This recipe is based on a traditional Flemish recipe featuring beef simmered in beer. It’s a terrific way to fix deer or elk, and a good choice for some of those less-tender cuts. You can use any kind of beer you want – some cooks swear by Guinness – but your best choice is a good brown ale. If you use cheap swill beer, it just won’t be the same.
Some camp cooks serve this with big garlic dumplings on top, instead of using the bread slices. Horseradish-laced stone ground mustard is highly recommended. The stew is traditionally made with a couple pounds of meat and about a pound of liver; if you add some liver to the mix, it seriously improves the rich flavor.
Cut up the venison into chunks of 1 or 2 inches. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy skillet, and brown the venison over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, then season lightly with salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook and stir till the onions are transparent. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir well until the venison and onions are coated. Mix the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and V8 and pour that in – your kitchen is going to smell wicked good at this point.
Stir the meat and scrape the skillet, then transfer the mixture to a large deep baking dish. Pour the ale into the hot skillet over medium heat, scraping the last of the drippings from the skillet, and pour that into the baking dish with the venison. Stick a bay leaf down into the middle. Spread both sides of the bread slices generously with mustard, and lay them over the top of the venison mixture. Pour more ale over the top so the whole dish is covered. Add a lid and bake at 300° for an hour.
Check the venison to see whether it’s tender, and add more ale if necessary. Depending on the cuts you used, you may want to bake this for another half hour or hour. When the meat is tender, uncover the pan and turn up the heat to 425° for about 20 minutes, if necessary, to thicken the gravy.
Serve this over mashed potatoes with horseradish on the side, or on top of garlicky buttered noodles. If you make this ahead and freeze it, you can take it to hunting camp with you – just spread fresh or frozen hash browns in a foil pan, dump the venison stew on top, cover tightly with foil, and warm it over the fire. In some camps, the guy who finds the bay leaf has to wash dishes.