This is a variation on a classic stifado from Sparta; the original uses goat meat instead of venison. You could use lamb as a replacement for either. There are as many variations on lamb or goat or, in the north, beef, stews as there are cooks on Greece.
The keys to the flavor of this venison stew are slow browning of the meat and the spices. You really need to put in the allspice, cinnamon and cumin for this dish.
You also need to use more vinegar than you think you might; the original recipe, which I found in Diane Kochilas’ excellent book The Glorious Foods of Greece (one of my go-to books when I want to cook something Greek) called for an astounding full cup of vinegar. Too much for my taste, but even the 1/2 cup in this recipe makes for a bracing stew.
Take your time when working with venison, or elk, moose, antelope or other four-footed wild thing. It will submit and become meltingly tender, but not in an hour or even two. You may need four hours for an old animal, or one that led a difficult life. Old goats are the same way. If you are using lamb, however, you should be able to make this recipe in a couple hours.
Pay attention to the instructions here, as the method makes the dish. Don’t be tempted to make this like a normal stew — brown meat and veggies, add stock and simmer. This dish needs the layering I call for; it ensures everything is evenly flavored.
I made this for lunches for the week, so it is a large recipe. It can easily be halved.
- 4 pounds venison or goat meat
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped roughly
- 1 head garlic, peeled but cloves left whole
- A least 1 quart beef, venison or vegetable stock
- 30 allspice berries
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, or 2 sticks
- 3 teaspoons cumin seeds or 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- Slice the venison into large chunks, about an inch to 2 inches square. Trim any excess fat or sinew. Salt well and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat a large Dutch oven or other large lidded pot over medium high heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and heat 2 minutes.
- Brown the venison in the pot in batches over medium heat. Pat dry the venison before you put it into the pot to promote browning and reduce spattering. Do not crowd the pot and take your time. This could take as long as 40 minutes.
- When all the meat is browned, add a little stock to the pot and scrape all the browned bits off the bottom and sides of the pot.
- Return the venison to the pot and add enough stock to cover. If you run out of stock, use water. Simmer gently for 40 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Turn off the heat and ladle out as much of the stock as you can into another bowl or pot; reserve it. Remove all the meat and put into another bowl, or, if your stock bowl is large enough, add the meat to the stock bowl.
- Pour half the remaining olive oil into the pot and then add a layer of onions, about 1/3 of the total. Add 1/3 of the spices, herbs and garlic, then add a layer of meat. Repeat with another layer of onions, spices, garlic and meat until you get toward the top of the pot — the top of the pot should be onions.
- Pour the rest of the olive oil into the pot.
- Mix the tomato paste and vinegar, and then pour that mixture into the stock. Pour the stock into the pot to barely cover the top layer of onions.
- Cover the pot and cook in the oven for at least 2 1/2 hours. After that time, take the pot out and fish out a piece of venison. If it is tender enough, recover the pot and put it on the stove to rest for 20 minutes.
- Serve with bread or roasted potatoes and of course a red wine, preferably a Greek Xinomavro or Agiorgitiko.