Ground Venison Casserole with Corn Muffin Topping
One of the things I love to do in my kitchen is come up with modern and interesting spins on classic recipes. Perhaps it comes from inheriting a number of my grandmother’s vintage cookbooks from the 50s, 60s and 70s, many of which used canned and processed ingredients to showcase modern “convenience” over flavor and style. Some of those books are full of casseroles, where a “can of this” and a “frozen bag of that” are combined with just a few fresh, inexpensive protein to make a meal.
Ground beef casseroles can be found in a lot of these cookbooks, sometimes baked with pasta or rice, other times topped with a cornbread or biscuit mixture to make a fast “pie”. I decided recently that I wanted to update a vintage Mexican-spiced ground beef and cornbread casserole by using more fresh vegetables, spices, and ground venison for a leaner meat and more intense flavor. I also used corn muffin mix for a sweeter topping, as sweetness often works well against the “gamey” flavor of venison.
I really loved the way this came out – even as I was adjusting seasoning and flavors on the fly – so I was glad I took notes and photos as I was cooking so I could write up this recipe after the fact. And yes, you can make it with ground beef instead of venison, although you may need to make some adjustments as I’ll talk about below. But if you’re looking for a great way to use some venison chop meat – especially for people who might be afraid or unsure of eating venison – give this recipe a try!
How do you feel about venison?
To eat or not to eat deer meat
Venison is, for the unfamiliar, deer meat. While in the United States it is mostly consumed by hunters (and their friends and family), in other countries like the United Kingdom it is highly prized and utilized quite a bit in high end, fine dining – just watch any season of MasterChef: The Professionals! It seems like almost every episode one of the chefs is preparing a venison dish.
There are many reasons to enjoy venison as it is generally a very lean and healthy meat. Compared to beef or pork tenderloin, or chicken breast, an equal serving of venison tenderloin is lower in calories and fat and higher in iron. (Source) Venison meat just about defines the idea of “free ranging”, so it is also a great meat choice for those opposed to factory farming and the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in their food.
Of course, deer meat must be handled and butchered properly for safe consumption and certain parts of the animal are not typically consumed because of disease concerns, such as Chronic Wasting Disease. However I’m lucky to be friends with hunters who are able to get me fresh venison every season and an excellent butcher who prepares whatever cuts I want, from tenderloin to roasts, and of course lots of chop meat as I’ll use in the recipe described here. If you have a good farmers market or local butcher, ask about getting venison meat if it is not readily available.
Ground Venison Casserole with Corn-Muffin Topping
This casserole does take some time to prepare and gather ingredients together, but I think it’s well worth it. I really loved the flavor of it all and the leftovers made for great lunches for several days – it heats up great in the microwave and stays moist and flavorful!
If you don’t have ground venison, you can do this recipe with lean ground beef as well, of course. However you can skip adding the cooking oil at the beginning and you will likely need to drain the fat from the pan after browning the beef. You can also used canned tomatoes if you don’t have fresh, but strain them first to keep the casserole from being too wet.
I also used fermented black garlic in my preparation instead of regular fresh garlic, because I’ve come to really enjoy its smoky-sweet, milder flavor. It also doesn’t seem to set off my garlic intolerance the way fresh garlic can. However you can absolutely use regular garlic instead as black garlic can be hard to come by unless you have a source nearby. I actually live near Obis One, a local South Jersey company growing their own black garlic and selling related products, so several farm markets near me carry their garlic regularly.
Ground Venison Casserole with Corn-Muffin Topping
Serves: 4 to 6
Preparation & cooking time: about 80 minutes
- 1 pound ground venison
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped white onion
- 2 gloves garlic (black if possible, otherwise fresh is fine)
- 1/2 cup mixed sweet and hot peppers, chopped
- 1 ear of corn
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons taco sauce
- 1/8 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese
- 1 package Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup milk
- Garlic powder
- Sea salt
- Fresh ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Prepare the corn muffin topping by combining package dry mix with 1 egg and 1/3 cup milk. Set aside and allow to rest while preparing the other ingredients: chopping the vegetables, cutting the corn kernels off the cob, shredding the cheese. (Resting the mix will ensure a nice fluffy top to the casserole after baking.)
3. Heat olive oil in a large, oven safe skillet. Brown the ground venison over medium, seasoning with salt, pepper and a dash of garlic powder – about 4 or 5 minutes.
4. Add the onion, garlic, oregano and peppers and cook until the onions are just translucent, another 5 minutes.
5. Add the corn kernels, tomatoes, tomato paste, taco sauce and vinegar. Bring it all to a bubbly boil and cook for another 5 minutes just to combine flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary – you might want to add a little more garlic powder, salt and pepper at this point – or a pinch of cayenne for a little heat.
6. Turn off the stove, then add shredded cheese to combine all ingredients.
7. Top the mixture carefully with the prepared corn muffin mix, spreading as evenly as possible over the top using a spatula.
8. Bake in oven, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Take the casserole out and allow to cool and set for 10 minutes before serving.
Dish it up, serve and enjoy!