The Nasty Bits: Venison Neck

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang[]

Braising neck in wine is just about the most delicious thing you can do with a neck. And when that neck is from a deer your editor shot, skinned, and butchered, all the better.

Though lamb, pork, and beef neck are all commonly sitting in my kitchen, I had never cooked neck from game meat before. Placing the whole venison neck in the pot, I had my doubts. Would the lean animal meat be tougher? Fearing this potential hazard, I hunted for the most indulgent recipe I could find—it was in one of my favorite cookbooks, Bones, by one of my favorite cookbook authors, Jennifer McLagan.

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Her recipe for wine braised venison calls for stewing venison shoulder in an entire bottle of wine (five cups to be exact)—a dry red like a Barolo or Barbaresco. All I could find at my local wine shop was a Cabernet Sauvignon. You better buy two bottles since you're going to drink some too.

The venison neck is submerged in the wine with two very generous handfuls of dried wild mushrooms (chanterelles work great). It also calls for pancetta, and the usual mirepoix, garlic, and herbs. But would an entire stick of cinnamon be too much for one little deer's neck? I followed the directions and plunked the whole stick into the pot. Lemon zest—long peels of it from one whole lemon—was the last ingredient.

The pot simmered in the oven for three hours. My apartment filled with deep, bold aromas—meaty, red wine-infused air.

Pulling the pot out of the oven for a sample sliver, I found the venison falling-off-the-bone tender and delicately gamey. The next step calls for pureeing the whole sauce, which by now was a thick brown stew containing all those vegetables, the pancetta, and mushrooms. Puree? As in, turn this into a smoothie?

I did as I was told. The blades of my immersion blender sputtered a bit when hitting a meaty piece of pancetta or a woodsy piece of chanterelle, but soon the brown stew transformed into a rich brown smoothie.

I recalled a conversation I had the other night with Ed and Kenji at Lambarama, about recipes that fall into the "looks gross but tastes really delicious" category. This certainly qualified.

The brown sludge-sauce, as I've started calling it, was deeply wine-y and complex. The cinnamon, though strong, didn't overwhem—it just complemented the game meat. You can taste the lemon zest and the chanterelles, too. Because the sauce is so full-bodied, it laps off the spoon like a creamy soup. As for sides? Polenta or some kind of root vegetable puree would be best.

You should also know that I stood over the stovetop for half an hour, doing nothing except taking licks of my wooden spoon covered in brown sludge-sauce. There really wasn't much to it. I lapped up the sauce, paused, then lapped some more.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

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