"How do I cook venison? My husband got a deer, and I don't know what to do with it."
This is probably the question most often asked of me, especially immediately following deer season. My answer is always this: "exactly as you do beef only not as long."
The next question is inevitable. "What do you do about the "wild taste?"
This one raises my hackles. Venison has no "wild" taste, it simply has its own taste. Venison does not taste like beef any more than chicken tastes like pork chops. Frankly, I have often and I do mean often, served venison in the form of spaghetti, meatloaf, etc. to folks who relished it, never knowing it was venison.
Much of the problem seems to stem from the person eating the meat knowing that someone personally shot it. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that every steak, every pork chop, every Chicken McNuggets meal was once a living creature that someone had to kill.
If we don't actually witness the cows being herded into the slaughterhouse and dispatched, we are able to disassociate ourselves from the realities of how a living cow becomes our Sunday dinner. If, however, a hunter brings home a deer and we see it hanging on the porch it seems to bring the reality home; before any creature becomes a meal it has to be killed.
3 pounds venison
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon each onion and garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons liquid smoke (Wright's preferred)
1/4 teaspoon saltpeter
Cut meat in small strips about the size of a cigarette. Remove all fat and gristle. Marinate overnight in above seasonings. Stir several times so meat becomes all the same color. Drain. Pat dry with paper towels. Spread on cake cooling racks in a shallow pan. Put in oven. Dry in very low heat, turning several times until dry. Dry until stiff. Store in a dry place in a covered jar. It keeps indefinitely.
"How can you shoot those poor little deer?" I have been asked more times than I can count. Perhaps because I am female, it seems incomprehensible to some folks that I can actually pick up a gun and shoot a deer.
My answer simply is that as long as I know that my taking a deer does not endanger the species, I love the thrill of the hunt. I am not hung-up on having to kill my winter meat for myself as opposed to having to pay someone else to do the job for me at the supermarket.
If there is any unpleasant taste or odor associated with wild meat it is not some wild taste. It usually stems from the meat having been improperly cared for. Suppose we chased a beef steer around the corral for six hours, then shot it, dragged the carcass two miles to camp, let it hang there for three days in various kinds of weather, then tied it to a car and drove 100 miles with the car's fumes flavoring it, hung it up for a week at home so all our friends could come by and admire it, then dressed it for the freezer. I'd venture it would taste a bit "wild."
Actually, venison should be dressed as soon as possible after being harvested. Any deer I bag is at the processors the same day. Some folks prefer to age their venison, which is fine if you do it properly, under controlled conditions. Just letting a deer hang on the porch for ten days until you get around to skinning it is not aging it.
Venison can be cooked much as is beef. It is not necessary to soak venison in anything. The secret to tasty venison is remembering that venison is a drier meat then beef because it does not have the fat marbled throughout the meat as does beef. Therefore venison will dry out and/or become tough if it is cooked too long. My formula is: when you decide that the chops or steaks or hamburger patties need just another minute or two to be done, take it off then. It will be perfect.
Wild game is a natural meat, not artificially laced with chemicals or hormones. It is a healthy meat, if fact, heart surgeons recommend venison as a healthy, heart-wise entree. Venison has no cholesterol whatever. A half cup of venison has 102 calories, a half cup of beef has 323 calories. Venison has one third more protein than beef and 12 times less fat. So there is no better reason to eat venison that this: it is just plain good for you.
This past week I had a couple meals of venison taken this season. Thin-sliced steaks, pan-fried with a side of sauteed onions. I throw the steaks in a skillet of hot cooking oil, flavor with salt and some garlic salt and saute on each side just enough to brown good. Because you don't want to overcook them. So once those steaks or chops are put into the frying pan, it is vital to watch them and to take them off the heat just when you think they may need another minute.
Venison can be cooked exactly the same as domestic beef. If you like marinades use them. But venison doesn't need soaked or marinated to cover some "wild taste." I often marinate my steaks in certain flavorings but that is so it will absorb the flavor of the marinade.
The best venison jerky I've ever used was given to me years ago by John Olsen of Galeton. (See recipe.)
Next week, I'll share some of my favorite venison recipes with you.