It felt like a holiday last September as I stood in my kitchen. I had my knife in hand trimming cuts of elk meat from a bull my nephew had shot a few days before during our archery trip. His buddy and fellow army colleague were out on my back porch deboning quarters and my nephew was ferrying bowls of meat back and forth to the kitchen for me to work with.
My wife, Pam, was on the couch recovering from a total knee replacement and her father had come out to help her in her recovery. Pam was smiling ear to ear and Pop was milling about checking out all the fun work that was taking place, proud of his military grandson that he had taught to hunt.
It had been many years since I had carved up my own big game. I’d look at a cut of meat and think roast or steak? I’d trim it up and accumulated a pile of trimmings that would go into the grind pile. And then there was the occasional package that I would label “stew meat”.
Everybody has a package of “stew meat” that often gets shuffled around in the freezer like the poor elementary school kid that is the last one to get picked for the football game during recess. (I was usually that kid.)
However, even stew meat from elk is a fantastic cut of meat if prepared in good fashion. Below is a great recipe for your stew meat. I utilized it with fresh red beets from my garden this summer. Most people have never tried Borscht, a traditional meal that comes from Ukraine and eastern Europe. This is a lovely dish for a cool autumn day or in the heart of winter. I made mine in the heat of summer; the chilled leftovers hit the spot for lunch in July.
It’s a versatile dish that is easy to prepare. Give yourself in the neighborhood of 70 minutes from start to finish. Most of your time will be spent cutting vegetables. You’ll want your ingredients assembled beforehand, then it is easy going. This recipe is adapted and modified from a New York Times vegetarian borscht.
Give this dish a try and invite the neighbors over! Enjoy!
- 2 lbs elk stew meat
- 1 large onion diced (about 1½ cups)
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 large leek diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
- 1 lb medium beets peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
- ½ lb medium carrots peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
- 3 cups beet leaves chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp caraway seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp fresh horseradish grated
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 pinch granulated sugar
- 1 cup thick sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Add olive oil to a heavy soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook venison until just browned. Pull out of the pot and place aside. Give it a taste. If it is a tougher cut I would add it into the soup when you add the root vegetables. If it is tender, then wait until the very end.
- When the oil is hot, add onion, celery, and leek, stir to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring, until onion is just beginning to brown. Add garlic, tomato paste, paprika, caraway seed, bay leaf, and thyme. Cook 1 minute more, stirring.
- Add potatoes, beets and carrots, 6 cups water and 1½ tsp salt, or to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a brisk simmer with lid ajar for 20 minutes. Check at 15 minutes to make sure you don’t overcook the root vegetables. You want them to be fork-tender. Your beets will be the last to get to that point. If you have a tougher cut of meat, add it back in now.
- Add beet leaves and vinegar, and stir to distribute. Taste broth and adjust seasoning as necessary. Simmer about seven minutes until the beet leaves wilt and become just soft. Don’t let them go too long. If your venison is tender and juicy you’ll add it in as you pull the pot off the burner. I added mine in and let the liquid reheat the meat.
- Prepare the horseradish cream. If you have prepped these ingredients beforehand you can easily do this step while the root vegetables cook. Put horseradish, lemon juice, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Let macerate 5 minutes, then stir in your sour cream.
- Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with your fresh herbs. Cover with a healthy dollop of horseradish cream. This goes well with a loaf of fresh bread. I prefer a “sheepherder” loaf that I can just pull apart as I eat. Enjoy!