Given the widespread social isolation caused by COVID-19, there’s no better time to tap into your supply of wild game meat and have some fun in the kitchen. Get into the wild game cooking groove with this gourmet venison meatball recipe.
Starting now, I’m going to be sharing some wild game recipe collaborations that I’ve been working on with culinary badasses from around the country. Our goal is to help hunters and wild game cooks try some new ideas and refine some old ones.
SEE ANOTHER RECIPE:
This first recipe came out of a conversation I had over a beer with chef Samuel Charles at Rodina—a killer establishment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sam has a fantastic meatball recipe on his menu, so I asked him if he wanted to try making something similar with some of the venison I had in my freezer from a recent hunt. Being someone always willing to geek out on a new food adventure, he asked me to bring the meat and we’d make something to share with Rodina friends and staff. Rodina is constantly trying new kinds of protein, from emu breast carpaccio to elk steaks to whatever bycatch fish his supplier has gotten their hands.
My mother’s mashed potatoes always included a bit of buttermilk and a healthy dose of butter. The key to amazing mashed potatoes is actually keeping the dairy to a small quantity—no more than a tablespoon per potato. Potatoes love salt. Much like venison backstraps, potatoes need salt. I worked for a chef in my early 20s who told me to use Kosher salt as a general cooking salt, and to save fancy sea salts for garnishing/finishing. The reason being Kosher salt is very consistent in flavor and intensity, so once you get a feel for how much to use it won’t vary as much as sea salt or the low-quality iodized salt we all grew up on. Salt the water you boil your potatoes in. Once you’ve added some butter, milk and mixed the mash, make sure to taste them for flavor before serving.
As far as making gravy for this dish, a good approach is to take the fat runoff from the meatballs and pour it into a saucepan, add a couple tablespoons of butter and some flour. Sauté the flour on medium high until just before it browns so it absorbs the flavor of the fat, and then add in some beef stock. I like keeping Better Than Bouillon paste around for things like this, as I don’t always remember to buy liquid premade stock. Even better would be to make your own wild game stock with the femurs from a deer or the leftover bones from a roasted pheasant or duck. Whisk in the stock to the hot fat and flour mixture to pull off all the delicious flavor from the bottom of the pan. The thickening reaction will happen over the next minute or two, and turn your heat down to a simmer to keep the gravy from boiling.
When you serve your food, get creative for a beautiful presentation, much like you clean up your kill before a hero shot. Sam tends to put down a layer of mashed potatoes, then a few meatballs, with a coverage of gravy to finish. He had some fresh kale in the kitchen for a garnish when we were designing this recipe, but parsley, dill or cilantro would work nicely as well.
Meatballs are a time-honored tradition in most cultures, and this dish is guaranteed to be popular among all sorts of people—easily win over kids or your friends who’ve never been introduced to wild game flavors before. If we’re going to bring new hunters into our ranks, delicious cooking is a fantastic recruiting tool. I know it’s what lured me into this rich way of life.
RECIPE (feeds 4 to 6 adults)
1.5 lbs. ground venison
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. dried dill
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. minced chives
1.5 tsp. Kosher salt (salt to taste)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups gravy
6 cups mashed potatoes
1. Combine all dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
2. In a large bowl, add ground meat, eggs, then sprinkle dry mix over top. Mix all ingredients, making sure to evenly distribute spices and eggs. Work meat slightly during mixing process. Meat mixture should become slightly tacky.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4. Roll meatball mixture into golf-ball sized balls and place on cookie tray, with at least 1-inch gap between meatballs. Use parchment paper for easier cleanup.
5. Bake meatballs for approx. 15 minutes or until no pink is left.
6. Once complete, remove from cookie tray and place on top of warm mashed potatoes.
7. Cover meatballs in gravy and garnish.
Recipe by Chef Samuel Charles