Wild Game Birria Stew

If you recall, we developed a birria stew recipe for Bowhunter not too long ago. This is an updated version that includes wild turkey thighs, venison roast and a few more dried peppers. Basically, I was trying to clean out my freezer: The turkey thighs were showing signs of freezer burn and the roast was from 2 seasons ago. After a long simmer in pungent herbs and spices, with birria, all is forgiven. 

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. 

We call this a "wild game" stew, meaning anything goes. Don't limit yourself to just turkey and venison. It's great with bone-in meat-- 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. 

Got a lone squirrel in the bottom of your freezer that you have zero plans for? Birria welcomes all types, especially the tough ones.  

Servings: 6
Prep Time:
Cooking Time: 
Ingredients:
- 6 pounds of wild game (venison roast and bone-in wild turkey legs, in this case)
- 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

Directions:

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. Add more water as necessary. 

3. Remove stems from softened peppers and tip 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? 

4. If cooking turkey legs from an old Tom, they will likely require, at least, an additional hour to soften after the venison is done. Fish out the tender venison, shred the meat and set aside in the refrigerator to prevent overcooking. At this point, add garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, and tomato bouillon to the pot. Continue to simmer until the rest of the meat becomes tender. 

5. Shred meat from turkey and discard bones, if any. Add the venison back to the pot. Season to taste with salt. 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. Use the sauce for dunking. 

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