A consistent theme in my Maine cookbooks are the venison variations in recipes that traditionally call for beef. Once hunting season arrives, I may actually be able to try the venison version, but for now, I’m making this dish the traditional way – with beef.
Found on page 97 of Maine Home Cooking (which has quickly become competition for Recipes from the Maine Kitchen for the “favorite Maine cookbook” honor), this recipe delivered truly outstanding results – validated by my mom’s experience when she made it for her dinner group.
I’ll be honest, when I first reviewed the ingredient list, I was concerned that the dish might be a bit bland (another impression validated by Mom!). I didn’t need to be concerned at all, though. While I did add a bit of salt and pepper, it was only a small amount – the flavors in this dish really come together beautifully.
- 4 slices of bacon, or 2 tablespoons olive oil (I used olive oil – easier AND healthier)
- 3 1/2 to 4 lbs of cubed venison or beef
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cups red wine
- 3 cups beef stock
- 2 bay leaves (I skipped these – and it was still great)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 lb pearl onions, skinned and parboiled
If you’re using the bacon, place the slices in the bottom of a Dutch oven and fry until crisp. Remove them, and brown the meat in the bacon fat (or use olive oil, as noted). Add the garlic, carrot, onion, wine, stock, and bay leaves. Cover and let simmer for about six hours.
An hour before dinner, put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the mushrooms until they are soft (they will shrink). Add the mushrooms and pearl onions to the meat. Cook uncovered until dinnertime, about 45 minutes or so, to allow the sauce to thicken. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, and remove the bay leaves.
Serve on rice or noodles, or even polenta.
Time to enjoy!
A few noteworthy tips: you can finish this recipe in a slow cooker the next day, if you like. Brown the beef as described, and cook the other ingredients in the mixture for about 30 minutes. The next morning, put the ingredients in the slow cooker and set it on low for the day.
Also, as I noted on the ingredient list, I did not use bay leaves. I rarely ever (I would even go so far as to say “never”) use bay leaves, for several reasons. First is simply that most recipes call for one or two bay leaves at most – and when you buy them, you buy many more than that. Inevitably, the vast majority of the bay leaves I (used to) buy would spoil before I made another recipe that called for them. That’s just wasting money. Second, I once read that the addition of bay leaves has, at best, a minimal impact on flavor. I agree with this assessment, and the two combined factors are enough for me to disregard bay leaves on virtually all ingredient lists.
Depending on your stove’s heat intensity, you may not need to simmer for 6 hours. I’m still getting used to our gas stove, and the “simmer” setting is pretty intense – as I learned from this recipe. When I checked it at three hours, I removed it from the heat because the liquid had reduced significantly enough, all the veggies were soft, and the flavor was great.
Please try this recipe! It is at the top of my “favorites” list, personally. Paired with a nice red wine (I’d go with Merlot or Cab Sauv) – it’s a satisfying weeknight or weekend meal. I foresee it making regular appearances on fall football Sundays in our house. (and football is almost here!!!)