I'll eat chicken from time to time and the occasional steak but the times when I really do go all out in an uncharacteristic carnivorous frenzy is when I've got fresh venison. For one thing, it's a much more eco-friendly option if you know a local hunter that will get you fresh meat. In my region of Maryland, we've pretty much killed any and all predators of deer (other than ourselves and our cars), so deer overpopulation is rampant. With so many of this species living is such close proximity to one another, and humans, they are all suffering from malnourishment - there simply isn't enough food to feed all of the deer we've got and there isn't another species preying upon the deer to naturally keep their population in check. So I think that it is perfectly acceptable for licensed hunters to enjoy their hobby in a managed hunting area during the specified times of year when such activity is allowed. It's really a relatively small effort to keep the deer population in check, it produces hormone-free meat, it produces local sources of protein, and it allows humans to practice a favorite pastime in a safe and controlled environment - everyone wins.
I thought I was really fortunate to get 2 pounds of ground venison last winter, so I guess this year I've been extremely spoiled. Mike's parents' neighbor essentially got us a whole deer's worth of meat - enough to fill our freezer. We've got shoulders, loins, ground meat, steaks, and a whole other host of venison. I'm in heaven.
Last year was actually my first time experimenting in the kitchen with venison and I was pretty proud of how well my first attempt turned out. I found a recipe for Barbecue Venison Meatballs that was absolutely delicious - moist, flavorful, and tomatoey, Mike and I dreamed of those meatballs for months after all our venison ran out. So, understandably, I was most excited not about the venison steaks or the shoulders with which I could make a wonderful stew, but the ground venison. I recreated those meatballs of so long ago and was pleasantly rewarded for my patience and my efforts.
This recipe originally hails from Deerfarmer.com which has a huge catalogue of venison recipes for all different cuts, flavors, and dishes. I'll likely be sharing more recipes off this website as I make my way through the rest of the venison this winter. But for now, I want to share this absolutely delightful meatball dish. Perfect served by itself (I know, I was just complaining about how meat takes up too large a portion of the American diet, but really no side could compare to these meatballs), over rice or barley, with some roasted vegetables, potatoes, or a side salad. Just be prepared for the meatballs to be the star in this dinner. And if you can't get your hands on any venison this winter, I suggest trying the recipe out with some free-range ground meat of another kind, just alter the meatball mixture to be more or less moist as you see fit! I also recommend giving them a try pan-fried in a shallow pan (first brown the meatballs on all sides while the sauce simmers in a separate pan, then combine the two) or substituting 1/2 cup of the ketchup with hoisin sauce.
Barbecue Venison Meatballs
adapted from Deerfarmer.com
- 1 pound elk burger
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup rolled oats, uncooked
- 1 cup minced onion
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tbsp. vinegar
- 5 Tbsp. brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Combine elk burger, milk, salt, rolled oats, and 1/2 cup minced onion in a large bowl. Form into 1-inch balls.
3. Place meatballs in 9 by 13 inch pan.
4. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup onion, ketchup, water, vinegar, and brown sugar to make the sauce.
5. Pour sauce over raw meatballs.
6. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour. Enjoy!