It was around 2006 when I was sitting in a pricey restaurant trying a tasting menu. The chef was so bold he served just a simple broth in a bowl. Looking down at the meatless meal I was sure I’d starve. Little did I know I was about to fall in love with a new element of cooking and that the experience would lead me to see wild game in a whole new light.
The sourcing of food is a deep love of mine and the carcasses of the animals I hunt are a treasure trove. Broth and stock offer myriad nutritional benefits and serve as the cornerstone of great cooking. There is also a historical reference that I can’t ignore. The bones of harvested animals have been used for tools, instruments, ceremonial objects and relics since man brought down his first animal.
"To me, the bones are just as important as the backstraps."
Now, I cry a little bit inside when I find out someone has left the bones of an animal in the field. Okay, so that might be an exaggeration, but seriously, we should all make an effort to bring the bones from our hunt to the freezer. While nothing left in the field is truly wasted as scavengers benefit from what we leave behind, the bones are an integral part of my waste nothing ethic. To me, the bones are just as important as the backstraps.
Imagine your favorite soup, rice or meat dish bathing in the deliciousness of some amazing broth made possible only be the efforts of your hunt. As a novice chef I have gotten as much praise from my consommé, broths and flavorings attributed to bones as I have from the flesh of my animals. If you are in a position where weather, location and timing make harvesting bones impossible, I totally understand leaving what you can’t take. If conditions are on your side, I encourage you to do your best to get as much of the animal out of the field. Those who are at your table will thank you for it.
Stock is relatively simple to make, but it’s certainly a process. As my friend Hank Shaw has said, “embrace the chaos” when it comes to cooking wild game. The chaos is the variation you’ll experience from kill to kill, animal to animal and terroir to terroir. No two animals I have sourced are the same, they all have a uniqueness to them and it will become apparent in the kitchen. Embrace it.
Stocks and broths can be as basic or as fancy as you want them to be. From simply simmering bones in water to the classic consommé, bones can carry a meal. Here, I’ve given you a baseline recipe. For those of you who are a bit more adventurous, stay tuned. I’ll be writing about more complex bone-based recipes in the future.
I strongly encourage you to give this recipe a try. Relive the hunt, the experience, the memories and the uniqueness and nuance of the animal you were fortunate enough to harvest in each meal. Share the dishes you prepare and invite others to experience the richness of eating wild game, for it is a truly unique expression of the place it lived.
Roasted Venison Stock
- 5-7lbs of bones with a bit of meat from your favorite hooved creature
- Olive oil to coat the bones (about 4-6 Tbs.)
- 2 medium yellow onions, quartered (don’t be afraid to leave the skin on)
- 4-6 stalks celery rough chopped
- 3-4 carrots rough chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves rough chopped
- 2 tablespoons coarse ground pepper
- 3-4 whole cloves
- 1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1-2 spring fresh rosemary
- Put the bones on a roasting pan or baking sheet, cover with oil and roast for 30-45 minutes in a 400 degree oven or until dark brown. I love scapula for this as well as ribs. Cut them if needed so they can fit in your stock pot after roasting.
- After roasting, add your bones to a stock pot, scrape all the bits off the roasting pan into your stock pot too. Cover the bones with water, place on stove and turn heat to medium.
Closely monitor your stock, you don’t want it to boil rapidly, this is a gentle and slow cooking process. Once the temperature comes up a foam will start to form at the surface, skim this away with a spoon. Let it cook for up to 8 hours or overnight. I often put my pot in the oven at 225-250 overnight.
- Add the vegetables and herbs and simmer for another hour and a half to two hours.
- Remove the pot from the heat and remove the bones from the pot. Use a fine-mesh sieve and cheesecloth to filter the stock over a large pot or bowl big enough to hold the liquid. (I love a chinois for this and it is a great kitchen gadget to have). Gently ladle the liquid through the filter to remove any impurities. Don’t worry about getting every bit of liquid from the bottom of the pot. It will be loaded with impurities. Save that last bit for your dog, he or she will thank you.
- With the liquied filtered, you can pressure can the stock in quarts or freeze it to preserve it for later use.
There are lots of variations you can change in this process. For example, more meat on your bones will make it richer. Adding in a knuckle from your animal or a pig’s foot and will provide a richer texture. You can even add in vegetables like parsnips, turnips, celeriac, or any variety of herbs. Bottom line, make it your own, tweak it and see what works.
From here, use your stock as a base for braised dishes, soups and stews. Hell, don’t be afraid to drink it on its own!
Photos by author.