Deer and Foie Gras Meatballs

With my first deer now in the freezer, I need to come up with recipes for the whole beast. I made a great roast out of the hind leg last weekend (more on this another time), but I had cut off the less tender shank and saved it for another recipe — hence these luscious and distinctive meatballs. Instead of being ground, the meat is first stewed, then wrapped around a cube of foie gras, and then breaded. Thinking about it, this recipe combines three Hungarian traditions: hunting, foie gras, and deep-frying. My friends have been facetiously calling them “Hunter’s Balls”!

I served them with a slightly sweet dip made of crème fraîche mixed with onion jam.

Braised deer shanks
Yields about 20 meatballs

2 lb deer shanks, bone in
black pepper, ground
olive oil
4 oz peeled carrot, large dice
4 oz peeled onion, large dice
4 oz peeled parsnip, large dice
2 oz celery, large dice
1 peeled garlic clove
16 oz red wine
24 oz water
4 thyme sprigs
1 tsp cacao powder
2 oz butter

  • Season the deer shanks generously with salt and pepper, then sauté in an oven-proof pot with olive oil over high heat, until brown on all sides. Add the carrot, onion, parsnip, celery, and garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the red wine, bring to a boil, simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the water and the thyme. Bring back to a boil, cover with a lid ajar, and cook in a 200 F oven for about 4 hours, until very tender.
  • Let cool for 30 minutes. Take out the shanks and reserve. Strain the cooking liquid, and reduce to 8 oz in a saucepan over high heat. Shred the meat between your fingers, then finely chop with a knife. Add the meat and the cacao powder to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat until almost completely reduced, stirring regularly. Mix in the butter, and continue cooking until there is no more liquid, but without drying out the meat. Let cool and refrigerate.

Yields enough breadcrumbs for about 20 meatballs

6 oz Pullman bread, sliced

  • Place the bread slices on a baking sheet on the oven rack, and toast at 300 F for 10 minutes on each side.
  • Break the slices into pieces, and pulverize in a blender. Reserve in a closed plastic container.

Deer and foie gras meatballs
Yields about 20 meatballs

5 oz foie gras
braised deer shanks
about 3 oz flour
2 eggs, beaten
canola oil for the deep-fryer

  • Cut the foie gras into approximately 20 cubes. Take a small amount of the deer shank mixture and flatten it. Place a cube of foie gras in the center, wrap it in the meat, and shape into a ball between the palms of your hands. You should use just enough meat to completely cover the foie gras. Repeat until you run out of meat or foie gras. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Place the flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs into 3 separate bowls. Heat the deep-fryer to 360 F. Coat each meatball with flour, then dip into the egg, and thouroughly cover with breadcrumbs.
  • Deep-fry the meatballs in small batches for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Let rest on paper towels for a minute, then serve.


My First Deer, and Bohemian Venison Burgers

Victory! After spending about 11 hours freezing on a stand at the top of a hill in the Mohawk Valley countryside, silently watching this field:

I killed my first deer, on the season opening day just before sunset! The young, antlerless buck showed up at about 200 yards, near the trees you see at the far end of the field. I took a first shot, missed, and, probably not knowing where the noise came from, the deer came towards me for about 50 yards. Fatal mistake, as I shot again and he went down immediately.

Thanks again to huntsman Bob for a great hunting weekend (I also got a turkey, but this is a story for another day).

This is a simple recipe that I created the day I came home from the hunting trip, fighting with exhaustion. It can be made entirely on a grill if you have limited equipment (I give 2 versions of the apple-sauerkraut purée).

The Bohemian twist, brought by the cured pork, the sauerkraut, and the potato bun, is inspired by the many venison dishes I enjoyed during my winter trips to the Czech Republic.

Apple-sauerkraut purée
Yields about 4 servings

1/2 oz butter
2  1/2 oz peeled and sliced green apple
1 oz sauerkraut

  • Brown butter in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the apple and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Transfer to a blender with the sauerkraut, process until smooth, and reserve.
  • Alternatively, you can wrap the quartered apple and and butter in foil and cook on a grill, then mash and mix it with the sauerkraut using a fork.

Bohemian venison burger
Yields 4 servings

4 slices pancetta (or bacon)
24 oz ground venison
black pepper, ground
4 burger buns (preferably potato)
3 oz firm cheese (such as swiss or gouda), coarsely grated
apple-sauerkraut purée

  • Sauté the pancetta in a hot pan until brown on both sides, and reserve. Shape the ground venison into 4 patties without pressing the meat more than necessary. Season generously with salt and pepper, sauté in the same pan over high heat to the desired doneness, then let rest for a couple minutes. Of course, the pancetta and patties can be cooked on a grill instead.
  • Toast the buns with grated cheese on the top halves. Spread each bottom half with apple-sauerkraut purée, then top with a patty and a slice of pancetta. Serve immediately.

