I grew up eating venison, and while it’s among my favorite foods, I’ve eaten some deer meat tough as an ATV tire, tasty as a rifle sling. But venison never should be so unpalatable. In truth, venison should be just as tasty as beef or pork. Most of the bad deer I’ve eaten has been the result of poor in-the-field meat care, improper freezing, or Neanderthal cooking procedures. Combine more than one of those things and the resulting meal can be enough to turn a carnivore into a herbivore.
If venison were treated like the delectable food it is from the moment a hunter shoots an animal to the time it reaches the dinner table, the resulting meal would be at least as good as beef or lamb. No one would drag a cleaned steer through mud or over dusty roads, wrap it in wax paper and freeze it for three years, then cook it to a charcoal lump and expect it to be a culinary delight. Why, then, do some people expect venison to be delicious when they do just that to it?
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to care for venison correctly, but it must be done right for this lean meat to be pleasing to the palate. Field dress, skin and quarter venison as quickly as possible, then store meat on fresh, clean ice for several days if possible. Allowing a cleaned animal to hang in a cooler for several days in 35 to 40 degree temperatures is good for “aging” and tenderizing venison, too.
I butcher my own animals, normally using the neck and forequarters for hamburger, jerky, roasting or stew. Ribs are good smoked or grilled. Hindquarters are boned for grilling. Tenderloins (outside and inside ones) are treated like savory beef filet mignon.
Preparation for freezing is easy. Meat normally is frozen in family-size portions, first placed inside an air-tight plastic bag, and then wrapped in generous quantities of special freezer wrap. Mark on the outside of the package the cut of meat, the date, and how many people it will serve.
Vacuum-sealing is an even better way of freezing venison. The electric units aren’t cheap, nor are the bags, but they are fast and easy to use, and freezer burning is greatly diminished.
Venison treated in this manner, trimmed carefully to remove sinew, all fat and bone splinters (with a sharp, thin-blade fish fillet knife), is ready for the following favorite recipes:
1 boned deer ham
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup Wesson oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Lawry’s Season Salt
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 tablespoon meat tenderizer
4-6 garlic cloves (chopped fine, or through a press)
Juice of 1 whole lemon
This is my favorite venison marinade, which can be frozen and re-used. Take a ham (steak or backstrap, too), bone it so there are thick pieces and thin pieces, marinate the whole hunk of boned meat – overnight is best in the refrigerator.
Cook on hot coals, like doing a beef steak. It will flame and you’ll think it’s burning, but it’s not. Takes about 30 minutes for rare big pieces. This is great for guests as there are well-done, medium and rare cuts of meat (as a boned ham has thin and thick portions).
This meat is superb with grilled, whole onions. Use Vidalias if you can get them. But plain big, sweet yellow/white ones are okay. Well before you grill the meat, do the onions, whole, right on the fire. Takes about 15 minutes, grill them black, and roll them around. Push off to the side of the grill and then do the meat (bloody rare and juicy is best, especially backstrap).
When ready to serve, “pop” the inside steamed onions out of the black husks with a hot glove, and it is great with the meat.
Serve with a nice dry red wine (Merlot, Burgundy, cabernet sauvignon), and toast the meal to the late A.J. McClane (angling and cook book author, and bonafide gourmet), who devised the recipe at least 40 years ago. A.J. was a close family friend, and made this meal often with deer, though it works well with any venison, as well as lamb and goat. It is without peer for elk, moose and caribou.
The cooked meat also is great cold, in sandwiches with mayonnaise and pepper, like beef. This venison is so good, that I eat it before my first deer hunt of the season – makes me sure not to miss – much.
