GOURMET HIKING: VENISON STEW
I spent last weekend on the southern portion of the Bibbulmun Track walking a section that skirted through the painfully beautiful Beedelup Karri forest. As the path we had chosen only covered roughly 20kms I decided it might be a nice opportunity to offer my hiking companions a slightly more gourmet meal for our final night at the Beedalup hut.
I tried to choose a dish that I felt reflected the natural surroundings and the original settlers of the area and ended up adapting the following recipe from a personal favourite of mine for Venison Pies which is in turn based on a recipe by the venerable Maggie Beer.
It may seem a little long-winded but I promise the steps are easy to follow and the reward is oh-so-worth it.
Venison Stew with Damper
Serves: four hungry hikers
Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 2 hours
One kilogram of diced venison or beef (frozen)
Two handfuls of aged or wild mushrooms (chanterelle, crimini, portabello)
One thick slice smoked speck or pancetta
Two large shallots or four small shallots
A large carrot
Three cloves of garlic
Four small chat potatoes
Two stock cubes (beef or vege)
Half a bottle of good shiraz
A sprig of fresh rosemary
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
One tablespoon tomato paste
Two bay leaves
Half a dozen fresh juniper berries
Two tablespoons of olive oil
Heavy pinch of sea salt
Half a dozen mixed peppercorns
I used frozen venison which meant that it had defrosted nicely by night two of the hike. Between the girlfriend and myself we somehow managed to forget the speck, so we replaced with smokey bacon from a local supermarket in Pemberton.
Pre-mix the dry ingredients into a waterproof container for use when you get to camp.
- If cooking using a fire pit the first thing you’ll want to do is stoke it to get a batch of nice white hot coals built up. You’ll use these to cook the damper and to maintain a good temperature for the stew.
- Pour about half a cup of your pre-made dry damper mix into a large pot and dust small handfuls of the diced venison until all are lightly coated. Remove dusted venison from pot and place to one side.
- Empty the rest of your damper mix into the pot and gradually add a water in small amounts. Stir until the dough comes together but is only just sticky to touch.
- Remove dough from pot and knead lightly until combined into ball. Wrap loosely in aluminum foil and set to one side.
- Hopefully your fire is nice and hot by now so place your pot over the fire and add the olive oil to it.
- While the oil heats prepare your leek, shallots, carrot and garlic by chopping into rough chunks, set to one side.
- Slice your speck into smaller chunks and set to one side as well.
- Once your oil has reached temperature add your flour dusted venison to pot and fry until sealed and just browned. Remove from pot and set to one side.
- Leaving any venison juices in the pot add your speck and fry until golden.
- Add your chopped vegetables to the pot and stir gently until softened and translucent.
- Prepare your stock by adding both stock cubes to a cup of water and gently heating over fire.
- Once vegetables have softened add your mushrooms to the pot and stir until they have given up most of their juices.
- Place venison back into the pot and pour over stock and red wine.
- Add rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, tomato paste and salt.
- Crush your peppercorns and juniper berries and add to pot. Stir pot until combined and cover to simmer for two hours.
- Monitor the progress of your stew which should be maintained at simmering temperature (multiple slow bubbles). You’ll know when it’s becoming ready as the stew will darken and the venison will become very soft and tender.
- At the hour and a half mark, place your damper on the hot coals and cover with additional coals from edge of fire. Roughly chop your potatoes and add them to the pot stirring to make sure they are covered by the liquid. Remove the pot lid and simmer for a further twenty to thirty minutes until the potatoes are soft.
- Remove damper from fire and peel any foil off. If damper is blackened scrape blackened portions off with knife and break open.
- Serve the stew with a portion of warm damper for dipping and the rest of the Shiraz!
If you don’t have access to a fire pit or are hiking during a total fire ban you can still make this recipe using a simmer adjustable multi-fuel stove such as the MSR Dragonfly. For the damper, you’ll need to oil a pot and cover to bake. If you decide to skip the damper then just skip the dusting step with the venison.
Happy eating! - Sam