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Wild game: Ballpark Venison Burger comes in “Braising the Wild”

Jack Hennessy brings White Sox memories and Ballpark Venison Burger to “Braising the Wild.”

Ballpark Venison Burger in “Braising the Wild.” Credit: Jack Hennessy
Ballpark Venison Burger in “Braising the Wild.”
Jack Hennessy

Jack Hennessy pulls up the memory of caramelizing onions at Sox Park, something that hangs with many of us as much as the crack of the bat. Smell, I think, is the sense most attached to memory. If so, he touches all the bases this week in “Braising the Wild.”

And I am completely with him when he writes, “I miss baseball.’’

By the way, his photo about made me go through the screen of my laptop.

To memories, here is the recipe for this week:

BALLPARK VENISON BURGER

I was too young to remember my first trip to Comiskey, but for as long as I can recall, the smell of caramelizing onions is as tangible and synonymous with the ballpark as the ticket stub in a pocket. The distinct aroma hits you just before you step foot onto the concourse. The freshly mowed field waits beyond, and the blur and commotion of people pass before you—it’s a carnival for the senses, something that says, “Welcome home.”

I miss baseball. I’d suspect most of you feel similarly. There are talks of baseball without fans. That’s better than nothing, but the game is so deeply rich with sights and sounds—a telecast is a poor substitute for the sun of an open field, beer in one hand and a burger—dripping with cheese and caramelized onions and mustard—resting on the opposite knee.

While I can’t replace baseball, or the Blackhawks’ playoff run—we all know they would have made it—or the tradition of standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the troughs in Wrigley, I can help replicate some of the flavor, served with wild game.

QUICK NOTES ON GROUND VENISON: I grind my venison fresh from trim. I keep the silver skin on during storage to serve as a protective layer (though I’ll talk more about proper storage in the fall), and slice off right before grinding. I have a 1.5-horsepower MEAT! grinder that makes short work of a week’s worth of grinding. To me, there’s a big difference between pre-ground frozen venison versus freshly ground (again, more to come this fall).

Over the past two decades, between home-cooking and several years in restaurants, I can confidently say this: I have made caramelized onions an art. I’ve made hundreds of recipes. This method for onions ranks among the top five, and it ain’t hard. Please enjoy with a Miller Lite. Go Sox.

Ingredients (two-four servings):

24 ounces ground venison

1 medium yellow onion, sliced into circles

10 ounces canned mushrooms

4 slices cheddar cheese

Buns and desired condiments

Kosher salt & ground black pepper

1/2 tablespoon salted butter

Olive oil

In a medium skillet (preferably cast iron) heated on medium, add a thin layer of oil along with sliced onions. Lightly salt and pepper. Stir often until a slight sear appears along edges (may take 10 minutes or so). Turn heat to low.

Stir onions often until sugars release and begin to caramelize onions, turning them a shade of brown. This will likely take 30-45 minutes. Once this happens, add 1/2 tablespoon salted butter. Continue to stir.

Drain and rinse canned mushrooms and add to skillet with onions. Very lightly salt. Let them cook together for another 5-10 minutes.

After 5-10 minutes, remove onions and mushrooms and set aside. Turn skillet up to medium heat.

Add pattied venison burgers. (You may need to do one patty at a time, depending on the size of your skillet, which is fine.) Lightly salt and pepper burger.

Once burger starts to sweat (before moisture pools), flip and add cheese, cover with aluminum lid until cheese is melted. Remove and let meat rest a few minutes before adding to bun.

Toast buns, add condiments and make it either a double or single. Top burger with onion-and-mushroom mix. Mayonnaise is a great option for bottom bun, as it works as a moisture barrier, meaning your bottom bun won’t turn soggy.