Right around the time deer season opens up, my garden starts throwing out piles of winter squash. Just like their summer brethren, the cucumber and zucchini, they start off sparse, a few here and there then suddenly—excess and abundance. As I write this, I have a pile of squash on my dinner table. They've overrun the countertop and have upgraded themselves from squash to decorative gourds.
Luckily, winter squash pairs perfectly with venison. The slightly sweet, chestnut richness of winter squash pairs well with the lean earthiness of venison (and just about any wild game). They also complement the changing season, transitioning from cool summer preparations of fish and grilled veggies to hearty meals and red meat. This warm, rich soup is a welcome change of pace for early autumn evenings and crispy mornings.
I smoked the squash in a Camp Chef Pellet Grill to add some smoky flavor and made a simple, four-ingredient sausage with homemade chili powder to top off the soup. The sausage adds some depth, heat, and a bit of fat. The leftover sausage is great with some eggs, and if you case and smoke it, will stand on its own. I used kabocha, uchiki kuri, and black futsu squash for this soup because those are the varieties I have in the garden, but you can use any winter squash you like.
Chili Powder Sausage
- 1 lb. venison, cubed and trimmed of connective tissue and excess fat
- ¼ lb. pork fat, cubed
- 1 tbsp. homemade chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp. salt
- 4 to 5 lbs. winter squash
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. turmeric, ground
- 1 tsp. cumin, ground
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1½ cup venison stock
- Crème fraîche or sour cream
Chili Powder Sausage
- Combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 4+ hours or overnight.
- Grind through a fine plate. You can case the sausage if you wish.
- Brown sausage and crumble to top off the soup. Drizzle some of the rendered fat onto the soup as well—the fat will be lightly infused with the chili powder flavors.
- Preheat smoker to 350°F.
- Half or quarter the squash, scoop out seeds, and lightly oil and season with salt. Place on smoker cut side down, and smoke for 1 hour or until fork tender.
- Scoop out smoked squash with a spoon. You should have 3 to 4 cups of cooked squash.
- In a small stock pot or dutch oven, combine butter, onions, garlic, bay leaves, turmeric, cumin, and paprika. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and onions are semi-translucent for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add cooked squash to the pot then add the cream and water or stock. Stir and bring to a soft simmer. Stir often to keep the squash from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Remove bay leaves then blend soup. Add additional stock or water if too thick. Season with salt and adjust to taste.
- Top with crème fraîche or sour cream and sausage crumbles.