Hunting has always been a part of my life, but it was during my senior year in college when my identity as a huntress came into full view. I had my biology degree in sight but no solid plans for nursing or medical school. That’s when my mother asked me a simple question: “If money was no object and you could do anything you want, what would you do every day?” I said, “Figure out what to make for dinner.” And thus a chef was born.
Two weeks after graduating from college I moved to New York City to attend the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). Through the six-month program, my love for cooking grew, as did my passion for where my food comes from. Being a hunter set me apart from the other students. I was the only person who had actually participated in procuring meat in a real way. And I found a sense of pride above and beyond that of a normal meal when I cooked something that I had worked hard to put on the table.
One of my instructors was also a hunter, and he encouraged me to explore incorporating my love of hunting into my culinary identity. While helping him instruct a charcuterie class using my caribou meat, I started to formulate my huntress-chef persona. I have been fortunate to grow up in a time where farm-to-table is the norm and people seek out local, well-grown food. This movement, though, is mostly vegetable-centric. I encourage people to go a step further and eat in a way that brings nature to the table.
Here is a delicious and easy way to introduce friends and family to game.
For the venison topping:
1 lb. ground venison
2 heads garlic, minced
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. dried thyme
Cayenne to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the pizza:
1 bag pre-made pizza dough (or make your own)
1 jar pizza sauce or your favorite marinara sauce
1 ball of mozzarella or burrata cheese (you can also use shredded)
1 small bunch of arugula
Corn meal for rolling out the dough
Optional: Chili oil for drizzling, Parmesan cheese for extra bite
Heat your grill or oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone set in the middle.
For the venison:
Sauté the garlic on medium low heat for a minute or two until it starts to soften. Add the venison to the pan over medium heat.
Add the spices and continue to brown the meat until it is just cooked through but still has its juices. The meat will cook a little bit on the pizza and you don’t want it to dry out. (As an alternative to these spices you can use your favorite venison rub or spice mix.)
For the Pizza:
Sprinkle some corn meal onto the counter. Place the pizza dough on the cornmeal and cut the dough in half. One bag of dough will make two pizzas.
Using a rolling pin and cornmeal as necessary to prevent sticking, roll out one piece of the dough as thinly as you can. Then use your hands to stretch the dough from the edges to get it as thin as possible, or to your preference.
Sprinkle more cornmeal onto a pizza spatula or a cookie sheet without a lip. Transfer the dough to the spatula and give it a shake to make sure that it will slide off the spatula onto the stone. Add more cornmeal if necessary.
Add a layer of sauce to the dough. Dust the whole pizza with some garlic powder, focusing on the crust for a garlicky bite.
Add your venison and cover evenly with the mozzarella or burrata cheese.
Top with a few spoonfuls of extra sauce.
Carefully slide the pizza onto the pizza stone and close the top of the grill or the oven.
Check the pizza after 3-5 minutes and see if the bottom is browning. The pizza may take up to 10 minutes but should be done in 7-8 minutes. Remove from oven when the cheese is bubbling and the edges of the dough are golden brown.
Top the pizza with a handful of arugula, and a grating of Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of chili oil if desired.
Hannah Utley is a professional chef in Connecticut who has been hunting since she was eight years old. She writes about her outdoor experiences and details numerous recipes for fish and game on her website, artemiskitchen.com.