By Byron Scarbrough, Outdoors Writer
There’s something most people don’t know about me, I eat almost exclusively organic meat. I know this evokes the image of a guy who wears sandals all year, braids his hair, wears hemp clothing and spends way too much time and money at the Whole Foods market. I am none of those things, I’ve only once been to Whole Foods, and left laughing. Let me explain it differently; 90% of the meat I consume I once saw either walking, flying, or swimming. The only “red” meat I eat is venison.
I once thought venison was strong, gamey, tough and frankly, stinky. Venison is naturally lean, tender, mild and flavorful. If it’s gamey, it’s usually because it’s been cleaned improperly, has been hung to age, and was mishandled in the field. So, here are a few tips for making your venison better on the table.
Ok, you’ve shot a deer, big brown is down! The sooner you can begin dressing it out, converting game to meat, the better. I’ve never left a deer unrecovered overnight by choice. If you have one down at dusk put on your headlamp, and prepare to make a late night of it.
I encourage hunters to carry a two quart canteen and a large fixed blade knife. I carry a Ka-bar, but any blade with a rigid spine and four inches of steel is fine. After cleaning the cavity thoroughly and being extra careful not to puncture any organs from stem to stern, you need to rinse the cavity thoroughly. Use the two quart canteen in the field, and then follow up with five gallons at the truck, and a hose when you get it home.
Hanging beef is necessary to assure that the meat is tender and flavorful, but it is not necessary to hang or age venison. Many times I have cut steaks and tenderloins right from a downed deer, cooked them immediately, and found them delightful. “Aging” deer by hanging it does one thing for sure, it invites spoilage. I recall one deer camp when we were stuffing twenty pound bags of ice inside the carcasses of our deer and wrapping them in tarps to try to keep them chilled on a warm November day.
You got your deer back from the processors, now to the kitchen. Your first challenge is to make sure your venison is thoroughly thawed. This means moving it to the refrigerator and being patient. Ice crystals in the meat will cook unevenly, which is dangerous. If you attempt to thaw venison in the microwave you’re flirting with disaster as it always dries out.
Here’s a quick, easy tasty recipe for almost any cut of venison. As always, be sure to cut away fat and silver meat so you’re left with tender lean meat. Slice about a half inch thick to make coin sized medallions. Rinse in a colander then dip in beaten egg and roll in seasoned bread crumbs. Fry for 3-5 minutes on medium high heat and olive oil (don’t over-cook!), and serve.
Always, when cooking venison, keep in mind that it is lean. You can use it in many recipes that call for ground beef but you may need to add oil or butter, maybe even bacon, to compensate. However, when used in Italian dishes like spaghetti or lasagna, I think it leaves beef behind. Venison burgers (which usually have added pork fat) are terrific, and venison sausage has a thousand uses, my favorite being meat loaf.
Making jerky is less a chore and more like one of my hobbies. Experimenting with various recipes is fun, and you’ll soon find others asking you to teach them how. There are several countertop driers available at sporting goods stores, and I recommend that you buy one rather than attempting to dry jerky in your oven. Ovens are messy, dry un-evenly, and can be dangerous.
Trim your meat thoroughly. Any amount of sinew or gristle makes a tough, stringy piece of jerky that will feel and taste like old chewing gum. Some prefer to use mechanical meat tenderizers or even to grind their meat into a paste and shoot in into strips on a drying sheet. These methods are all valid, but I prefer to slice the meat extra thin and enjoy the “natural cut”. A good fillet knife and sharpener will make things much easier. Simply slice the meat, marinate and lay it flat on the drier sheets. Be sure to store jerky in air-tight bags and refrigerate or freeze it for long-term storage, just to be safe.
To sum it up, I have to say I’m a huge fan of venison. Sure, I love hunting for the sake of the sport and all it entails. But venison in the kitchen carries the joy of the hunt right into the home.
1 pound venison tenderloin, cut in medallions
salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, diced fine
3 Tbsp butter
4 ounces mushrooms, your favorite
1½ Tbsp flour
1 cup water (or a combination of wine and
water, I like dry sherry)
1 beef bouillon cube
Sprinkle salt and pepper over venison and put it aside. In a large non-stick pan, sauté the onions in 1 tablespoon of butter until are partially done; add garlic and cook another 2 or 3 minutes; add mushrooms and sauté another 5 or 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, use another skillet, either stainless or cast iron (that can be put in a 400 degree oven) for the venison. Put 1 tablespoon butter in the pan and quickly brown both sides of the venison then put the pan in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, depending upon thickness. While the venison cooks, add 1 tablespoon butter and the flour to the vegetable pan, stirring until it becomes a paste. Add the liquid and continue to stir until it develops a gravy consistency.
Remove the medallions and let rest for 3–5 minutes. Serve vegetables and sauce over the medallions.
-Recipe & Photo Courtesy of Ohio Division of Wildlife
1½ lb.ground venison
¼ to ½ cup blue cheese; crumbled
¼ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup milk
½ tsp. mustard, dry
¼ tsp. sage
¼ to ½ cup steak sauce
½ cup dry bread crumbs
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Potatoes; Instant Mashed
Bacon; Crisp & Crumbled
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix half of the cheese and all the ingredients together. Spread the venison mixture into an ungreased loaf pan, 9 X 5 X 3-inches or shape into a loaf in an ungreased baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until done. Drain off the excess fat.
Prepare the potatoes as directed on the package except — stir in the remaining cheese. Spread the potatoes on the sides and top of the meat loaf. Sprinkle with the crumbled bacon and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly browned. Serve hot.
-Recipe & Photo Courtesy of Ohio Division of Wildlife