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It’s big – big families, big meals, big expectations. Folks expect big come Thanksgiving and the holidays soon after, which puts the burden on whoever’s queued up for kitchen duty. This time of year, that likely means whoever’s put in a store of turkey, goose, venison, or some other big cut of game.
Jesse Griffiths is here to help. The James Beard Award-finalist author of Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, Griffiths is at the forefront of the hunting-cooking movement with his popular practical hunting classes and Dai Due Butcher Shop & Supper Club, the brick-and-mortar which serves fresh, fairly-produced food from Texas farmers and ranchers.
Jesse's cookbook is a big, expansive field-to-table treatise on nose-to-tail cookery. And his practical hunting schools combine hunter education, guided hunts, and serious butchering and cooking instruction. Jesse has a few key insights to cooking large over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Q: What is it about the Thanksgiving that seem to bring out the best in a game cook?
A: First, I think that wild game should be a celebratory meal. Approaching it this way is just another way of showing respect for the animal, that this is something special. Really, for a hunter to have a freezer full of wild game and then go out and buy a holiday Butterball from the store, that seems a bit ironic. And the timing couldn’t be better. By now, you should have meat to work with.
Q: Let’s get down to it: You’ve got a dozen kinfolk headed your way for a holiday family blitz. What’s the plan?
A: I go for a large cut that I can slow cook, which gives me plenty of time to socialize. I’m looking for something relatively hands-free. Start it early in the morning, and just hang out till it’s ready.
This past Thanksgiving I had three different generations in the house, so I worked up two venison shoulders that fit the bill. I’d shot a nice trophy doe down in the Hill Country, and packaged two shoulders just for this meal. This sweet and sour German preparation marries well with game meats, and it tenderizes with an extensive marinade. With a ginger snap gravy, the brown sugar, the cloves, the wine—this treatment evokes wintertime and holidays. And you can adapt this for wild pig shoulders, elk shoulders, you name it. Here’s the drill.
Over-engineered with an 18/8 stainless steel body and double-wall vacuum insulation.
6-pound venison, elk or feral hog shoulder or ham roasts
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups red wine
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
15 juniper berries
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoon salt
2 onions, halved
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
¼ cup lard or oil
½ cup brown sugar
6 oz. gingersnap cookies
Three days before making the sauerbraten, bring the vinegar, red wine, mustard, juniper, cloves, bay, salt, pepper and onions to a boil in a pot. Stir to dissolve, then cool completely. Submerge the roasts in the marinade and refrigerate for three days.
After three days, remove the roast from the marinade and dry well, reserving the marinade. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, heat the lard or oil and brown the roasts very well on all sides, turning often, about 15 minutes. Once browned, pour the marinade through a strainer into the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Braise the roasts for 3-5 hours, or until very tender. Once cooked, gently remove the roasts with a large slotted spoon to a platter and place the pot back over a burner. Bring to a boil and add the brown sugar and gingersnaps, whisking until smooth. Pour the sauce over the sauerbraten and serve with potato dumplings, mashed potatoes, spaetzle or egg noodles.