Elevate your ground venison with a delicious and creamy vodka sauce served atop your favorite Italian pasta
Often with pasta sauce recipes (or any sauce recipe for that matter), the ingredients and steps call for disguising the wild game. Here, with venison, it was my goal to maintain the earthy tones we all love.
We’re not trying to fool anyone here—you’ll definitely taste and enjoy the venison while savoring an authentic vodka pasta sauce.
The role of vodka in creamy sauces
In terms of sauces, vodka is used for its patented flavorless quality but most importantly its role as an emulsifier and flavor unlocker.
Vodka is the sea salt of alcohol in terms of revealing true flavor potential. Vodka is also a binder that prevents the cream from separating, so it’s perfect for pasta sauces involving both cream and acidic ingredients like tomatoes. For all the aforementioned reasons, vodka, when used for sauces, isn’t meant to “make things interesting,” but rather serves very distinct purposes when it comes to cooking.
It’s well worth the wait
Simmering the browned ground venison in this creamy vodka sauce infuses moisture back into the ground venison. While venison is great-tasting, it can have the texture of wet shredded newspaper in some dishes. It’s our goal here to counter that with fats and oils from the sauce as it simmers with the meat. And, while this dish may be a good deal of “hurry up and wait” as ingredients either smoke or simmer during the process, it’s well worth it.
If the sauce tastes bland, add a bit more kosher salt. Salt reduces bitterness while also balancing sweetness and chemically expanding your tastebuds. But again, the sauce should never taste salty. Take the “salt to taste” process slowly and refine as necessary.
Venison Alla VodkaJack Hennessy
- Smoker or oven for roasting
- Cast iron skillet
- 4 lbs on-the-vine tomatoes smoked and pureed
- 1 lb venison ground
- 1 cup vodka
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream
- 1 tbsp Italian spices
- 2 tsp garlic freshly minced
- 16 oz spaghetti
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Olive oil
- Parsley or basil fresh
- Parmesan cheese freshly shredded
- Smoke 4 pounds of on-the-vine tomatoes for 3 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t wish to smoke the tomatoes, you can roast them in your oven at 200 degrees.
- Once tomatoes are finished, remove the skin and stems and thoroughly purée. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine vodka, chicken stock, freshly minced garlic and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Heat over medium until the liquids reduce to half. Add the heavy whipping cream and reduce heat to medium low. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Once cream reduces to one-third of the original amount and has thickened, add 4 cups of the puréed tomatoes and stir in thoroughly. Bring to a simmer once more.
- Heat a large (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium heat and lightly drizzle in olive oil. Add ground venison and dust with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Once venison is browned, add the dry Italian spices.
- Once the venison is thoroughly browned, add the sauce to the skillet and allow venison and sauce to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Salt to taste.
- Boil spaghetti either al dente or slightly al dente (should take 8-9 minutes in boiling water), then drain water and add olive oil and a light amount of kosher salt to pasta. If needed, add a tablespoon or two of pasta water to the sauce.
- To serve, add spaghetti to plate and top with sauce and meat. Garnish with freshly shredded parmesan and either freshly minced Italian parsley or fresh basil, cut chiffonade, or both. Enjoy!
Jack Hennessy first started working in professional kitchens at the age of 15 but didn't start hunting until he was 26 and attending graduate school. Upon graduating, he started work at the Elk Public House in Spokane, Washington, where he worked for 4 years while also hunting and writing for The Spokesman-Review Outdoors section. Jack currently writes recipes and cooking content regularly for Project Upland, Outdoor Life, Petersen's Hunting, Wildfowl Magazine, among others. You can find his work on both magazine newsstands and online. He is the author of the blog BraisingTheWild.com and his Instagram handle is: @WildGameJack. He works full-time as both a writer and photographer. He lives in Kansas with his wife, Dara, and his two daughters and his 3-year-old Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley.