I like to cook, and I like good food. As a result, I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a food snob. I drive my wife crazy when we eat at a restaurant and I occasionally comment on the dish I ordered by saying, “mine’s better.” That’s why when it comes to venison and preparing it I’m very particular. Venison will only taste really good if it’s handled and cooked properly.
I’m amazed as to how many hunters don’t do a proper job field dressing an animal. In fact, the guy I use to cut and wrap my deer has a sign on the door that says “There will be a five-dollar additional charge for any deer brought in with the lungs and heart still inside the body cavity.” Hard to believe but, true.
The simple fact is the faster a deer can be field-dressed, the better the meat will be. Heat is an insidious robber of taste so, the sooner the hide can be removed from the carcass the better the meat will eventually taste. If the temperature is warmer than 50 degrees, it’s too warm to let a deer hang. Under these conditions, if I can’t get my deer to my processor within a few hours, I’ll skin and quarter it and then place the pieces in the spare refrigerator I have in my basement until I can get the carcass to him.
There are many hunters who prefer to butcher their own deer, but some may be making critical mistakes in the process. Cutting up a deer’s legs and spine with a saw allows bone marrow, bone fragments, and possibly fat into your venison. All these things will affect the taste of the meat when it is eventually cooked.
The taste of most meat like beef, pork or lamb gets its distinctive flavor from its fat but, in my opinion, deer fat doesn’t taste good and lends a “gamey” flavor to the meat. This off-flavor is why many people say they won’t eat venison. When I used to cut up my own meat, things like fat, sinew, silver skin, and connective tissue were carefully trimmed and went into the trash. Venison, whether destined for steaks roasts or hamburger, should be trimmed free of anything that’s not rich, red meat.
When it comes to cooking venison, I cringe when I see a recipe that begins with “soak the steaks in Italian dressing for a few hours before grilling.” Ok, I already told you I’m somewhat of a food snob, and soaking deer meat in some sort of salad dressing is an ok technique if you really like Italian dressing, but in my opinion, it’s an abomination to treat deer meat in such an ignomious manner.
Because the back legs are so lean, I prefer using the meat in stir fry dishes where it is cooked quickly with some wine, soy and seasonings. For delicious boneless chops, I simply marinate them with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh garlic. Grilling them over a charcoal fire until they are rare or medium rare is all that’s needed to produce a product worthy of any chop house in town.
Stew is a favorite in our house and the tougher cuts from the neck or forelegs are regulated to a slow simmer in a crock pot along with the requisite other stew ingredients like potatoes, carrots and a cup of barley to thicken it up. Just remember to remove any remaining fat or silver skin before beginning the cooking process.
There’s no great secret to cooking superb venison dishes. All anyone needs to remember is to treat venison as you would treat very lean beef.
If you prefer to have some of your deer ground for hamburger, I’d advise having the processor mix it with beef fat or some ground pork. This will ensure a juicer product that can be used in just about everything including pasta dishes, chili, tacos, sloppy Joes and in whatever recipe calls for ground beef.
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