I wasn’t raised eating venison, but Jeff’s dad and granddad are both hunters, so when I was offered deer for the first time, I guess you could say I was … game. The meat had been marinated and grilled and looked a lot like a grilled tenderloin. Very lean. So, I gave it a try, and it was good! I had a second helping.

Turns out, I’m not the only newcomer to the venison fold. This month’s “Field & Stream” is dedicated to “America’s Meat” and its newfound appeal to locavores and others looking for inexpensive, lean meat that’s “free of the pharmacological stew” that plagues some commercial livestock. The issue features venison recipes from chefs like Bobby Flay, John Currence, John Besh and Paul Kahan.

But, when Jeff’s dad gave us several pounds of deer meat to take home, we knew EXACTLY what we wanted to make with it: the Venison Lasagna from Hank Shaw’s blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

In this recipe, the venison is mixed with pork (to add a little fat) and simmered for one to two hours with onion, garlic, sugar, spices, red wine, tomato paste, tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes for a spicy sauce that’s more meat than tomato. Layered with the lasagna noodles and cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and Pecorino), the meat sauce makes a lasagna that’s true to the beefy original but surprisingly light.

OK, so I’m sure you’re wondering whether the venison tasted gamey. No, it really didn’t. Jeff’s dad and granddad started processing the deer as soon as it was shot, cut away the fat and connective tissue and brined the meat, so it didn’t taste gamey. In this recipe, you might not even notice you were eating venison instead of beef, except that the venison is crumblier and has a finer texture.

P.S. If you have a mental block on venison, that’s fine! You can still enjoy this recipe by substituting ground beef for the venison.

Venison Lasagna

Adapted from Hank Shaw’s Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Serves 8-10

    Meat Sauce:

  • 2 pounds ground venison or beef
  • 1 pound ground wild boar or pork
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 head of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
    Cheese Filling:

  • 1 large container of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups grated Pecorino cheese
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • Salt and pepper
  1. To Make the Sauce: Working in batches, brown the venison and pork in a large Dutch oven. Return all the meat to the pot, add the onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add sugar, fennel seeds, oregano and basil. Mix well. Add wine and tomato paste. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Add the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes; mix well. Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for 1-2 hours. (This can be done up to two days ahead of time.)
  2. Soak the lasagna noodles in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the parsley. Add 1 teaspoon nutmeg.
  5. To Assemble the Lasagna: Spread 1/3 of the meat sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of noodles on top, then 1/2 the ricotta cheese mixture, 1/2 the mozzarella and 1/2 cup Pecorino. Repeat 1 more time. Top with a final layer of meat sauce and 1 cup Pecorino.
  6. Cover the lasagna with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover, and bake for another 25 minutes. Let it rest 15 minutes before serving.