Chris’ Venison Stew, With Dumplings
5 pounds venison (trimmed and cubed)
32 ounces (2 cans) tomatoes
6 large potatoes
2 large onions (Vidalia preferred)
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small bell pepper
2 stalks celery
3 bay leaves
1 pound frozen peas and/or corn
3 cloves garlic (diced or pressed)
4 cups good dry red wine
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 package Betty Crocker Bisquick
Dust the venison cubes in flour or Bisquick, then brown meat, onions, mushrooms, carrots, bell pepper and celery in a large roasting pan or pot over medium heat. Reduce the heat, add remaining ingredients and cook slowly with a lid on the pot for 3 to 5 hours. A slow-cooker pot is perfect for this, and it can be done at noon in a hunt camp for dinner that night. Just before serving, follow the Bisquick recipe for dumplings, “float” them on top in the pot, and serve hot. Like all stews, this one is better the next day (after overnight in the refrigerator has “wed” ingredients) – just add a bit of water or wine, and make fresh dumplings. This is my wife, Chris’, recipe, and she usually prepares it the day before it’s served – but making fresh dumplings.
Mom’s Venison Stroganoff
3 pounds venison (cut in 1/2-inch cubes or strips)
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms (wild ones preferred)
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
2 cups diced Vidalia onions
1 cup red wine
1 pint sour cream
1 can beef consume’
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Sprinkle tenderizer, Lawry’s salt and pepper liberally on venison, then “dust” the meat cubes in flour. Melt butter in a large, deep skillet, and sauté’ the vegetables and garlic until they’re “soft.” Add the “dusted” venison cubes and brown. Reduce heat and remove meat and vegetables from the skillet. Add wine and beef consume’ to the pan and stir, then add sour cream, mixing constantly until all three are thoroughly combined. It’s important to add the sour cream last, when the pan is cool, so it won’t curdle. Add meat and vegetables again, cover and cook slowly for 1 to 2 hours. Serving over noodles is most common, but my mother, Phyllis, used to serve it on wild rice or mashed potatoes, which I prefer, with a chilled glass of Merlot.
Venison Pot Roast
2 to 5 pound deer ham
Peeled carrots, 1 inch long
Small whole red or new potatoes
White boiler onions
Lowry’s Salad Supreme
1 can of beef stock
Whole garlic cloves
Merlot or Madeira red wine
Pot roast is the classic slow-cooker dish. And venison is the perfect meat for cooking this way. Deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope and other lean game meat is superb in a slow cooker, too, because it becomes tender and stays juicy, enriching itself in its own unique, lean flavors.
A two to five pound venison roast is ideal, and be meticulous to trim off all game fat and sinew. Take your time doing this, and a fine-blade fillet knife does it best.
Be sure the slow cooker has plenty of space for the roast and all vegetables. Squeezing meat into a too small pot is unwise.
The key to a good venison pot roast is to get a hefty char on the meat before it goes into the slow cooker. You can do it indoors, but the heat is so intense smoke likely will cause problems, including setting off home alarms.
So do it outside on high heat, in an iron skillet on a grill or side burner. Use a liberal amount of olive oil in the pan to prevent burning, but be sure there’s a nice hefty brown crust to the meat before turning to all six sides. Five to 10 minutes of searing per side is about right for a nice caramelized roast.
As it’s browning, season liberally with Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and Lowry’s Salad Supreme.
Once the meat is nicely charred, bring it inside to the slow cooker. Add inch-long peeled carrots, small whole red or new potatoes, and whole white boiler onions. Cut turnips and mushrooms can be added too. Be sure to put carrots in first, as they slide tight to the bottom next to the roast, so there’s ample space for all vegetables.
Next add 1 can of beef stock, fill the can with a good Merlot or Madeira red wine, and add several whole cloves ofcrushed fresh garlic. Cover the slow cooker and set on medium-low heat. The meal will be ready in 8 to 10 hours.
When serving, remove the meat and vegetables and thicken the essence with corn starch so a flavorful rich gravy results. Served in large bowls with lots of gravy ladled overtop, this is a classic Yankee venison pot roast meal, especially when served with a thick, homemade crusty bread.
Make plenty, because leftovers are better every day it’s reheated.