Dave’s Venison Steak Simmered in Relish

It was a beautiful day on Chequamegon Bay, but my mother was seasick. I had arranged a half-day fishing charter with Captain Dave Sorenson from Ashland, Wisconsin. Dave Sorenson docked his boat across the bay at the marina in Washburn and had everything ready when we showed up a half hour before our scheduled start.

I had had a little trouble organizing the trip. My father was afraid that he would have difficulty getting in and out of the boat. I explained that Dave had a big boat over 30 feet long with a cabin and comfortable benches in case he got tired, but Dad still balked at the idea. When he said that he didn’t know if he could step into or out of the boat, I saw my opening: “I’ll rent a wheelchair for you. We can just wheel you on board.”

“I don’t need a wheelchair,” he snarled, and agreed to the trip.

My mother’s objection was that she was afraid of getting seasick on a big boat. She loved to fish and had spent many hours in canoes and fishing boats on lakes near Hayward. Persuading her meant changing tactics and emphasizing that Dave’s boat was not like a ship. It was just a bit bigger than the boats she was used to. She didn’t get seasick in a rowboat, so she wouldn’t get seasick on Dave’s boat.

But she did. About two minutes after we cast off the lines and moved away from the dock, she went into the cabin and proceeded to turn green. Once we had gotten past Madeline Island, the fish finder began showing schools of fish. Dave throttled down the boat and explained that we should decide who would catch the first fish. There were six of us. I’m not sure of the exact order, but I know Dad was number one and I took the number six position. Mom said that she didn’t think she should have a number, but I think that we gave her number three.

So down went the outriggers and we began trolling. The weather was beautiful with a nice breeze. The fish were not too cooperative, but Dad hauled in a lake trout after half an hour or so, then Jerri reeled in a nice fish. The sun came out, the wind freshened and the boat rolled a little more. When I told Mom that when I was seasick on my trip to Germany I felt a lot better when I got on deck, she just groaned. At least she didn’t tell me that she had told me she would get seasick.

All of a sudden, there was a fish on rod number three. I opened the door to the cabin and told her there was a fish on her rod. She said, “Have someone else take it,” but I persisted.

“Come on, Mom, I’ll help you. Just crank the reel. If you can’t do it, we’ll take over.”

As luck would have it, a nice coho salmon was on the rod. As she began cranking the reel, the fish jumped out of the water sixty or seventy feet from the boat, and Mom began trembling with the excitement every fisherman or fisherwoman knows. My recollection is that the whole boat began shaking, but she kept right on cranking.

After Dave netted her fish and handed it to her, she held it in front of her in the way that every experienced angler knows will make it look bigger than it is while we took a photo.

Only then did she realize that she was no longer seasick. A salmon on the line works better than dramamine!

Captain Dave took a photo of all of us with our catch when we got back to the marina. There are Dad and Mom complete with lake trout, salmon and smiles. Jerri, my sister Barb and my brother-in-law Patrick are standing next to them with big grins and their trophies. At the end of the line is one person with a brave smile but no fish. Guess who.

Dave published The Outdoor Gourmet Cookbook filled with some tasty recipes for wild game and fish. Besides recipes for everything from crow to muskrat, the book includes useful fishing and hunting tips. If you have a hunter or fisher in your family, you should try to get a copy of Dave’s cookbook.

Jerri adjusted Dave’s recipe slightly to make it one of our two favorite ways of cooking venison steak.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 – 2 lbs. venison round steak
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 or 3 T bacon drippings
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
1/2 can or a small jar of finely chopped pimiento
1 four ounce can mushrooms, drained
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 sweet pickles, chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup water
1 T sugar

PROCEDURE:

Start with venison round steak about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Cut the steak into serving size pieces and coat them with flour.

Clean and chop the celery and onion medium fine. Slice the olives and chop the pickles medium. Drain the mushrooms and stir the salt and sugar into a half cup of water.

Heat the bacon drippings in a skillet over moderately high heat and brown the meat on both sides. Turn the heat to low, stir in the vegetables and water mixture and grind the pepper over everything. Cover the skillet and simmer the meat for about an hour and a half. Turn the meat to mix it with the vegetables occasionally. Add water if necessary.

Serve with rice, a green salad and bread. Jerri uses brown rice or a blend of brown and wild rice.

NOTES: You can substitute lard or shortening for the bacon grease, but the smoky flavor of bacon grease adds to the flavor. Incidentally, venison has virtually no cholesterol, so this dish is both tasty and good for you.

Better Than Mom’s Venison Chili

My grandparents did not hunt or fish, so I sometimes wonder how my parents came to do both.  Actually, my mother was not a hunter, but she could outlast all of us when the fish were biting.

She caught the largest bullhead I have ever seen one evening when the mosquitoes had driven the rest of us into the car.  Dad rolled down the window a little and called her once or twice, but she kept saying that she wanted to catch “just one more good one.”

All of a sudden we heard a shout. Dad jumped out of the car and disappeared in the dusk.  A couple of minutes later they came walking up from the dock, Dad carrying the fish pail and worm can and Mom with her rod and a huge bullhead.  She had called for help because it felt like a monster to her.  She was so excited that she started cranking the reel backwards, but somehow she managed to beach the fish.

That weekend I saw something that amazed me.  After spending most of the afternoon trying to untangle the backlash on Mom’s reel, Dad cut the almost-new line off the reel.  And he was a man who saved bent nails and taught me how to straighten them too.

So Mom got a new casting line and we had pieces of Mom’s giant bullhead to go with the bluegills.

Mom did not hunt, but she cooked lots of grouse and venison.  Like most people who have venison in the freezer, she used some of it in chili.  I hate to say it, but it was like most of the northern Wisconsin chili I have eaten:  Tomato soup, onions, chili powder and kidney beans with hamburger or ground venison.  Sometimes she even tossed in some chopped celery.

It’s okay, but here’s how to make a chili that is a lot better than Mom’s.

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds venison (elk or deer)
1/2 pound pork sausage
2 T  vegetable oil
1 large onion (about 4 inches in diameter)
6 cloves garlic
2  14.5 ounce cans beef broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 cups chopped fresh, frozen or canned tomatoes
1 small (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 green bell pepper
3 jalapeño peppers
1 habanero pepper
1 T chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 T brown sugar
1 T flour mixed with 2 T water
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Slice the elk or venison into thin pieces about an inch long.  In a large Dutch oven or heavy kettle heat about two tablespoons oil and brown the meat. Season the meat with a half teaspoon salt and a quarter teaspoon black pepper. Peel and chop the onion and garlic.  Add the onion, garlic, beef broth, water, wine, tomato paste and tomatoes, breaking them apart. Simmer for forty-five minutes to an hour. 

Wash and cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and white membrane. Dice the habanero and jalapeño peppers fine and the green pepper medium and add them to the chili. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and sugar. Simmer for about an hour.  Mix the flour with the water and stir it into the chili.  Cook for three or four minutes, then taste and adjust the spices.

Serve with buttermilk cornbread, butter and honey or jam and shredded cheddar cheese or sour cream that guests can add if they wish.

OPTIONS:  If you like your chili hotter, add some cayenne pepper or one or two more diced peppers. You can replace  the habanero pepper with a teaspoon of hot sauce.

NOTES:  You can substitute beef for the venison or use hamburger if you don’t want to slice the meat, but it really is better sliced  Be sure to wear gloves when working with hot peppers.