When it comes to making stew, rather at home or at hunting camp, exact recipes are often not necessary. For cooking at deer camp, we often just bring along a random selection of vegetables, herbs, etc and create a stew following some very basic principles.
Start with the meat. Meat from the shoulders and/or hind quarters are perfect for stews. You can cut them in larger pieces, or, if you wish, cube the meat. Ideally, you’ll want to brown the meat first. The browning process is known as the Maillard reaction, which creates a wide range of complex flavors. When available, we prefer to do this in duck fat rendered from wild ducks, though lard, coconut oil, butter, bacon drippings, and olive oil are all fine sources of fat. We do not recommend vegetable oil both for health and taste reasons.
Take your time during the browning process, do not overcrowd the pan and sufficiently brown all sides of the meat. Using a cut of meat with some bone still attached (or tossing in a bone or two) is often desirable since the marrow will contribute greatly to the flavor of the stew. After the meat has been browned, remove it from the pot.
Next up are your root vegetables. These need to be diced, but not finely since most of the vegetables will be significantly broken down during the cooking process. Onions, Garlic, Celery, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots… whatever you prefer and/or whatever you have on hand. Mushrooms, greens, brussel sprouts, etc can also be added. Don’t worry about portions so much, it is more a question of how much stew do you want to cook and how much room do you have in your pot. You will want to add a bit more fat (butter, lard, bacon grease, or oil) before putting the vegetables in the pot. From there, I prefer to first add the onions and let them get a head start on cooking. Slowly add the rest of your root vegetables and stir regularly for several minutes until a good portion of the vegetables have been slightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic!
Pour in some stock. Venison stock is the best option, but beef stock will be sufficient. How much do you need? Somewhere around half a pot will be fine. If you do not have stock, water will work, though having some bones to add to the stew would be ideal if you are using water. It is also recommended that you add either beer of your choice, dry red wine or brandy. If you do not consume alcohol or are cooking for children, worry not as the alcohol will cook off, however, this step is entirely optional. For this recipe, we used about 3/4ths of a can of Guinness.
From there, add salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. For venison, rosemary, thyme and juniper berries are complimentary, but you can use any herbs that you like (or have on hand). Measurements? Just throw some in there and adjust towards the end of the cooking process. (worst case, season with salt and pepper and then use some hot sauce at serving time).
Add the meat back into the pot and allow it to cook over low to moderate heat for at least 2 hours until the meat is tender enough to fall apart. Cook time will vary depending on heat and the toughness of the meat, but two to three hours is often sufficient. So long as the heat isn’t too high and there is liquid in the pot, you should not have to worry about overcooking. Resist the urge to open the lid frequently to check on the stew since each lid lift will add approximately 20 minutes of cook time. If you wish to thicken the stew up, add a little bit of flour. If you wish to make it more soupy, add more stock, water, beer, wine or brandy. Do not be afraid to experiment with your favorite ingredients.