Don’t despair, deer is delectable

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 2010

On the road again – this time closer to home.

October is the time for our local Deer and Wildlife Festival. In its third year, and getting better. Wilkinson County Mississippi is rural, isolated, mostly timber, so wildlife – deer, of course, ducks, geese, quail – is abundant and hunting camps abound. Black bear can be found near the river (the Mississippi).

And, of course, this being Mississippi, there were tamales, also made locally. But my favorite fare is from the wildlife cook-off. Last year, the tastings were free. This year $5 bought 10 tasting tickets. Since the tastings were nearly a meal each, it was a good deal. There was a spicy Cajun court-bouillon that we really liked. Tasty wild hog and venison cooked several ways, duck gumbo and more. The “Mallard Mafia” team won first in the duck category;” “Kill It and Grill It” won the pork category, and “Road Kill” won in the others category. Actually I don’t know what they prepared. Maybe, I don’t want to know. The venison category was won by “Two Guys” – hey, need a catchy name for their talent.

Since it is that time of year, I want to share another venison recipe with you. This one is from Frank Stitt’s book, Southern Table. He uses venison from New Zealand, because it is available year round, but tends to use this recipe when deer is in season in the south between October and February. If you have the butcher trim the venison, be sure to ask for the trimmings, which are necessary for making the sauce. Better yet get local wild hunted venison from your or your friends’ hunt.

Roast Venison with Cabbage, Spoonbread and Bourbon

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 juniper berries, toasted and finely ground in a mortar or a coffee mill

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves removed and coarsely chopped

1 cup red wine

¼ cup port

2 pounds boneless venison leg, trimmed (reserve the trimmings)

For the Cabbage:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 dried hot chili pepper

½ head savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups beef broth

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons bourbon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

To prepare the marinade, in a bowl or other non-reactive container, combine the oil, juniper berries, garlic, rosemary, red wine and port. Add the venison and massage it with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours,or up to 24 hours.

To prepare the cabbage, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until softened, about six to eight minutes. Add the garlic and chili pepper and cook for another two minutes, or until fragrant. Add the cabbage and cook for two minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the venison from the marinade, reserving the marinade; set it aside. In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the reserved venison trimmings and cook until browned and caramelized, for about 10-15 minutes. Add the reserved marinade, bring to a boil and reduce by three-quarters, skimming the surface of any fat. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Skim and simmer until reduced by half. Strain the sauce and set aside.

Pat the venison dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add the venison and sear on all sides. Put the skillet in the oven and cook until medium-rare (the internal temperature should be 130 degrees), for about eight minutes; the meat will be springy to the touch. Transfer the venison to a rack set over a plate and let rest for 10 minutes, covered to keep warm.

Meanwhile, pour off the fat from the skillet and add the bourbon. Carefully flame the bourbon by tilting the skillet close to the flame to ignite it or light it with a long match. When the flames die down, add the sauce, bring to a hard boil, and reduce slightly. Swirl in the butter bit by bit, stirring until incorporated and silky. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Just before serving, reheat the cabbage. Remove the chili pepper.

Slice the venison and serve with the cabbage and spoonbread. Ladle the sauce over the meat.


Serves 8 as a side dish

3 cups water

Kosher salt

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup buttermilk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal (or substitute 1 cup regular cornmeal plus ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt)

¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Hot sauce, such as Tabasco

3 large eggs, beaten

Freshly ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch gratin dish.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan and add a good pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, combine the cream, buttermilk and butter, and bring to a gentle simmer.

When the water in boiling, add the cornmeal, whisking constantly, and return to a simmer. Simmer for two to three minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until just thickened, then add the Parmigiano and hot sauce. Stir in the cream mixture and simmer for two minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Stir in the eggs vigorously, mixing well. Add white pepper to taste. Pour into the prepared gratin dish and bake until golden and set, 20-25 minutes.