Making Pasta Alla Carne Di Cervo

Last night I finally cooked up the venison that Russell brought to our apartment. I toyed with the idea of making venison burgers, but ultimately took the advice of some experienced venison chefs, who recommended spaghetti as a good, and safe, introduction to the world of cooking deer meat. I decided that some pasta alla carne di cervo (“cervo” being the Italian word for venison) sounded pretty good for a Friday night.

I began by browning the ground meat in my smaller cast iron skillet. I followed some on-line cooking site advice, which noted that venison is very lean meat and can dry out if overcooked, and made sure to slowly brown the meat with a lot of butter to keep it juicy and maintain the flavor. There was a lot of meat in the packet that Russell brought, and it basically filled the skillet. I liberally flavored it with some garlic and paprika, and a bit of salt.

Unlike hamburger meat, which would have been spitting all over the stove top as it browned, the venison cooked very easily and cleanly and, as predicted, didn’t produce much fat run off. (Those deer obviously stay in pretty good shape.) I kept a close eye on it to make sure the meat stayed tender. Because there wasn’t a lot of fat, the cooking meat didn’t reduce in the same way hamburger would, and the skillet stayed full. And here’s another nice feature of cooking venison–because the meat is leaner, you don’t have the greasy clean-up challenge that you get with browning hamburger.

By the time the meat was cooked there was so much browned meat I had to use two jars of tomato sauce to make sure there would be plenty of sauce to cover the pasta. Between the two jars of sauce and the venison, the sauce pretty much filled a three-quart pot. I slow-cooked the sauce, too, and added a bit more garlic and a healthy dose of parmesan cheese, and then let the sauce simmer while I prepared the pasta.

The sauce smelled great, and by the time the pasta was cooked I was starving. (The opportunity to really build and sharpen your appetite is one of the advantages of a slow cooking approach, in my humble opinion.) When everything was done I got out a big dish, drained the pasta, and prepared a sizeable portion that my grandmother would have said was “big enough for a truck driver.” I added some more parmesan cheese on the top, because I am a big parmesan lover. The dish definitely passed the visual appeal test.

With everything done, I sat down to sample my efforts and took a tentative first bite, wondering how the venison would affect the taste of this very familiar dish. I am happy to report that the spaghetti was, in a word, excellent. The venison was both lean and flavorful and went very well with the tomato sauce and cheese. I ate every bit, relishing the meaty sauce, and was grateful that I made a lot of it, because I’ll look forward to having another serving of pasta alla carne di cervo tonight.

I enjoyed my first foray into cooking venison, and will definitely try it again. It makes me wonder about potentially trying other types of meats, just to see what I’ve been missing.

Cooking With Deer Meat

Russell brought home this bag of ground deer meat when he visited from Maine recently. He got the meat from a hunter friend up there, but didn’t get around to cooking it during his visit, and as a result it’s been sitting in the freezer. I’m intrigued to try it, so I’ve thawed it out and am trying to decide what to cook with it tonight.

Other than, perhaps, a piece of venison jerky years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever tried any food made with deer meat. However, in the past I’ve eaten bison burgers and some elk meat at a wild game night at a local restaurant. I don’t mind the stronger flavor you tend to get with meat from wild animals–although you never know, venison meat might be different, and of course the preparation is critical.

I have no idea how to prepare and cook ground venison, so I did the normal modern thing: a Google search. To my surprise, a search for “recipes for ground deer meat” yields a treasure trove of suggested dishes, from tacos to goulash to “hunters’ casserole” to meat loaf, chili, spaghetti sauce, and of course burgers. The recipes for venison–like this one for chili from a website with the delightful name “Rustic Recipes”–often point out that it is viewed as healthier than domestically raised meat, because it is lower in saturated fats, doesn’t have artificial hormones or antibiotics, and is “a good source of iron.” That last comment means you might want to make sure you add some flavoring to the dish. Recipes for venison burgers, like this one, also note that because venison has less fat, you need to add something (the recipe suggests butter) in preparing the patties to avoid a dry burger and avoid overcooking them. The recipe also recommends adding garlic powder, onion powder, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt and pepper, for seasoning.

Tonight I think I’m going to start with the basics: venison burgers.