Fall 2011: Game Recipes

Whether you just buy the meat or try to kill the animals yourself, game is back in season! Here are some recipes you might want to try:

Roasted Rack of Venison in Cider Sauce… and the Failed Deer Hunt

As I reported in a previous post, I went deer hunting earlier this month. While somebody who actually knows what he’s doing was driving the hunt, I was hiding in tree stands or blinds like this one, observing my little patch of forest.

Believe me, after 4 hours spent sitting in a tent without moving, in the Catskills Mountains in winter, no matter how well dressed you are, you get pretty cold! My toes were in a state comparable to what I felt last year when I went swimming in Brighton Beach in mid-December.

Sadly, despite all the efforts of Huntsman Hank. I spotted only a couple of deer in two days and didn’t have a good enough shot to kill any of them. The regular deer season in the Southern zone lasted from November 20th to December 12th , so it’s too late for me to give it another try this year. Hank recommended I come back next year for the opening weekend, which I’ll probably do. Meanwhile, one more year of imported New Zealand venison…

I decided to take my revenge by ordering a rack of venison, which I prepared with a cider sauce and paired with some pan-seared foie gras and blood sausage on a potato pancake. I often make my own blood sausage, but this one I found at a Christmas Bazaar organized by the New York Estonian House. If you want to learn more about blood-sausage making, check out this article from the New York times, or try the class at the Estonian House in early December next year.

Cider sauce
Yields 4 servings

2 oz shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz pancetta, small dice
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
4 thyme sprigs
2 cups veal (or game) stock
6 oz hard cider
1/2 oz butter

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the shallots and garlic with olive oil until soft. Add the pancetta and the mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms are soft.
  • Add the thyme and stock, and reduce to about 1/4.
  • Add the hard cider, and reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
  • Stir in the butter just before serving.

Rack of venison
Yields 4 servings

1 rack of venison consisting of 8 chops, cut in half
black pepper, ground
canola oil
2 thyme sprigs, stems removed

  • Season the rack with salt and pepper on all sides. Sauté with canola oil in a very hot pan until brown on all sides.
  • Transfer to an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with thyme, and cook in a 300 F oven to the desired doneness. Count about 35 minutes for rare.
  • Let rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes. Cut the racks into 8 separate chops, and serve with the sauce.

Learning to Hunt

As a big fan of game meat, I find it very frustrating that the only game meat that can be sold in the United States — and therefore the only kind that the vast majority of people ever gets to eat — is farmed and not wild. This goes against the very definition of the word game!!!

The problem is not just semantic. First, your selection is somewhat limited: deer and boar are the most widespread, and the cuts available are nowhere near as diverse as for beef and pork. Then there’s geographic origin: in times when foodies swear by local ingredients, in a country where people regularly see deer in their backyards, venison is commonly imported from New Zealand.

Most importantly, there’s the problem of taste. Farmed venison tastes only vaguely gamy, and I dare anyone to tell the difference between farmed rabbit and a good chicken in a blind tasting. Anybody who had a chance to eat real wild game will tell you this is not how it tastes.

All of this led me to get my hunting license in September, before the beginning of the season. The process isn’t very different from taking a defensive driving course: instead of telling you to fasten your seatbelt and look at the road, they tell you to wear a harness in your treestand and look at your target before shooting.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation maintains a list of available classes. You have the choice between 3 classes: hunter (meaning, using a firearm), bow hunter, or trapper. (In case you’re wondering, spear hunting is not allowed in New York State.) Believe it or not, there are even a few classes in New York City, although not in Manhattan. I ended up choosing a class at the Southern Dutchess and Putnam Sportsman Association, where the 12-hour course was conveniently packed into 2 sessions on Friday night and Saturday. Just like the driving course, you can finish earlier if you actively participate, and the final test is simple enough that our instructor told us nobody has ever failed it. My 12-year old classmates and I even had enough time to rush out to get our licenses the same day. Here’s mine:

For a mere $29, I am now allowed to kill one bear and one deer per season, plus as many coyotes, snowshoe hares and other cottontail rabbits as I can get my aim on.

Oh wait, did I tell you I’d never before touched a firearm in my life?

Nothing to worry about. There’s a shooting range in Manhattan, in a basement next to a strip joint — the Westside Rifle & Pistol Range.

After a background check and a brief instruction session, you can “experience the excitement of firing a .22 caliber rifle.” A 3-month membership is available for a very reasonable price. Here I am, shooting at my deer targets while NYPD officers are a few feet away, practicing with pistols and revolvers ten times noisier than my little .22 rifle:

Looks like I might even be able to kill a deer if I see one close enough:

Coming in early December: my first hunt!