Venison Birria Stew

If you recall, we developed a wild turkey birria stew recipe for Bowhunter not too long ago. This is an updated version made with venison and a few more dried peppers.

This spicy and tart stew originated in Jalisco, Mexico, and traditionally prepared with goat or mutton, it is not a dish that calls for tender, choice cuts of meat. Birria is one of the better things we've thought to do with tougher wild game animals. With a healthy dose of dried peppers, cinnamon, cumin and oregano-- this stew is not shy in flavor. It can stand up to the most gamy and stringy of meats.

The listed amount of guajillo and ancho chili peppers might seem daunting, but the burn is medium at best. These particular peppers do more to impart their great color, smokiness and slight sweetness to the stew. As for the lime juice and vinegar, they are key ingredients. Mexican people often say that birria is good for curing hangovers. We don't know about "cure," but we can see how the spicy and tangy flavors can help re-invigorate a person after a night of heavy drinking. 

I love making this recipe with a small bone-in venison shoulder or shank-- the cartilage and sinew helps to thicken up the sauce. One thing to remember: different animals will finish cooking at different times, so check the meat periodically to avoid a mushy stew. 

Servings: 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours
- 6 pounds of venison shoulder, shank or neck
- 13 cups of water, divided
- 8 dried guajillo peppers
- 4 dried ancho peppers
- 1 yellow/brown onion, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, or to taste
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1½ teaspoons of cumin
- 1 tablespoon of dried Mexican oregano 
- 1 teaspoon of Knorr Tomato Bouillon with Chicken Flavor
- Juice of half a lime, plus extra lime wedges for serving
- 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar 
- Garnish: freshly chopped cilantro and diced red onion
- Warm corn tortillas


1. Slightly toast guajillo and ancho peppers until fragrant over a gas stove or under a broiler, turning frequently. Boil 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan, take off heat, and then add toasted peppers into the hot water. Use a heavy plate as a weight to keep peppers submerged. Soak for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, add meat and 1 halved onion into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cover with 10 cups of water. Most of the meat should be submerged-- if not, slice meat so that it does. Bring to a boil then back down to a simmer and cover. Simmer meat for about 2 to 2.5 hours or until venison becomes tender, stirring occasionally. 

3. Meanwhile, remove stems from softened peppers and tip them over to allow seeds to fall out. Add peppers and about ½ cup of steeping water into a food processor, and then blend into a smooth paste. Pour the paste into the meat and water pot, stir and use a skimmer to pick out as much of the pepper skin and seeds as you can.*

*The skin and seeds won't break down. You can try to push the paste through a strainer, but who wants to clean that? Or you can try adding the paste through a skimmer, a little bit at a time.

4. Add garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, and tomato bouillon to the pot. Continue to simmer until the meat becomes tender. If the stew is too soupy, simmer with the lid uncovered toward the end.

5. Shred the venison into smaller pieces and then add it back to the pot. Season to taste with salt and/or tomato bouillon. Add red wine vinegar and lime juice. Serve stew in bowls with chopped cilantro and diced red onion on top. Offer lime wedges on the side with warm tortillas. 

You can also use the shredded meat to make tacos, like we did here: Use the sauce for dunking.