It’s that wonderful time of the year when the whitetail rut is at hand. Many hunters already have venison in the freezer and tasty stews, soups, roasts, and countless other delights featuring deer meat are in the offing. Properly handled and prepared, venison is a wonderful and wonderfully healthy meat.
One of two things is true of anyone who suggests it is gamey or tastes “wild.” Either they have dined on venison which was not properly aged and processed, or more likely, someone has ruined fine meat by overcooking.
When my wife and I wrote “The Complete Venison Cookbook,” we ate venison at least twice a day for well over half a year. That’s obviously a bit over the top, but we were determined to taste test every recipe before committing it to print. A good many didn’t make the cut, but never was that because of wild taste or even toughness.
The key to fine dining on venison starts the moment you stand admiring the results of a successful hunt. The sooner you can remove the entrails and get the body cavity open for cooling, the better. Field dressing is best. But if you don’t want to undertake what is actually a pretty simple task get the deer to a processoras soon as possible.
Next comes time in a cooler – that’s where the biggest glitch arises. Ideally a deer should be aged at 36 to 40 degrees for at least a week. Ten days to two weeks is better.
This almost never happens with commercial processors. Understandably they want a “deer in, deer out” approach for the sake of efficiency. If you have the luxury of handling your own meat hanging the end results will be more tender meat. Also, deer ages best with the hides on, but that too is a non-starter in large-scale operations.
Whatever approach you take to aging, make sure that meat prepared in the ways you choose – roasts, cubed steak, steaks, stew meat, or burger – is done in clean fashion and packaged properly. There is no substitute for vacuum sealing when it comes to freshness and longevity in the freezer.
That leavescooking the venison. With any of the finer cuts – backstrap, tenderloin, or steaks – it is vital to avoid overcooking. For soups, stews, and the like, slow and thorough cooking is fine. With any recipe using ground meat you will cook thoroughly and notworry about the meat becoming tough and dry.
Here are a few personal favorites. All come from “The Complete Venison Cookbook,” which is available through my website, www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com or Amazon.com (paperback or Kindle).
VENISON BRUNSWICK STEW
3 pounds venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large can tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 package (10 ounces) frozen lima beans
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Pepper sauce to taste
In a large Dutch oven brown venison in two tablespoons of canola oil. Add potato, celery, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook for an hour, check for tenderness and if not tender continue cooking until meat is tender. Add frozen vegetables and cook until they are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve over rice.
2 to 3 pounds venison steak
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup white cornmeal mix
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 paper grocery bags
Cut venison into bite-size cubs and soak in ice water for an hour. Mix all the dry ingredients listed. Double the grocery bags and place mixture inside. Drain venison in a colander. Place venison in bag and shake thoroughly. Deep fry for 7 to 10 minutes. Serve with ranch dressing as a hearty appetizer.
4 venison steaks
½ cup dry bread crumbs
2 cups spaghetti or pasta sauce
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced
Pound each steak on a cutting board to flatten to ¼-inch thickness. Beat egg with one tablespoon of water. Place bread crumbs on a flat plate. Dip each steak in egg and then in the bread crumbs to coat. Heat a non-stick skillet which has been sprayed with vegetable cooking spray to medium high. Cook steaks, turning once, until browned (5 to 7 minutes). Do not have heat too high or bread crumbs will burn. Spread spaghetti sauce over bottom of a baking dish. Place steaks atop sauce and top with mozzarella cheese. Then sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly and the cheese is melted (10 to 15 minutes). Serve with pasta.