This braised dish gains flavor by being made ahead at your convenience. Cranberries dissolve in the sauce, adding complexity to its richness. Try to use mushroom broth rather than beef stock, allowing the venison flavor to come through. Venison is low in cholesterol, and virtually all the fat is removed before serving, so this stew is healthful.
Makes 8 or more servings.
For the marinade:
2 cups red wine
¼ cup olive or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
8 cracked peppercorns
6 juniper berries, crushed, if possible
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 pounds venison cut in 1- to 1½-inch chunks
In a large bowl, mix together the wine, oil and seasonings for the marinade. Add the venison and turn it in the liquid to make sure the marinade touches every piece. Cover and chill; let it marinate for 4 to 8 hours, turning a couple of times during that time. If your venison is wild, it should marinate for at least 24 hours.
For the stew:
¼ pound maple-smoked bacon (use good-quality here)
Olive oil or other vegetable oil as needed
10 ounces crimini or other mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 sprigs parsley plus chopped fresh parsley for garnish
2 sprigs thyme
2 cups mushroom or other broth
½ cup fresh cranberries
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, cook the bacon until brown and crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve it. While the bacon is cooking, dry the venison chunks on paper towels. In the fat in the pan over medium high heat, cook the pieces of meat a few at a time, turning to brown all sides; do not crowd the pan. Remove them to a large bowl as they are done.
Adding oil as needed, cook the mushrooms in the remaining hot fat, stirring with a spatula. Let their juices run and the mushrooms color; when browned add them to the venison. Add the onion and garlic and stir to until they are soft.
Strain the marinade through a sieve, discarding the solids, into the pot.
Add the fresh cranberries. Deglaze the pan over high heat, scraping the dark crust to dissolve it in the liquid and letting the cranberries disintegrate in the liquid. Return the venison and mushrooms to the pot; add the herbs, reserved crumbled bacon and stock. There should be just enough liquid to barely cover the venison; if not, add more.
Cover and simmer the venison on the stovetop or in a low 325 degree oven until tender, about 1½ hours. The venison may take up to an hour more, so be patient. If it gets dry, add more hot liquid. When the meat is tender, let it cool. Cover and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
When cold, lift off and discard the solid layer of fat on top with the herb sprigs.With a slotted spoon, remove the venison and mushrooms to a bowl. Boil to reduce the braising liquid by half, concentrating and thickening it. Return the venison and mushrooms to the pot and very gently reheat them. Taste for balance of flavors, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the chopped fresh parsley.
Recipe by Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely