When he gave them to me, I asked George if I should marinate the meat in milk to remove the gamey flavor. He told me that it was not needed, but to get better flavored meat, to remove as much fat, fascia and gristle as possible. I took one of the venison shoulders, defrosted it, and set to work with a knife cleaning it up.
The next question became “Just how do I cook this?” So I set out to find a recipe. I selected a Hungarian favorite, goulash, as the meal for the evening. Traditional goulash is usually a soup, made with meats, ample paprika and onions. One story I read about it said that Gypsy goulash featured more vegetables. Me, I love vegetables, so I decided to give the Romani variation a stab. Though traditionally a soup, I learned that the Austrian variation was akin to a thick stew rather than a thinner soup. The American version features tomatoes or tomato paste and is often baked with elbow pasta, similar to chili mac. I thought the Austrian variation seemed more both hearty and authentic, as Austria and Hungary used to be one empire.
To start off, after I trimmed the joint of venison of the fat and gristle, I cut it into about three-quarter inch cubes. Once trimmed and cubed, I browned the meat in my trusty five-quart pot with one very large, diced yellow onion. As that cooked, I diced one large green pepper and sliced two smallish carrots and added them to the pot with a tablespoon of minced garlic. Stir the meat and vegetables as they cook, making sure to brown the meat on all sides, and get the onions fairly caramelized.
When that’s done, then we have a great base for the stew. Season this with a few dashes of salt, and a good quarter teaspoon of black pepper. Now we get to the fun part. Paprika is the main seasoning in goulash, so I added a good two tablespoons. Truthfully, I wish I had gone for three in hindsight. Most recipes call for Hungarian paprika in Goulash, but all I could find was Spanish. I don’t think it hindered the flavor too much, but if I find the Hungarian variation, I will buy some for a comparison. Add a half-cup of red wine and a quart of water to the pot, and then drop in two of my favorite pot seasonings, the bay leaf. Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce the heat and cover. Let it simmer for an hour and a half, stirring every 15 minutes.
After that time elapses, it’s time to thicken the stew, not with flour or starch, but with potatoes. I read that the usual thickeners tend to cut the paprika flavor a bit more, and potatoes were an authentic and non-invasive way to go. I peeled one large baking potato, and cut it as thinly as possible into discs. Place the discs into the pot and again, cover it up for another good hour and a half. The thin potatoes melt away and thicken the stew. As you stir, notice how they break down. By the time we ate, we found only tiny bits of tender potato remained, surrounded by a hearty stew.
I served red cabbage and apples with my goulash as a side dish. To make the cabbage, shred about half to three-quarters of a large, firm head of red cabbage. Dice half of a large yellow onion, or one smaller onion and sauté it in two tablespoons of butter. Add one peeled and cored Granny Smith apple chopped into one-inch cubes, and then the cabbage. Stir it well, then add a quarter cup of white wine, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some salt and pepper, then an eighth of a teaspoon each of caraway seed, mustard seed and celery seed. For sweetness, add a teaspoon of sugar. Cover the cabbage and place on low heat to cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
When the meal was ready, Hawkins and I sat down to dinner with Sanci and his good friend Aaron Cox. We served the goulash over a bed of egg noodles with plenty of cabbage on the side. I really don’t think Sanci liked the cabbage much, but seemed to love the goulash. Aaron scuzzled three bowls, while the rest of us had two a-piece. The venison was tender after three hours of stewing, but not quite falling apart. For those that don’t know much about venison, the taste is similar to beef, while the texture is a bit like lamb. George’s suggestion to trim the joint left no off flavors.
That night, we watched Real Time Bill Maher, which Hawkins recorded the night before, and the Tim Burton comedy “Mars Attacks.” With great venison prepared in true Austria-Hungary style, tasty cabbage, noodles, and as always, great company and entertainment, I have no doubt that a good time was had by all. Good eating.