Venison, Fennel & Sun-Ripened Tomato Soup
A recipe featured in the Outdoor News Taste of the Wild
By Eileen Clarke
Truth be told, many mornings I breakfast on hot soup rather than traditional breakfast fare, especially in winter. It’s the warmth, but it’s also the dose of protein that feeds my brain and keeps me going through the morning whether I’m out hunting or sitting at my desk. However, this soup is not what I would call a breakfast soup. In fact, when I cooked it the other day, I immediately thought it would be a perfect New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day or got-the-buck-of-a-lifetime soup. (In fact, I’d just made it celebrate the pair of fat whitetail does hanging in the garage.)
It’s a rich, elegant soup. Lots of garlic, lots of intensity in the sun-dried tomatoes and lots of cream to keep you warm. What more could you want? Ah, yes, the traditional Italian culinary tang of fennel.
Venison, Fennel & Sun Ripened Tomato Soup
Make 8 cups/2 quarts
2 pounds venison steak, cut into 1” cubes
4 cups water
2 tablespoon reduced sodium roasted beef base (I use Better Than Bouillon brand)
2-4 tablespoons oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dried leaf oregano
4 teaspoons whole fennel
¼-½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1⅓ cup dry red wine (like a Malbec or Pinot Noir)
⅔ cup whipping cream
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste, served at the table
- Dry the steak cubes with paper towels. Then let the meat stay wrapped while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- In a 3½-5 quart soup pot, combine the water and beef base and turn the heat on high. When it comes to a simmer, lower the heat so it stays at a simmer.
- Once that’s started, heat 1-2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a large skillet and brown the venison chunks in two to three batches (spaced about 1” apart, whatever keeps the meat browning rather than steaming). About 2-3 minutes per batch. As each batch gets browned, add it to the soup pot. (Add more oil to your skillet as needed.)
- Add the sliced onion and garlic, and sauté until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, fennel, half the salt and the pepper to the skillet and give it all a good stir. (No need to add more oil since the sun-dried tomatoes have their own.) Add the rest of the salt, if needed, after you’ve reduced the wine (directions in steps 5 & 6). Why? Some wines have more salt than others, and reducing their volume concentrates everything. Plus, the Parmesan cheese you’ll add to finish the dish is salty, so it is better to hold back on the salt at this stage.
- Sauté until the sun-dried tomatoes are hot and all the veggies are coated with the spices. Toss them into the soup pot. Add the red wine to the hot skillet and turn the heat up to medium-high.
- Continue cooking until the red wine is reduced about half (2/3 cup.) (About 7 minutes, including checking it once at 3-4 minutes.) Add it to the soup. Now reduce the heat on the soup pot to a low simmer, and let it simmer 20-30 minutes, uncovered. Stir the cream into the soup just before serving, and add a generous spoonful of grated Parmesan cheese to each bowl.
Tips from the chef: Why reduce wine?
To paraphrase Fine Cooking magazine, reducing wine removes tannins and other compounds that might cause cream to curdle and, since this is a cream soup, that’s important.
Reducing acids, like wines, also sweetens them and intensifies their flavor. Just don’t use ‘cooking’ wine. It’s quite salty when reduced. Use a wine you would drink at the table.
How can you tell when it’s half? Keep a glass measuring cup by the stove and, after 3 minutes pour the wine back into it carefully, then guesstimate how much longer by how much the wine has reduced already. I usually check after 3 minutes for two reasons: first, I cook with gas, but also things move fast on medium-high heat. It’s not an exact bit of math, but if you reduce too far, you can always add more wine and have a second (or third?) chance at perfection.
This recipe is from Eileen’s newest wild game cookbook, The Wild Bowl: 100 wild game soups, stews & chilies including 45 venison recipes, 25 chilies, long-cooking burgoos and quickies like this soup. $24.75 (With free media shipping in the US). Visit www.riflesandrecipes.com or call 406-521-0273.