December 23, 2015

Elk Stew with Mushrooms and Wine

I recently acquired an elk tenderloin and some elk stew meat, and I was dying to cook either one or both of those samples up. I am mostly unfamiliar with game meat, only having had it a handful of times, and never preparing it myself. I decided to dip my toe in the water by making the stew meat first, just in case there were any issues with my game meat preparation skills. In case of a snafu,I didn't want to ruin the more prized tenderloin upon my first go. That type of cooking disaster could really shake a persons kitchen confidence. I didn't need that stress! Anyway, I did some Internet searching and came across this recipe from a Wyoming food blog. I rationalized that Wyoming-ites (Wyoming-ons?? Wyoming-ers??)--being outdoorsy/woodsy sort of folk--would know what to do with freshly-hunted elk meat. I made the decision to try their version of elk stew. It also didn't hurt that the posted recipe looked ridiculously mouth-watering. Hello, bacon and mushrooms!

The first thing that struck me about the elk meat was the color. It was an oddly beautiful shade of ruby red. It reminded me of the color of really high-quality blue fin tuna. There was a slight odor, but not in a bad way; just in the way that reminded you it wasn't a homogenized piece of packaged, grocery store beef (cleansed from all of it's original animalness with only God-knows-what type of chemicals). The best way to describe the smell was a very slight metallic tinge. It was actually refreshing to have meat that was so minimally processed and direct from nature. Circle of life, and all that...I actually really liked how it looked and smelled.

So, I basically followed this recipe to the letter, but I varied the cooking method. Instead of using a slow cooker, I braised it low and slow in the oven for a couple of hours. I have some fancy, French, enameled cast-iron cookware that is designed for braising, so I took the opportunity to use it as it was intended. Also, I didn't get my act together in time to get it into the slow cooker that morning. I ended up serving our stew as recommended by the blog, with buttered egg noodles. A side salad and dinner rolls were additional compliments to our elk feast.

I am glad I tried it out, because this recipe was amazing. It will be my go-to for any future elk stews. I dare say, the leftovers the next day were even more flavorful than the first go-round. Yum! My only misstep was that I forgot to click a photo. I am kicking myself that I forgot, because it looked just as good as it tasted. All around, this was a HIT.

Last but not least: a special thanks to J., who procured the elk meat with his manly-man hunting skills. I truly appreciate him sharing his bounty of elk with me.

Elk Stew with Mushrooms and Wine
Adapted From: Jackson Hole Foodie blog

4 oz. thick cut bacon, chopped
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3 lb. elk meat, or other game, or beef chuck, cut into 1 inch chunks
3/4 lb. fresh Cremini mushrooms, halved if large
1/2 lb. baby carrots, or carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

In a large cast iron enameled pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. (You'll add the bacon to the stew at the end).

Pour off all the bacon drippings into a cup, and return 1 tsp. to the pot.

Place the elk meat in a large baggie with the flour, salt and pepper.

Shake the meat until it is nicely coated with with the seasoned flour.

Heat the pot with the bacon grease over a medium-high flame. When the grease is starting to sputter, add half the meat cubes. Let the meat sear with out turning it until it is nicely browned. Brown the other side, then transfer to a plate (I used the lid of my braising pot).

Sear the rest of the meat as above, adding more bacon drippings if needed.

Throw in the mushrooms, carrots, garlic and onions into pot and let them brown and soften a bit. Add the meat back in.

Add the tomato paste and let it brown for a minute or so. This will give the sauce an additional richness in both taste and color.

Now deglaze the pot, so that you can add all those flavorful juices to your stew. Heat the pan over a medium-high flame. Add the wine and beef broth. Bring to a boil, and deglaze the pan by scraping up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon. (If you're pot is nonstick, please use a plastic spoon for this!).

Cover the pot with foil and place the lid firmly on the pot for the braise. Cook in the oven at 275 degree oven for 2 hours.

Once the meat is very tender, add the reserved bacon bits and the rosemary. Cook on high with the lid off to thicken the sauce on the stove top, if needed.

--OR-- Blend some cornstarch up with 1 cup of cooking liquid. Once combined (without lumps) add back to pot and stir to thicken into a gravy texture. Do this on the stove top over low to medium-low heat. I find that the additional heat on the stovetop encourages the gravy to come together.

Taste for salt. You may want to add more; it really brings out the flavor of the meat.

Let it cool a bit, and serve with buttered noodles.

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