This stew recipe is designed specifically to soften tougher cuts of meat; we recommend the shoulder. The recipe calls for an overnight marinade, and will need to cook for a couple of hours as well. The addition of dates, fennel, and Madeira gives the meat a sweet flavor, which combines beautifully with pungent cloves and allspice berries. This is an excellent winter meal, but because of the heavenly aromas, it is a good thing to eat in the fall or early spring as well. We like to serve the stew with Mashed Potatoes with Celery Root.
For the marinade:
To make the marinade: Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
Rinse the meat and pat dry. Place the meat in the bowl with the marinade, toss to coat, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or longer. (You can marinate venison for up to 3 days—it never hurts.)
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. Remove the venison pieces from the marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade.
In a large Dutch oven or stew pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the bacon for a minute or two, until just crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside on a paper towel, leaving the fat in the pot. Raise the heat to high, add the venison, and brown well on all sides (do not overcrowd the meat—do this in two or three batches). Remove the meat and set aside. Pour the marinade into the pot, and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. Return the bacon and meat to the pot, and stir so they’re well mixed with the liquid. Cover immediately and place in the preheated oven.
After 1 hour, remove the pot from the oven and stir in the fennel, dates, onions, and sugar. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper. Return the pot to the oven and cook, uncovered, for another 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately, or let cool, refrigerate, and reheat later. This will last for several days, refrigerated.
Anne Applebaum & Danielle Crittenden, From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food, Chronicle Books (2012).
Darra Goldstein is editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, an 888-page reference guide to all things sweet. "The book is really a compendium of human desires, a cultural history of desire for things that are sweet and what it has caused in the world, in both the realm of pleasure and also of pain," she says.