I love a good dinner party: the friends, the music, the drinks, the food! And nothing makes for a better dinner party than introducing your friends to a new recipe. I also like to use my dinner parties as a forum for letting my friends experience new foods, such as a new fish or seafood, or unique vegetables like dandelion greens, fiddle heads, or jicama, but mostly I especially like to showcase wild game!
As I’m sure every wild game meat fan has found, not everyone is fond of it. Not only does wild game meat have a lot of stigmas around it, such as it is too “gamey” or it tastes like sage brush or its texture is too tough, but also few people have even ever eaten it, and it is a brand new dining experience. For these reasons, one of my favorite approaches for sharing my game meat is through an appetizer.
Appetizers provide a giant pack of flavor, texture, and culinary experience in a single bite. They are the perfect option for introducing friends, family, and especially newcomers, to wild game meat. Appetizers allow the diner a taste of wild game without their own fears of having to finish an entire plate of something they may not like getting in the way. Someone may feel overwhelmed at the idea of an entire elk filet filling their plate, but may be excited by the idea of trying a bite-size piece of elk tenderloin wrapped with a thin slice of bacon.
Appetizers can also allow one to test out a new recipe idea without having to create an entire entrée. When creating appetizers for my dinner parties, I like to think about a meal I really enjoy and then deconstructing that meal into a single bite. This may require omitting certain ingredients, expanding on or adding other ingredients, or changing the texture or actual form of the ingredients in order to fit the overall concept of the appetizer.
For my latest dinner party, I wanted to serve stuffed mushrooms. I like stuffed mushrooms because they truly fit the mold of giant flavor packed into a single bite. Many stuffed mushrooms are filled with garlic and onions, a variety of herbs and seasoned breadcrumbs, different grated cheese, and delicious meat bites like sausage. The mushrooms themselves create perfect bite size containers for the appetizers, but they also add flavor and texture to every bite.
As I said earlier, I like my appetizers to be reminiscent of an entrée meal. I think it is fun when an entire meal fits into a convenient, single bite. For a stuffed mushroom appetizer, I started thinking about meals where mushrooms are a component of the whole entrée. I had a pretty hefty list to choose from, but I couldn’t pull my interest away from making a single bite of stroganoff. Elk stroganoff served over a bed of egg noodles is one of my favorite ways to prepare elk or deer, and I think one of the reasons is I love the way the mushrooms add to the dish. So, I thought a single bite of elk stroganoff served in a little mushroom cap would be perfect. Stroganoff is a very savory and rich meal, and I have to admit that I get full on it very quickly, but this intense, over-the-top flavor is the kind of meal that makes for a great appetizer.
Begin with preheating the oven to 350 degrees and spraying a large baking sheet with cooking oil. To prepare the mushrooms, wipe them off with a damp cloth. You don’t want to wash the mushrooms because they are like little sponges and will absorb all the moisture, causing them to become waterlogged and sometimes even slimy. For stuffed mushrooms, I like to use either baby portabellas or cremini. I like the flavor of both these mushrooms and they also are shaped really well for stuffing. To clean out the mushroom cavity, use the end of a spoon and scrape out the gills. I also hollow the cap out a bit to create more room for lots of stuffing. The mushrooms are now ready for stuffing, set them aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
For the stroganoff sauce, heat a large sauce pan over medium heat and add the sour cream, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt and pepper, and beef base. Combine until a smooth sauce is created and allow the sauce to simmer, not boil, for twenty minutes. During this time the sauce will become thick and glossy. I just have to also comment about how pretty I think this sauce base is. The color is so great! Once the sauce has reduced slightly, pull it from the heat and seat aside.
For the elk, run the chunk through a meat grinder one time. I used a more coarse size grind so the meat still had some of its basic structure. I thought this would help the elk to remain more like the strips of steak found in a stroganoff and less like overworked hamburger meat.
In a large skillet, sauté a large diced onion for about ten minutes in a pat of butter. I thought that I might share a little trick I learned from watching hundreds of hours of cooking shows (they are my soap opera!) on how to easily dice up an onion into small, even sized pieces. Begin with cutting the onion in half and removing the skin. It is easier to peel an onion once you have cut it open. Then cut each half in half again. You want to leave what I would call the ends of the onion attached.
Place the palm of your hand firmly down on top of the onion slice and cut horizontally into the onion center.
Next, cut thin slices vertically into the onion, ending your slice just before reaching the knobby part of the onion so the pieces all still hold together.
Finally, starting above the onion, cut thin slices horizontally down the onion. You will notice your perfectly diced, even-sized onion pieces start to fall on your cutting board.
Don’t forget to use a nice sharp knife! And watch your fingers; however, what I like about this method for dicing onions is I think it creates a solid base for cutting against and my fingers feel just a bit safer in the face of knife’s blade.
Once the onion is soft, add the elk. Cook until the meat just starts to brown, about five minutes. It is okay if some of the meat is not quite cooked through, as it will continue to cook while the mushroom caps are in the oven. Add the meat and onion mixture to the stroganoff sauce and combine thoroughly.
It is time to start stuffing the ‘shrooms! Add a heaping spoonful of the stroganoff mixture to each mushroom cap. Don’t be afraid to stack them nice and high so each bite is filled with meat, onions, and sauce. Place the sheet in the preheated oven for twenty minutes, and your appetizers are ready to party!