Venison, Woods-to-Table Taste Sensation

By Bernadette Dryden | October 16, 2012
From Missouri Conservationist: Nov 2012

Excerpted from MDC’s Cookbook “Cooking Wild”

During the last firearms deer season, hunters harvested more than 238,000 whitetails in Missouri. Although deer is the most sought-after game animal in the state (turkeys are second), Missourians also enjoy bringing to the table a fair number of squirrels, rabbits and other small game.

I’ve known hunters and anglers all my life and worked with hundreds of them during my 23 years with the Conservation Department. I’ve always admired the strength, skill, stealth and patience it takes to draw back a bow, deftly cast a line or sit motionless in a cold deer stand for hours.

Kevin Lohraff, a Conservation Department colleague from whom I’ve learned much about the natural world, concurs. “Hunting is one of the most natural things I know,” he says. “For me it is the ultimate connection between the land you live on and yourself. It also gives you an intimate connection with what you put in your body.”

The meat and fish that Kevin and his family eat are almost exclusively from animals that he harvests from the Missouri wild. Nature’s ability to help “reset his balance” is high on Kevin’s list of reasons to hunt and be in the wild. “In this modern, digital era, a person can feel pretty disconnected from everything. When I get out in the woods, it doesn’t take long to get the feeling that I could be living a thousand years ago—using what I have learned about animals and their behaviors, and putting into practice my familiarity with the outdoor environment and my skills as a hunter. There’s a calming effect and intimacy from all of it that is very healing.”

Venison Kebabs

This is one of my favorite ways to use ground venison. Quick and easy, this recipe also is incredibly malleable, as I’ve mentioned in my herbs and spices note that follows. In a nutshell, kebabs are miniature Middle Eastern meatloaves on sticks. I love to tuck them into grilled pitas and top them with fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes and yogurt-cucumber dip.

Soak Your Skewers

Bamboo skewers are my choice for threading meat for satays or kebabs. Be sure to soak the skewers in water for at least 30 minutes (or more) to keep them from igniting on the grill. Metal skewers don’t need to be soaked, of course, but they do get (and stay) very hot. Also, they often are bigger and tear the meat when threading in a way that the smaller bamboo ones don’t.

Suit Yourself With Seasonings

The herb-and-spice mixture can be adjusted to suit your palate when you are mixing all the ingredients together. For example, when I created this recipe, I first tried the mixture with less garlic, hot pepper flakes and salt. To test for seasoning, I made a 1-inch-round ball and cooked it in the microwave for a few seconds. If it tasted too bland, I kept experimenting until I had the desired amount of spiciness in the raw mixture. Once when I made these I didn’t have cilantro on hand, so I used various other herbs from my garden including rosemary, oregano, chives, basil and thyme. I also threw in a few fennel seeds. So the herb and spice blend is not strict. You may want to try it this way the first time, then the next time use your own combination of fresh herbs and spices from your pantry.

  • 1 pound ground venison
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (or smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 3/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pita bread
  • Equipment: 6 (10- or 12-inch-long) bamboo skewers (See Soak Your Skewers above.)
  • Oiled baking sheet

Mix all ingredients together and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. Remove skewers from water and shake off excess; firmly pack meat mixture around the skewers in 3-inch-long, 1-inch-thick links—two to a skewer.

Place skewers on the oiled baking sheet and carefully turn them to lightly coat the meat with oil. Remove skewers from the sheet carefully and place them on a grill heated to medium. Cook 10 to 15 minutes—carefully and gently turning them halfway through. A metal spatula gently pushed under the kebabs helps to turn them.

Serve sandwich style in freshly grilled pita bread. Top the kebabs with fresh, chopped tomatoes and Tzatziki.

Serves 4 to 6

Venison Green-Chile Stew

Green-chile stew is one of my favorite fireside comfort foods—not one that I grew up with, however. Since my first visit to northern New Mexico many years ago, that state’s signature dish calls to me on snowy Missouri nights. It is traditionally made with beef or pork in the Southwest, but venison also does it justice. Several containers of New Mexican chopped green chiles were in my freezer from a recent trip, so I pulled out a couple to try in this recipe. After the first taste, I congratulated myself for having had the foresight to bring them home with me. Yum!

Pick a Pepper

You may use any kind of fresh or frozen pepper for the minced peppers. I have friends who grow a large variety of heirloom peppers every summer on their farm in Shannon County. They preserve plenty for winter by chopping them finely in a food processor and freezing the pulp flat in large freezer bags. Being a beneficiary of many of their fresh peppers, I’ve started doing the same. It works great for recipes such as green-chile stew. I pulled out a freezer bag and pinched off 2 or 3 tablespoons of puréed mixed hot and sweet peppers and threw them into the pan with the chiles.

Make it Hotter or Milder

Only your taste buds can decide how much hot pepper you want to add. If you use mostly mild green chiles, then you’ll want to add fresh hot peppers for extra kick. I like a ratio of about two-thirds mild and one-third hot New Mexican green chiles to begin with. Then, upon tasting, if I decide it needs more punch, I throw in the fresh hot peppers. If you find the stew too spicy, add extra broth and a little water to dilute the heat.

  • 2 pounds venison, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups chopped fire-roasted mild or hot green chiles, preferably New Mexican
  • 2 sweet or hot fresh peppers, minced (See Pick a Pepper above.)
  • Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Whole wheat- or white-flour tortillas

In a large, heavy saucepan, cook the venison in oil over medium heat until browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in onions and garlic and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Add potatoes, salt and broth. Bring contents to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for an hour.

Add the chiles, fresh peppers and black pepper, and cook 1 hour or more until the venison is tender and the stew is of desired consistency.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with cilantro. Accompany with warm tortillas for dipping into or stuffing with the stew.

Makes about 10 cups of stew

Cooking Wild in Missouri

Savoring the state’s native fish, game, nuts, fruits and mushrooms

Whether you hunt, fish or forage, Bernadette Dryden’s collection of more than 100 delicious, kitchen-tested recipes highlights Missouri’s game, fish, nuts, fruits and mushrooms. Tempting recipes cover appetizers, fresh salads, savory stews, elegant entrées and delectable desserts. Detailed instructions are suitable for the novice or advanced cook and offer imaginative, fresh ideas for turning your harvest into a mouth-watering feast. With beautiful color photographs on nearly every page and dozens of tips to make your time in the kitchen easy, efficient and fun, Cooking Wild in Missouri is sure to earn a trusted spot in your kitchen. It costs $15 plus sales tax and shipping and handling. To order, call toll free 877-521-8632, or visit

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler