There are very few “conventional” recipes that cannot be adapted to game meat. Burger—whether from a cow, a deer, a moose or an elk—seems to be a universal component to many of today’s dishes. Here’s a way to present the otherwise plebian burger that will tantalize your taste buds. Elk-Bourbon Meatballs collects together some of the most desired flavors, allowing some of your “civilized” friends who think wild game is too gamey the opportunity to change their mind. Served over rice, potatoes or noodles, if they turn this one down, they might just be vegetarians. Here is what you will need to assemble:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion (from about 1 1/2 medium onions)
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
2 slices white sandwich bread
2/3 cup whole milk
1 1/2 pounds ground meat (deer, elk or moose)
8 ounces ground pork
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 (14-1/2-ounce) can tomato purée (about 1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup dark molasses, also known as robust (not blackstrap)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons chili powder
Heat the oven to broil and arrange a rack in the upper third.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.
Tear the bread into roughly 1-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the milk and stir until the mixture forms a wet mash. Let sit until the bread absorbs all of the milk—about 5 minutes. Add the slightly cooled onions and garlic, as well as the elk, pork, salt, pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon of the allspice. Using your hands, mix thoroughly.
Fill a medium bowl with water. Place some aluminum foil on two baking sheets and spray with just enough oil to prevent sticking. Form the meat mixture into about 48 (1-1/4-inch) meatballs, wetting your hands as necessary to keep the mixture from sticking, and place them about 1/2 inch apart on foil-lined baking sheets.
Place the tomato purée, vinegar, bourbon, brown sugar, ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and remaining 3/4 teaspoon allspice in a large pot or Dutch oven and whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer.
Meanwhile, place 1 sheet of meatballs in the oven and broil until browned all over—about 10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the pot of simmering sauce and gently stir to coat. Repeat with the second sheet of meatballs.
Simmer, carefully stirring the meatballs occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the meatballs are fully cooked, about 30 to 40 minutes.
While the meatballs are cooking you can prepare some noodles, rice or even mashed potatoes. Spoon the meatballs and sauce on this and serve.