As deer seasons open across the country, there are likely more than a few of you that need to clean out the freezer before returning to the woods. I just looked in my own chest freezer this week. One lonely pack of venison remained—stew meat that had been there since I butchered the deer in November. Some hunters might wince at a small package of cubed meat, but I love to salvage every morsel, and one of my favorite “last meals” to make before deer season is venison meatballs.
Hunters always use up the “good” cuts of meat within a few months of their kill: backstraps, steaks, and roasts never last long. Packs of ground meat are soon to follow. I don’t often make anything with stew meat, so it’s always the last to go and it typically ends up getting put through the meat grinder as well, particularly when my 3-year-old daughter demands a venison dinner.
I grew up helping my parents butcher deer, and over the years I’ve learned a few things to make more of ground venison than chili or deer burgers—though those are both fine options. I don’t like to grind the meat all at once when I first butcher a deer. If you do, all of the juices tend to run out when it thaws and leaves you with dry meat. If you simply chunk up the meat into sizes big enough to run through the grinder, and then freeze those pieces until you’re ready, you’ll get a better grind. After you grind it, run it all through the grinder again, it makes all the difference.
Venison Meatball Ingredients
This recipe is a twist on the classic stroganoff recipe, which most kids don’t love, but I can almost assure you they will devour this dish (my daughter came back for thirds). The addition of fresh basil pesto lends to some great summer flavors to a normally cold-weather meal.
- 1-pound ground venison
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons basil pesto
- 1 egg
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ¼ cup finely diced onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons of butter, plus more
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons basil pesto
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1¼ cup chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with one teaspoon warm water
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
How to Cook Venison Meatballs
- In a large bowl, combine all meatball ingredients and mix well. Roll into meatballs roughly the size of golf balls, trying to keep them as uniform as possible so they cook evenly. Set aside. (You can also make these ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator)
- In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides, letting them sit on each side until they have a thick brown crust on them. This helps seal the juices inside and prevents the meatballs from getting dry. Occasionally baste with excess butter, adding more if needed.
- Once meatballs are browned on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the minced garlic to the pan and cook a few minutes until fragrant. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth. Continue to stir slowly while you add the remaining ingredients. Once the sauce begins to thicken, turn the heat to low and add the meatballs back to the skillet. Let them simmer in the sauce for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Serve over rice, egg noodles or spaghetti.