Venison and Ham Runzas (Bierocks)

I can't tell you how good these were! They're like little Hot Pockets, but way better for you: This wild game version is filled with ground venison, ham, bacon, cabbage, herbs, spices and lots of cheese.

The original bierock has German-Russian-- Eastern European-- origins. Wikipedia says "it was brought to the United States in the 1880s by German Russian Mennonite immigrants." There's a chain of restaurants in Nebraska called "Runza" and people go crazy for them out here. It just so happens that Nebraska is home to a large German community, and it's no secret that they love their hamburger and cabbage.

Although Rick and I aren't huge fans of the restaurant version-- they're quite greasy and heavy-- the concept is sound. You have a roll filled with meat, cabbage and cheese. It stays warm well, it's portable and filling. It's a perfect food. So we tried it with venison instead, and what resulted was a runza that was a lot lighter and tastier with the addition of fresh parsley, garlic, thyme, chili powder and paprika. It's not traditional. But who cares?

This recipe originally appeared on Jones Dairy Farm.

Prep Time: 1 hour 
Cooking Time: 1 hour 
- Half an onion, chopped 
- 2 cups of shredded green cabbage 
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
- 1 pound of venison stew/roast meat, cubed and partially frozen 
- 2 slices of Jones Dairy Farm Dry Aged Hickory Smoked Bacon, partially frozen 
- 2 Jones Dairy Farm Ham Slices, finely cubed 
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced 
- ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon of chili powder
- ½ teaspoon of paprika, Hungarian paprika preferred 
- Chopped fresh Italian parsley 
- 2 loaves of frozen white bread dough 
- 32 slices of provolone, muenster or mozzarella cheese 
- Salt and pepper to taste

1. Follow package directions to thaw 2 loaves of frozen bread dough—allow bread to rise according to directions. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. 

2. Remove as much silver skin as possible from venison. Cut into cubes and partially freeze for easier grinding. Next, chop up partially frozen Jones Dairy Farm bacon and grind with venison, once through the course grinder plate and then again through the fine plate. Make sure bacon is distributed throughout mixture.  
3. In a large pan, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add chopped onion with a pinch of salt and sauté until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Next, raise heat to medium-high and then add ground venison and bacon mixture. Stir and cook until browned, breaking up large chunks.  

4. Lower heat to medium. Add finely cubed Jones Dairy Farm ham, garlic, thyme, chili powder, and paprika. Mix well. Layer shredded cabbage on top of meat and cover the pan to allow cabbage to steam, stirring occasionally. Cook until cabbage turns translucent and soft, but do not overcook. Take off heat. Mix in freshly chopped parsley, and then add salt and pepper to taste.  

5. Cut each loaf of thawed and risen bread dough into 4 equal parts, totaling 8 small bread balls. Lightly flour a clean and dry surface and also your rolling pin. Roll out the first dough ball so that it equals roughly 9 inches in diameter. Lay a piece of cheese in the middle, top with 2-3 tablespoons of ground meat mixture, and then lay another piece of cheese on top. Finally, pinch up the edges to seal.  
6. Place the uncooked runza seam side down on a cookie sheet(s) layered with parchment paper. Cover with a tea towel to allow dough to rise again for 20 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough and meat, placing runzas at least 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. 
7. Bake runzas for 25 minutes in a 350° F oven for 25 minutes or until bread is lightly golden and cooked through. Leftovers should be wrapped in foil and refrigerated. To reheat, place wrapped runzas in a 400° oven for 10-15 minutes.