Six months before he died, writer and outdoorsman Tim McLaurin dictated to me his venison chili recipe, the one that he'd made over the years and that, when I tasted it, converted me into a lover of venison. Later that same winter, my friend Wayne gave me some deer burger from his many weekends hunting in Orange County.
Like many folks, I had a dislike for venison, based on principal and preconceived notions. But when cooked with red beans, red wine and cinnamon, the sweet, nutty flavor of the deer meat takes us back to some of the flavors of our Native American and Pilgrim ancestors. It certainly takes me back to a special friendship I still miss.
This is Tim's description of the process and ingredients. Apart from the meat and red wine, the measurements are mine, but every item included was dictated by the boss. I suspect, as with most oral storytelling, the order varied every time it was cooked, and I'd bet his hunting buddies, grown kids and widow have different versions.
The local deer hunters I know are generous in giving away a pound or two of their professionally processed harvest. If you've ever turned it way, you're missing a local treat that uses standard farmers' market ingredients toward a marvelous and warming burst of fall flavors.
Chili recipes from previous years: Black Bean Chili and American Chili Con Carne or Vegetarian Chili
Tim McLaurin's Venison Chili
2 pounds venison cut into cubes or strips as for beef stew (or equivalent in ground deer burger)
1/4 cup flour
4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil (the meat is very lean), plus 2 more
About 2 cups ordinary dry red table wine, to cover
1 cup each diced green pepper and onion
1/2 cup leaf celery stems and leaves, or 1 cup diced ordinary celery
2 tablespoons chili powder (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 quart tomatoes (preferably home-canned or frozen)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups cooked red kidney beans (approximately 1 cup dried)
Salt to taste (legumes absorb it, so at least a teaspoon)
Dredge the meat in flour. (If using ground venison, stir in flour after meat is browned in oil; it does not usually need to be drained of fat.) Transfer to a crock pot and cover with wine. Turn crock pot on high to get heat up while preparing the remaining ingredients. Sauté peppers, onion and celery leaf or celery in remaining olive oil until translucent. Add chili powder and cinnamon and heat through to blend flavors. Add tomatoes and paste and heat to boiling. Cook at a boil until tomato paste is incorporated, about 5 minutes. Transfer to crock pot with meat and wine.
When the mixture is bubbling, turn crock pot down to medium and cook for 3 hours (or 5 to 6 hours on low heat). Tim emphasized not to add the red beans until 30 minutes before dinnertime, along with the salt. Cool leftovers before freezing or storing in fridge. Serves 8 heartily, and leftovers are excellent. Sides of corn bread and braised winter greens or a salad make a complete, tasty meal.
Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry
A movement to responsibly thin the deer overpopulation has led to USDA-approved meat processing plants participating in the professional preparation and flash-freezing of harvested deer. The meat is then given to nearby food banks. See www.fhfh.org for more information.