Whenever you are winging it in the kitchen, designing your own dishes and stretching your creative muscles at the stovetop, there is one ironclad maxim to live by when you are deciding what should and should not go into the pot: If it goes together in life, it will go together on the plate. Rabbits and carrots. Striped bass and crab. Duck and wild rice.
A great many of the original dishes on this site follow that rule, down to the choice of oils and flours and acids. Olive oil makes sense for Mediterranean food, but not so much for Chinese. Similarly, you wouldn’t dust a piece of fish in rice flour if you were cooking Scandinavian, nor would you use malt vinegar for an Italian dish.
Admittedly, some of my recipes that follow this rule are either time-consuming or technical. I’ve heard many people tell me that this dish or that looks wonderful, but they think it’s beyond their ability to actually make.
This dish is my answer to that criticism. It’s a stew, after all. Just a simple bowl of goodness. But it still contains all the elements of my best original recipes, and it most definitely follows my “grows together, goes together” maxim: Food Plot Venison Stew.
You heard right. Food Plot. For those of you who don’t know what a food plot is, it is an invention of the whitetail deer hunting industry — and it is most definitely an industry — that basically takes what a whitetail deer loves to eat (and that will promote huge antler growth) and puts it in a big sack o’seed. Landowners plant huge fields of this stuff solely for the purpose of attracting deer. They then set up a blind or tree stand and wait for Mr. Big Rack to amble by.
Whether or not this is your style of hunting is besides the point. What matters here is what’s in those big bags of seed. Look at any of them and you might be surprised to see what you find. Sure, there is clover and chufa — edible, but just barely — but look closer and you will see a smorgasbord of grains, greens roots and beans:
- Rye, barley, millet, wheat and buckwheat
- Cowpeas, vetch and broad beans
- Turnips, rutabagas, radishes
- Chicory, alfalfa and other green things
Crazy, eh? Now there are a thousand different dishes you could come up with based on these ingredients, and I mulled over a bunch before I finally decided that the best — and easiest — course of action was to make a stew. A really good stew.
Almost everything in this bowl a) can be found in a deer food plot, and b) is easily available even in small, rural supermarkets.
The secret to the stew is the sequence of when you put things in it, so you have everything cooked perfectly when you are ready to eat. All stews are like houses: They require a foundation, rooms of flavor and accents of color and texture.
This particular venison stew leans toward Northern European flavors, with rye, rutabagas, dandelions and a drizzle of roasted pumpkin seed oil at the end. That’s just my choice. You can take it Mediterranean and use barley or wheat berries, Italian chicories and a good olive oil, or make it Southern with some millet, dandelions and a good roasted peanut oil — mix and match to your liking. That’s the beauty of this stew.
Nothing in this stew is especially difficult or hard to find, although you really do want some sort of high-quality finishing oil to drizzle on at the end. I used a roasted pumpkin seed oil that really adds a lot to the dish, which is otherwise pretty low fat. Other good choices for a finishing oil would be walnut oil or a good olive oil.
Be sure to cook the rye separately, as it can take a full hour of boiling to get tender. Rye has its own earthy flavor, but barley, oat groats or wheat berries also work well — and cook faster.
Cowpeas are nothing more than a different name for black-eyed peas. Keep in mind they cook much faster than other dry beans; you don’t want them to disintegrate in your stew.
- 3/4 cup black-eyed peas
- 3/4 cup rye berries or barley or oat groats or wheat berries
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 to 3 pounds venison stew meat
- 1 large onion, sliced thin from root to tip
- 6 cups venison broth, beef broth or water
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 pound turnips or rutabagas, peeled and cut into chunks
- 4 cups chopped dandelion greens, chicory leaves, kale or chard
- 4 to 5 red radishes, thinly sliced
- Black pepper
- Roasted pumpkin seed oil, walnut oil or somesuch, for drizzling
- Vetch or pea flowers (optional)
- Put the black-eyed peas and rye berries in separate bowls. Bring a quart or so of water to a boil and pour it over the rye and black-eyed peas. Let this sit for at least 1 hour. You can also just soak them in cool water overnight.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and salt it well. Add the rye berries and simmer them until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, get a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot and set it over medium-high heat. Heat the butter. While the butter is melting, take a few pieces of the venison and pat it dry with paper towels. Brown the venison in the hot butter, salting it as it cooks. Do this in batches so you don't crowd the pot, and pat dry each new batch before you put it into the pot. Set aside the browned venison pieces in a bowl.
- When the venison is all browned, add the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the edges of the onions begin to brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Return the venison to the pot and add the broth, thyme and celery seed. Bring this to a simmer and cook gently for 1 hour.
- After an hour, add the rutabagas or turnips and the black-eyed peas. Simmer this for another hour or so. (The rye berries should be tender by now, so drain them and set aside.)
- About 5 minutes before you want to serve, stir in the chopped dandelion greens and rye berries. To serve, ladle out some stew -- it should be a thick stew, with lots of stuff and not too brothy -- grind some black pepper over it, sprinkle the thinly sliced radishes and vetch flowers (if using) on top and drizzle with the oil. I'd serve this with a strong beer, such as a good IPA.