Sunday, September 20, 2009
When the hunting season ends, I like to open the freezer and gaze at those tidy white packets of wrapped venison, stacked on the shelves like bricks of gold.
And considering what farm-raised venison sells for these days, it has become the meat equivalent of 24-carat bullion.
Specialty game shops across the country charge up to $50 a pound for loin chops and other choice cuts of farm-raised venison (tougher cuts such as shoulder run substantially less, though still far more than beef or even lamb).
Using an average of $20 a pound, I figure each buck I harvest provides my family with meat that would cost a nonhunter $1,000 or more. Those prices make king crab legs and lobsters look like items in the food bargain bin.
Why the high premium on venison? First, deer, elk, and antelope meat is good for you. Venison is low in calories, cholesterol, and fat, especially the saturated kind.
It’s also high in iron and vitamin B-12. Many people consider venison the original free-range, organic meat.
Second, wild venison is good for the environment. I don’t know about domestically raised deer and elk, much of it grown in New Zealand, but the whitetails and pronghorn I harvest each fall tread with a gentle hoofprint on the landscape.
Third, nonhunters pay top dollar for venison because they consider it a rare treat, a meat purchased from specialty shops or in fine restaurants. (That comes as a surprise to people who grew up eating deer, elk, and antelope meat and consider it everyday fare.)
Finally, there’s the taste. I eat grass-fed beef and locally raised lamb, and occasionally dive into a rack of barbecued pork ribs.
But if restricted to just one meat, it would be that of a bottomlands whitetail doe.
A trimmed raw venison steak in the hand smells as fresh as a cool fall morning. When cooked, it becomes delicately textured and finely flavored. I’m not alone in my praise.
Chefs throughout the world extol venison’s culinary virtues.
In many respects, cooks can view venison as they do beef. Both are the dark red meat of large grazing animals. And the cuts from both grazers are similar: A sirloin of venison is a steak that comes from the lower back of the animal, as does beef sirloin.
But that’s where the deer and the cow part company—and where cooks need to understand the fundamental differences between the two.
Beef fat is tasty and marbled throughout the meat. Venison fat, on the other hand, tastes like boiled or burned leather when cooked.
It exists only on the outside of the meat, primarily over the lower back and rump, and always should be trimmed.
Lacking veins of fat within the meat, uncooked venison has less moisture than beef. Though less fat content makes a serving of venison steak one-half leaner than a similar-sized beef steak, it also causes venison to dry out when cooking, requiring the use of cooking oils.
Many chefs and restaurant diners maintain that venison has more flavor than beef. Heavy with fat, beef has a mild, rich taste.
Lacking fat, venison is tangier and more intense. That sweet tang comes from abundant capillaries in the muscle, providing the blood that gives raw venison steaks their rich, burgundy color.
Blood is sweet; if you accidentally prick your finger and suck it, you can taste that sweetness. Chefs try to retain the sweet taste of venison by not overcooking the meat.
The longer you cook venison, the more bitter it becomes. That’s what many people call the “gamey” taste. It’s the same bitterness that comes from overdone liver, compared to the sweet taste of liver cooked just briefly at a high temperature.
The key to preserving venison’s sweetness? Cook all tender cuts quickly at high heat..
Also, keep in mind that the gold-standard recipe for any choice cut is to simply season it with salt and pepper and grill or sauté the meat in olive oil for several minutes on each side. No sauces. No marinades. Just the sweet taste of venison.
(I prepare this wine stew using all the tough pieces I trim off the shoulder and
lower haunches. It's based on the Beef Bourguignonne recipe from the
with some alterations. This wonderfully rich and luscious dish
tastes even better if you can cook it ahead of time and let it sit for a few days.)
2 pounds boneless venison shoulder meat
Place meat in a large glass or ceramic bowl and add:
2 C. dry red wine ¼ C. olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped 1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped 1 bay leaf
2 T. chopped fresh parsley ½ t. dried thyme
1 t. pepper ½ t. salt
Stir to combine and coat the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator
for 1 hour to 24 hours, turning the meat occasionally. Drain the beef and
pat dry. Strain the marinade and reserve it and the vegetables separately.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add and brown:
4 oz. bacon, diced
Remove the bacon and place on paper towels to drain.
In the bacon grease(if there is not at least 2 tablespoons, add vegetable oil),
add the venison in batches and brown on all sides. This will likely require at least three batches.
Don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will simmer and not brown-and brown
(though not burned) is what you want at this stage. Remove meat and add the
reserved vegetables and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in:
2 T. flour
Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in the marinade, then return the venison and
bacon to the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered,
until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours. (Another option is to preheat
the oven to 275 degrees when browning the meat, and then put the pot in
the oven for 2 hours). Add:
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
Cover and cook 20 minutes. Add:
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley Salt and pepper to taste
Serve with egg noodles, rice, or boiled potatoes.
Doe Neck Pot Roast
(This produces the most flavorful venison I've ever tasted. Unlike many pot
roast recipes, mine calls for braising the meat in browned, finely chopped
vegetables, which I then puree to make the gravy. Add larger vegetables during
the last few minutes to keep them from becoming mushy. This recipe
works best with smaller deer or pronghorn necks as well as the traditional
shoulder roasts from any big game animal.)
