This “freezer cleaner” is the hunter’s version of Sunday Gravy, an Italian-American multi-meat extravaganza typically served at large family dinners. Here, we’re using a selection of game cuts to create incredible layers of flavor while making some freezer space for the upcoming season. Don’t file this under “quick and easy weeknight recipe," however; be sure to allow several hours to finish this dish.
You’ll need the following, in any combination:
- Ground meat for meatballs. This could literally be any game meat, even ground duck or goose breast.
- Some cutlets or thinly-pounded slices of venison leg steaks for the braciole, or even slices taken from the breast of a turkey or goose. Fatty loin cuts like bear or feral hog will work very well here, too.
- Roasts or leg quarters. These can be neck roasts, racks of ribs, or shanks from a deer, elk, or antelope, or even fatty, bone-in chops from a bear or boar. Leg quarters from turkey, goose, duck, or crane will add another layer of flavor.
- Italian sausages, homemade or store-bought, sweet or hot, just as long as there’s some fennel in there. If you don’t have sausages, be sure to throw a couple teaspoons of fennel seed into the meatball mix.
Here I’ve used whitetail venison necks, meatballs and braciole, turkey legs and thighs, wild boar ribs, and nilgai antelope sausage.
- 1 lb. ground game meat
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs or torn bread
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped, divided
- 1 egg
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- Salt and pepper
- 8 turkey, venison, elk, waterfowl, or wild boar cutlets or thin steaks from the legs, sliced thinly and pounded to ¼-inch thickness
- ¼ cup chopped pickled peppers
- 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2-3 lbs. bone-in roasts, chops, or large stewing cuts like a wild turkey or goose leg quarters and boar, bear, venison, elk, or antelope shanks, shoulders, necks, or other roasts, in any combination
- 3 links Italian sausages
- 3 yellow onions, chopped
- 4 medium carrots, sliced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 (14-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 qt. stock or water
- 6 sprigs basil, leaves only
- 1 lb. sturdy dried pasta like bucatini, rigatoni, or penne, or serve over grits or polenta
Also works with
- Make the meatballs. In a medium bowl, soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for a couple of minutes then add the ground meat, ¼ cup parmesan, ⅓ of the chopped parsley, the egg, and a couple good pinches of salt and several crackings of fresh black pepper. Mix until homogenous and slightly sticky then form into a dozen balls, rolling them in your hands. Refrigerate the meatballs.
- Make the braciole. Place the cutlets on a cutting board and lightly salt and pepper them. Divide the chopped pickled peppers between the eight cutlets evenly, and scatter with some parsley, some chopped garlic, and ¼ cup of the Parmesan. Roll tightly and secure well with three toothpicks each.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the leg quarters and roasts very well, then brown them all over, turning them with tongs carefully. Brown the meatballs, braciole, and sausages very well on all sides and remove them and place on a plate. This will take a while. Refrigerate the browned meatballs, braciole, and sausages.
- Add the onions, carrots, and bay leaves to the pot and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until softened. Add the remaining garlic and cook for another minute. Add the red wine and boil for a minute or two, then add the crushed tomatoes and the stock or water. Add the roasts and leg quarters and turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 hours, covered, on low heat. The gravy could be transferred to a slow cooker or crock pot at this point.
- Return the braciole to the pot and continue to simmer for another hour, uncovered, adding stock or water if needed to keep everything barely covered. Add the meatballs and sausage and simmer for another hour. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove the pot from the heat when all of the meats are tender.
- Cook the pasta until just tender in a large pot of salty, boiling water. Drain well, transfer to a bowl and ladle in about 3 cups of just the sauce. Toss well and pour onto a platter. Alternately, serve over grits or polenta. Arrange the leg quarter and roast, meatballs, braciole (remove the toothpicks) on top. Cut each sausage into three pieces and add to the platter. Garnish with basil leaves, remaining parsley, and remaining parmesan.