Fun with Game: Venison Bolognese (with a Punch)

Venison? I know what you’re thinking: “But game is something you eat in Autumn, during hunting season!” Yes, this is true, if you’re a hunter. I am not. Neither is T. Lucky for us, both T’s parents hunt during all the different seasons in their area, and we count ourselves darn lucky they wanted to share some of their bounty with us!

In March, we had a very short visit from T’s parents, aka The Snowbirds, who were on their way down from Maine to Florida for boating, seashell collecting and other sun-filled activities that did not involve SNOW. They gifted us with venison tenderloin, roast, ground meat, and seasoned ground sausage. Mom Snowbird suggested we try the sausage meat in a spaghetti sauce, which we did. The first time I simply browned the sausage and added a commercial bottled sauce, but the seasonings in the sausage were still too mild for my taste — and the game flavor really dominated the sauce. It was good, but I wanted the game to blend in with the sauce, not sit on top of it. So the second time, I monkeyed around with the sausage and sauce — as I am wont to do — adding fresh garlic, red wine, and some decidedly non-traditional ingredients. Then it simmered for at least an hour. The deep rich flavors of the game paired perfectly with the earthy flavors of whole wheat pasta — this a combination that we will use again.

When they’re not sun-seeking in Florida or hunting in the Fall, the Snowbirds really enjoy the “Good Life in Maine”: boating, swimming, fishing, riding his and hers ATV’s (All-Terrain Vehicles), and generally just hanging out around gorgeous Lake Nicatous where they have a summer cabin. For a peek at what the “Good Life” really is, visit Mom’s website at Maine Musings.

Thanks, Mom & Dad, for choosing to stay with us despite the sparse accommodations. And thanks for bringing me such fun “toys” to play with, too! Next year, we hope you come when it’s warmer here — maybe for the Cherry Blossom Festival!

Serves 4 persons

2TBL + 3TBL olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb/ 455g fresh cremini mushrooms, aka baby bellas, sliced
1 lb/ 1/2kg ground venison
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
sea salt to taste
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano (or 1 TBL minced fresh)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh)
1 TBL soy sauce
(*optional: The Punch) 1 TBL kochu jang (Korean red pepper paste)
(in truth, the only reason I put this in was because I was taking a photo of it for Kochujang Chicken post and didn’t want to look for a container to put it away!! If you’d like to add some Punch or Pfiff to your sauce without kochu jang, substitute a scant TBL of crushed red pepper, or a dose of your favorite hot sauce)
1 bottle of your favorite commercial bottled sauce ( about 24-26 oz/ 680-730 ml)
1/2 – 1 cup dry red wine (used Barefoot Zinfandel)
1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated for serving

Heat 2 TBL olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and gently press mushrooms against pan to sear them, then stir-fry mushrooms over high heat until browned and dry. (Note: If heat in pan is not high enough, mushrooms will start to lose water and become mushy — they will not brown.) Remove mushrooms to clean bowl and season with sea salt.

Return pan to medium high heat and add remaining 3 TBL olive oil, and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. (I found the extra oil was necessary because venison is naturally very lean and tends to stick to the pan.) Add ground venison, and brown well, seasoning generously with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Once meat is thoroughly browned, sprinkle with sugar, oregano, thyme, and soy sauce. Cook together about 3-4 minutes, until the aroma of the herbs and spices fill the kitchen. Add kochu jang, if using, and bottled or homemade sauce, and stir well to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add red wine, stir well, and reduce heat to medium low or low (just simmering) and cover again. Allow to simmer for 40 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, and grate fresh parmesan generously over the top. Finish off the Zinfandel.
Suggested vegetable pairing: JD’s Zucchini Saute (next recipe), mirrors some of the herb notes in this sauce, but adds a buttery counterpoint.