Micro-Brewery Oven Buffalo or Elk Stew with Bread Toasts

Micro-Brewery Oven Buffalo or Elk Stew with Bread Toasts

[Editor's Note: In time for the 16th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, this weekend, September 18– 20, anthropologist/cook book author Dr. Susanna Hoffman has come up with a recipe for elk (or other game meat) and brews.]

by Dr. Susanna Hoffman

April Cabin 013 Denver is Telluride's big sister city today, but back in the days of the wild, wooly West both were prosperous mining towns.

Young Denver was a rich gold-rush city, a way station for many wagon trains and cattle drives, and a merchant capitol where intrepid folks crossing the mountains could stock up on whatever goods they needed. Back then, Denver was relatively small, edging towards half million hardy souls, surrounded by open plains and, just up the road a piece, mountains teeming with game. In young Denver, it was easy to eat buffalo, elk, moose, and pronghorn. Any good butcher had the meats as did some of the finer eating establishments such as El Rancho, The Old Navarre, and the Wiltshire Country Club. I never lost my taste for the game morsels I acquired as a girl and mourned their disappearance from shops and restaurants as more and more people, along with mega-chain grocery stores, invaded my hometown.  

However, today, thanks to  collective good intentions, careful tending, and firm regulations, game animals have made a return. Many ranchers are raising America’s own bison. Small, scattered herds of wild antelope are emerging on the prairies and in the mountain, and elk graze on the tall mountain grasses, their great big babies babbling in incongruously high-pitched voices. Best of all, the moose are migrating south once more, reaching as far as Grand Mesa.
True pronghorn and moose remain scarce,  but buffalo and elk meat are again readily available–at least in mountain groceries and farmer’s markets. And our fair Telluride is one of the places to get both game meats.

Meanwhile, all about the state once dominated by one long-reaching beer company, dozens of marvelous micro-brewed beers appeared. (Miners and cowboys were not much for wine.)  Every size town has sprouted one or more breweries producing artfully labeled and humorous titled ales, pilsners, lagers, and thicker drafts. 

Tying together these threads, it appears to be high time for Colorado cooks to once more hustle up a game stew simmered in beer.  Here’s how:    

Plenty for 6

6 medium onions (about 2 ½ pounds), peeled, cut in half, then sliced in 1/4 inch slices
3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
12 tablespoons (11/2 stick) butter
4 pounds buffalo or elk meat, cut in 1 ½ inch cubes
2 8-ounce bottles of micro-brewed lager or amber beer   
2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 slices country bread
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley leaves (optional)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large roasting pan or casserole. Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-low heat 20 minutes, until thoroughly wilted.

While the onions cook, melt 4 more tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skilled.  Add half the meat and brown on all side over medium-high het for 8 minutes, turning once. Remove the meat and add it to the onions in the roasting pan. Brown the remaining meat and add to the onions the same way.

Add the beer to the skillet. Stir to loosen and scrape up andy bits of meat that are stuck to the pan. Transfer the beer mixture to the roasting pan. Add the vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cover the pan and place it in the oven. Cook for about 2 hourss, or until the meat is fork tender.

Just before serving, melt the final 4 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan. Brush melted butter over both sides of each slice of bread. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Put in the oven and toast 3 minutes. Turn and toast 3 minutes more.

Remove the stew from the oven. Spoon the meat and sauce onto a large deep serving platter. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Surround with the bread toasts and serve.       

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