients, but turns up the flavor with red wine and unsweetened chocolate, which also tone down the venison without completely masking its unique flavor.

Oh, and to obtain ground venison you can do what I do (have your dad apply for a license, make him sit in the woods on a cold autumn morning waiting for a deer to pass by, shoot it, field dress it, and then take it to a local butcher for processing) or buy it from online sources, such as this one

2 tsp olive oil
3 lbs ground venison
1 tsp whole cumin
1 large onion, chopped, divided in half
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder (or more for your desired heat)
1 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp ground pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine, additional as needed
1 lb tomatoes, diced or 2 cans diced tomatoes
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup water, additional as needed

Heat oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add half of chopped onion to oil and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add venison and cook until thoroughly browned. Tilt pan to allow juices to accumulate at the bottom and use a slotted spoon to remove venison and onion to a bowl.

Add another tsp of oil to pan if needed. Add cumin and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until cumin is browned and fragrant. Add remaining onion and red pepper and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, salt, pepper, and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes, until paste starts to thin. Add the red wine, stirring until contents of the pan are well incorporated and the sauce has a smooth texture. Return venison to the pot. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the chili starts to bubble. Reduce heat to simmer and cover pot. Cook for 30 minutes, then add chopped chocolate. Cook an additional 15 minutes (but the longer the better!), stirring occassionally, adding water or wine (your preference; guess mine) if the chili becomes too thick. Remove pot from heat and let chili rest a few minutes before giving a final stir.  Serve with toppings.

Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Chopped green onions
Corn bread or crackers