Venison Meatballs with Cherry Barbecue Sauce
The flavor and texture of venison often benefits from the addition of ground pork shoulder, and this recipe is a perfect example. Using a 50/50 blend of venison and ground pork will leave you with a more succulent, less gamey meatball.
Venison Meatball Ingredients
Grapeseed oil to evenly coat the bottom of your pan, plus additional for greasing the pan
1 white onion, small diced
1 clove garlic, small diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground juniper berries
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs (from about 12 slices of bread)
1 cup whole milk (do not substitute low-fat milk)
1 pound ground venison shoulder
1 pound ground pork
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
Place the oil, onion, garlic, thyme, cloves, and juniper berries in a sauté pan and slowly cook over very low heat until all the moisture from the vegetables is gone and they are completely soft, making sure that there are no colors developed in the pan while cooking, about 45 minutes.
Once cooked, transfer the vegetables to a mixing bowl and let them cool in the fridge. Next, take the 12 slices of bread, remove their crusts, and mince them into tiny crumbs.
In a separate mixing bowl, add the breadcrumbs and pour the milk over the bread slowly until it looks like a mucky swamp bottom. The bread should absorb all the liquid, and there shouldn’t be any excess. If there is excess milk, pour it out of the bowl and discard it. Place that mixing bowl in the refrigerator to keep it cool.
Place the venison and pork into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the bread-and-milk mixture along with the cooked vegetables and salt, and turn on the mixer to a medium low speed. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until they’re fully incorporated. Let the paddle spin for about a minute, or until you notice that the meat is starting to stick together on its own accord and is beginning to look gummy.
At this point, remove a small patty of the meatball mix and pan-fry it. Taste it for salt and texture—it shouldn’t be crumbling apart—and adjust the salt in the meatball mix if necessary. If your tester crumbled, continue mixing the meatball mixture until it becomes more cohesive.
Once the meatball mix is ready, preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) and lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with grapeseed oil. Roll the meatballs into 1-ounce balls, just bigger than a half-dollar coin, place them on the sheet. Bake until they have an internal temperature of 155°F (68°C), about 20 minutes
Cherry Barbecue Sauce Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, small diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups fresh pitted cherries
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook until they appear slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Softly simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Place the sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Add more orange juice if necessary to thin it out if the barbecue sauce is too thick.
Poke a skewer into each meatball and dip the meatball halfway into a bowl of the cherry barbecue sauce and serve immediately on a plate, skewer side up for easy access.