The other day my dad gave me three white paper-wrapped packages of frozen venison. After I transformed the two packages of ground venison into chili, I told my dad about it. “You know, Annie, that venison isn’t regular deer meat. It’s Axis Deer. Mr. Lester killed it.”
“What’s Axis Deer?”
“Look it up.”
So I did. Axis Deer are native to India and Sri Lanka. Someone imported them and introduced them to Texas in 1932. I couldn’t find who this someone is, but there are now wild free-roaming Axis Deer can be found and killed all around Texas. According to Mr. Lester and popular hunting wisdom, Axis Deer is the best-tasting venison around.
My last paper-wrapped package of deer meat was cubed. And this is what I did with it.
Ingredient List with Annotations
3 Sprigs of Rosemary
I knew from the thrown-together chili that rosemary works with venison. Also, I think there is a poetic justice in cooking rosemary with deer. Here in Texas, we are overpopulated with deer. In some places, like in the Hill Country outside of Austin, we have too many deer with no natural predators and not enough resources to feed them all. The deer are starving. Many a flower garden has been sacrificed to the hunger of the deer, but they always leave behind the rosemary. Rosemary is one of the few plants that are desirable to us and undesirable to deer. It seems fitting that the deer and the rosemary come together in the end.
1.5 cups Pinot Noir
Every time I make a stew, I always grapple with that profound question: should I add Guinness, or should I add wine? I love both of these in a stew, and each of these ingredients adds its own particular richness and depth. I chose red wine because the higher acid content is helpful in breaking down the toughness in meat. And wild game usually has more muscle than your average farm cow. Plus, I wanted to drink red wine on that day.
5-6 Turnips, peeled and cubed
I love turnips so much. On those days when life seems bleak, the world seems dark, and the sun isn’t shining, I can remember that I live in the same world as a turnip, and life is worth living again.
.5- 1 Cups Harissa
When I was throwing together the thrown-together chili, which turned out better than most of my premeditated, tactically-executed recipes, I threw in a small can of harissa that had been living in my cupboard for at least 7 months. The harissa was absolutely brilliant in the chili. I can see why all those hip British chef types get so excited about it. This ingredient is definitely optional. You can substitute any spicy ingredient you like for it (cayenne pepper? sriracha? Tabasco? Valentina?), or you can omit it altogether and have a nice, calm, sane venison stew.
4-5 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
Or more, I mean, whose counting?
1 pint Mushrooms, diced
By the time the stew is finished, all the texture will be simmered out of the mushrooms. However, the addition of the mushrooms adds to the savory flavor and Vitamin D content.
1 Can of Beans, rinsed
The beans were my preferred thickener on this day, with this stew. I had some black and white beans simmering, so I ladled a few ladlefuls in. You can use any beans you want or have around, or you can use a flour slurry as a thickener. (Flour dissolved in water and added to the stew.)
2 Bay Leaves
Also known as laurel, this tree also thrives in the wild landscapes of Texas, just like the Axis Deer.
I love stews that are cooked forever, but I love them more when they are contrasted with some sort of fresh green or vegetable when I eat them. I had some arugula lying around, but I have also used fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, fresh basil, chopped kale, or chopped spinach to sprinkle over the top of the stew before I eat it.
1 Pound Axis Deer, chopped
Or lamb, or beef.
1 Onion, diced
3 Carrots, sliced
Salt and Pepper
Chicken or Beef Broth (optional)
Chunk of Lemon (super optional)
Saute the onion for 7 minutes or so in the olive oil. Add the garlic and mushrooms, and saute for another minute or two. Add the wine, rosemary, lemon, beans, turnips, carrots, harissa, and bay leaves. Add enough broth or water to cover all the ingredients with an inch or so to spare. Bring the stew to a simmer, and then simmer gently on low heat for three hours or so. If you wish, add the arugula or other green thing to the top just before serving.