Hickory Smoked Venison Shoulder

I think we’re all sick of that cozy feeling we seek in wintertime. Putting on layers of constraining itchy clothes, lacing up bulky boots for a journey of only a few minutes, and wrapping a scarf around my head, up to my eyes, leaving bits scarf fluff caught in my throat, I think like everyone else, I’m over it. I want to be able to tell a story of drinking breezy cocktails in Miami or finding food along the boardwalk on Venice beach.

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I’m not going to do that though because it’s too easy. Character doesn’t come cheap and we are, if anything, paying dearly for our witty, sarcastic and bitter character. We’re still talking winter because it’s unfortunately still here. Just wait until spring actually pops up in Toronto, and then, I’m afraid to say it should I jinx it, summer along behind it. We will drop the bitterness and pick up a distinctly west-coast positivity that can only exist when the weather isn’t holding us hostage under a blanket.

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This meal was created for our ice fishing weekend. Inspired by the woodland environment, I wanted venison and I wanted it to be heavy, wrapped in an extra layer of fat (just like all Canadians in winter), and infused with hickory smoke. I like making roasts that take up a lot of time. Spending a bit of prep to get it in the heat, then forgetting about it until it’s time to eat. Venison doesn’t generally need much time in the heat though, which is why I went with a shoulder roast. For all its leanness, it still has some connective tissues that benefit from slow cooking to break them down.

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If you wanted to do this in an oven and don’t want to have a smoke out in your kitchen, you could certainly bard the roast with double smoked bacon, which would keep the roast moist while also providing a good dose of smoke flavour. I used hickory chips on the barbecue so using bacon wasn’t really necessary and even while maintaining a relatively low temperature on the barbecue, it’s still a harsher heat than the oven so barding in a heavier layer of pork fat is preferred.

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There are a lot of robust flavours venison can pair with. I like juniper, garlic, pepper, wine, bay, oregano, lemon, thyme and onion to not only flavour the meat but any sides to be served with it. Sweetness and acidity are also welcome additions to game meat, hence the pomegranate molasses in the marinade, which also caramelizes on the roast as it cooks.

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We kept the sides simple for this dinner because we’d spent the entire day outside in the snow and could barely manage to lift a pot by the end. A wild rice salad, featuring a vinaigrette of lemon, fresh oregano, parsley and olive oil, with some shallot and pomegranate molasses mixed through is a nutty and herbaceous compliment to the venison. Roasted celeriac purée, simply flavoured with heavy cream and fresh thyme is extremely satisfying and dare I say, cozy, along side.

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Hickory Smoked Venison Shoulder

Serves 4-6

1.13 kg boneless venison shoulder, tied
pork fat for barding
1 bag hickory wood chips, soaked
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon whole juniper
1 tablespoon whole allspice
5 whole cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
300ml red wine
100ml sweet sherry or port
100ml olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Combine the juniper, allspice, cloves, peppercorns, and garlic in a mortar and pestle and crush until the spices are coarsely ground. To a large heavy freezer bag or a vessel big enough to hold all the marinade ingredients plus the venison, add the spices and the rest of the marinade ingredients. Mix to dissolve the sugar then plunk in the venison. Leave to marinate overnight or up to 2 days.

When ready to barbecue, remove the venison from the marinade, season with the salt and tie the pork fat around it. Place the venison in a barbecue safe pan and decant the marinade into a separate foil pan. In another foil pan add the soaked wood chips and cover with aluminum foil, piercing the top, which will allow the smoke to escape later.

With the lid down, preheat the barbecue to 275°F, placing the pan with the wood chips over direct heat. When the chips begin to smoke, place the pan with the venison over indirect heat and the pan with the reserved marinade somewhere in between direct and indirect heat. Leave the venison to cook for approximately 2 hours, opening the lid to check as little as possible to help keep the smoke from escaping.

When ready, let the meat rest at room temperature for 10 minutes, then remove what’s left of the barding fat before serving.