Monday, August 2, 2010

The Versatility of Venison

I started cooking with wild game shortly following my first successful hunt back in the fall of 2002. Including and ever since then, I have luckily been unable to reproduce the sour, undeniably strong and often unpleasant taste of the venison dishes that came before it. I have my first hunting mentor, Dave, to thank for this, as he thought it equally important for me to learn how to butcher and package a deer for the freezer as it was to kill one.
Some 14 deer of various sizes, ages and sexes have fallen by my trigger finger since that first yearling doe in eastern North Carolina. Only one of them was butchered in a commercial processing operation - a mistake that will never be repeated.
Breaking a deer down into its useful parts (with knives, not meat saws) allows me to be more creative with the ways I prepare it for friends and family in the months to come. If I want to make sausage, I can trim and grind every scrap of meat. If I want to braise shanks, or keep a whole ham to smoke, I can do that too. Most importantly, I have total control over how my deer is handled - from forest to freezer - and that, I think, makes all the difference.
At the end of the season, a successful hunter/home butcher will have plenty of venison of superior quality to prepare as he or she would any beef or lamb. The only caveat to cooking with venison is to factor in the lack of fat. This often translates into shorter cooking times or the addition of fat, be it animal or vegetable, to keep the venison to keep it moist and tender.
One online place where I find lots of inspiration is Hank Shaw's "Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook" blog (see the blog roll in the right hand margin). Hank has taken wild game cookery to gourmet heights, but he has plenty of preparations that are easily accessible to cooks of all skill levels and timid palates.
One of my favorites is his recipe for corned venison. This simple cure-and-cook method for a whole venison roast is like a gateway drug for non-game eaters and should be in every hunter's repertoire.
Here's how it goes, verbatim to Mr. Shaw's excellent instruction.
One 3- to 5-pound roast (It can be from any large game or domestic animal. I prefer the
large, rectangular muscle group from the hind leg)
1/2-gallon of water
1 cup Kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2-ounce Instacure No. 1 (purchased online at Butcher and Packer)
1 Tbsp cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted coriander seeds
12 bay leaves crushed
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
6 garlic cloves choppedThrow everything but the roast into the pot of water and bring to a boil, then cover the pot and remove it from the heat until it has cooled to room temperature.
Place the roast into a non-reactive container, just large enough to hold it and the corning brine. Cover the roast with the liquid (discard what you don't need) and put it in the refrigerator to "cure" 5-7 days, depending on the size of the roast.
Once the curing process is finished, remove the roast from the corning brine and gently rinse it with tap water. Now place the meat in a tight-fitting pot and fill it with water so it's just covering the roast. Simmer (do NOT allow it to boil) for 3-5 hours and you're done - corned venison.
Sue likes this especially when it's chilled in the fridge, sliced thinly and starring in a rueben sandwich with all the fixings. I prefer it served cold on a meat tray with a really good spicy mustard. About the only way to screw it up is to try to serve it before its had a chance to cool off from its long simmer. I have found that the meat really benefits from a nice resting period. Once the venison has been corned, it will last in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Someday soon, I'm plan to try this with a whole ham from a wild pig, but instead of simmering the roast, I'm going to slow-bake it and hit it with a honey/maple glaze. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Mmmmmmm .... ruebens.

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