Winter has finally arrived here in Minnesota. As I sit here writing this, it’s -6 degrees outside (-22 with the wind chill). There isn’t a whole lot you can do when it is that cold outside. Unless you have a heated ice fishing house or you’re Bud Grant, going outside in temps that cold isn’t a whole lot of fun. So when the temps drop that far down I like to head to the kitchen. For me there’s only one thing I can make that seems to make sense on frigid days like this: stew.
A good stew is a work of art. The meat is fork tender, the veggies melt in your mouth and the sauce is so tasty you just have to clean the bowl with a warm piece of crusty bread. Stew is a natural fit for wild game since the low heat and long cook times allow you to use some of the tougher cuts of meat that may have more sinew or silver skin in them. This stew was made with neck meat from a deer a friend of mine shot. The neck meat is full of connective tissue, and usually ground up for burger or sausages. But I find the neck provides ideal stew meat because as those connective tissues cook, they break down and give your stew a richer texture.
This is my version of a Scandinavian Venison hunters stew by Adrian Richardson. It is probably the best stew I have ever made. And I would like to say that’s because of the venison but, honestly, these bacon dumplings are a thing of beauty.
1 ½ pounds of venison cut into 1 inch cubes
All-purpose flour for dredging
¼ cup olive oil
1 red onion thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic
3 carrots diced
2 leeks, cut into ½ inch slices
2 stalks of celery diced
2 bottles of beer, (nothing to hoppy, I like to use a nice porter)
1 cup of wild game stock, or beef stock
5 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tsp of whole juniper berries
2 tablespoons Highbush Cranberry jelly, (current jelly or grape jelly would work as well)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
In a large dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Working in small batches, fry the meat until golden brown on all sides. Add more oil if needed and cook all the meat. Set aside.
Add whatever oil is leftover and sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes. Add the butter, celery, leeks, garlic and carrots, and stir for 5 more minutes. Pour in the beer and the stock, then add the meat back in. Throw in the thyme, bay, and juniper. Bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 2.5 to 3 hours.
While the stew is cooking, you can start making your bacon dumplings.
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 fatty pieces of bacon, finely chopped
4 cups of stale bread
¼ half and half
1 tablespoon of thyme
¼ cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup flour
2 quarts of game stock or beef stock
Start the bacon on low heat and render out some of the fat. Then turn the heat up to medium high and brown the bacon. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onions are soft and translucent. Pour the bacon and onion mixture into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except for the stock. Your dumpling batter should be easily formed into balls using wet hands. If your dumplings are too runny, add more stale bread; if it’s too dry, add some stock, a couple tablespoons at a time until it’s the right consistency. Bring the stock to a boil and then drop the formed dumpling balls into the boiling stock. Cook the dumplings for 15 minutes. Remove the dumplings from the stock and set aside.
When you are ready to serve the stew, stir the jelly into the stew until well incorporated. Then mix the cornstarch and the vinegar together to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the stew and stir, the stew with thicken up. Place the dumplings in the stew and cook for ten more minutes. Then serve with a garnish of parsley.