The taste is sweeter than steak or chops.
Preheat oven to 275°.
Season with salt and pepper:
Deer or pronghorn neck
Heat in large skillet or Dutch oven:
4 T. lard or vegetable oil
Add neck roast and brown on all sides, about 20 minutes.
Remove roast to a plate. Add:
2 C. finely chopped onions ½ C. finely chopped celery
½ C. finely chopped carrots
Cook vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they begin to color, about
5 minutes. Add:
1 C. beef stock or dry red wine
Bring to boil. Add:
1 bay leaf ½ t. dried thyme
Return roast to pan and cover. Make sure there is always at least 1 inch of
liquid in pot and add more if needed. Cook in oven for 2 to 3 hours, removing
and turning roast occasionally. Add:
1 C. carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
Cook for 5 minutes. Remove roast and carrots and set aside while making
the gravy. Pour pan liquid and finely chopped vegetables into a blender and
puree for 3 minutes. Return to pot. Add cooked carrots and:
1 C. frozen peas
Bring to simmer. Meanwhile, the neck roast will have cooled enough to pick
the meat off the bone. Serve the meat and the vegetable gravy over egg
noodles or boiled potatoes.
Mediterranean Venison Shanks
(This derivation of the Joy of Cooking's braised lamb shanks recipe is a bit
sweeter and spicier, and I add fat to compensate for the lean venison shanks.
The recipe calls for a wild mix of spices, but don't get nervous: There's nothing
here you can't find at your local supermarket. Unlike lamb shanks, deer
and elk shanks are too large to fit in a pan. I cut them in pieces or fillet the
shank meat off the bone before cooking. Don't worry that the meat is encased
in hard tissue casings. The slow, moist-cooking method will melt the tissue
off the meat and produce tender chunks of savory venison.)
Preheat oven to 275°.
2 deer shanks or 1 elk shank
Season meat with:
1 t. salt ½ t. pepper
½ t. ground ginger ½ t. paprika
Mix in a bowl and set aside:
1 t. dried or 1 T. fresh mint 1 t. paprika
1 t. ground coriander 1 t. ground cumin
½ t. black pepper ¼ t. ground ginger
pinch of ground cinnamon ¼ t. ground allspice
Heat in a Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet over high heat:
2 T. oil
Add half the shank meat and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove,
add more oil, and brown the remaining meat. The smell of sautéed casing
tissue is unpleasant but will disappear once braising begins. Add:
2 onions, thinly sliced 2 T. chopped garlic
Reduce heat to medium and cover and cook, stirring often, until onions are
soft. Sprinkle with spice mixture. Stir well to coat onions. Add:
2 C. beef stock 1 C. dry red wine
1⁄3 C. tomato puree
Bring to boil. Return venison to pan, cover, and bake for 90 minutes. Add:
2 C. 1-inch carrot pieces 1 C. dried figs, chopped
2 C. diced, peeled butternut or Hubbard squash
Cover and bake 15 minutes more. Remove meat and vegetables. Add:
2 T. lemon juice ½ t. cayenne pepper
2 t. dried mint (or 3 T. of fresh) 1 can garbanzo beans
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables and serve over couscous (a delicious
North African granular pasta available in most Montana grocery stores),
white rice, or boiled potatoes. Top with a dollop of sour cream.
(Ken Geoff 's version of the famous Russian stew is easy and delicious. Serve
with warm bread for sopping up the flavorful sour cream gravy afterward.)
Preheat oven to 300°.
Mix:Salt and pepper into 1½ C. flour
In seasoned flour, dredge:
1½ pounds trimmed shoulder meat, cut into ¾-inch cubes
Heat in a large cast iron pan or Dutch oven:
1 T. butter or light cooking oil
When butter or oil is foaming but not yet smoking, add coated meat in
batches and brown on all sides, cooking roughly 2 minutes per batch.
Remove meat from pan and add more oil and butter. Then add:
¾ C. thinly sliced onion
Saute 2 minutes until softened. Stir in:
1½ C. sliced mushrooms
Cook 2 minutes. Stir in:
1 T. tomato paste or ½ C. tomato puree
1½ C. beef stock or broth
Pinch salt and pepper
Add meat to pan. Add enough water to cover meat. Bring to boil. Cover
with lid. Bake in oven 1½ hours. Remove from oven. Stir in:
3 T. sour cream 2 T. butter
Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Wild game stew
Cut meat into chunks and marinate in buttermilk to tenderize the meat.
2 pounds of a choice meat, (Beef-Venison- Buffalo- Elk- Antelope-goat- Lamb)
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups celery, cut into 1-inch strips
8 peeled small boiling onions
1-2 cups beef stock
salt and pepper
Wash buttemilk off the venison. Mix the meat, juniper berries, peppercorns and garlic. Add 1 cup of the red wine. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or overnight.
Drain off the marinade and save. Heat the olive oil in your pot and brown the meat. Add the celery and onions. Add all the red wine and 3/4 cup beef stock. Cover and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes, or until tender, adding the remaining beef stock during baking if necessary.
Remove from the oven.
Season with salt and pepper and serve