Cook Smart To Keep Venison Moist And Tasty (Try
these recipes to ensure your venison dishes are delights, not disappointments.)
by: JIM LOW
Firearms deer hunters checked a record 273,905 deer this year. By the time
Missouri's archery deer season closes Jan. 15, the total harvest will exceed
300,000, setting the table for millions of venison meals in the coming months.
Much of that meat will end up as sausage, jerky or ground venison for chili,
spaghetti and stroganoff. The remainder will turn up on tables as steaks,
roasts, loins and cutlets. With the right preparation, these cuts can be as
mild as veal and as tender as a beef pot roast.
Know Your Venison
The first key to venison cookery is understanding that deer meat has no
internal fat. Deer deposit fat under their skin and inside their abdomens.
Their muscle tissue is free of the fat "marbling" that sets prime beef apart
from lower grades.
This is good, since deer fat has a strong flavor and an unpleasant, waxy
consistency. It also is good for people who have to limit their fat
consumption. However, this also means that venison doesn't benefit from
internal basting while cooking. To keep venison juicy, you have to preserve its
natural moisture or supply extra water and fat.
When someone tells you that the venison they have eaten was tough, it usually
means it was fried or roasted too long without added moisture. The other thing
you need to know about venison before you begin cooking, is the age and sex of
the deer it came from. The older the deer, the tougher the meat. Venison from
yearling deer (about 18 months old) is tender and has a mild flavor. Venison
from fawn (about 6 months old) is similar to veal.
The sex of the deer is important to cooks because mature bucks undergo a
remarkable transformation each autumn in preparation for mating. Steroid-like
male hormones cause bucks' neck muscles to swell, making them look a little
like defensive linemen. They develop a musky smell too and their meat takes on
a stronger flavor. The older and bigger the buck and the more active it is in
mating, the more pronounced the "gamey" flavor. However, such meat can still
produce excellent meals in the right recipes.
The quality of venison also varies widely depending on the care it receives. A
deer that is field dressed carefully and promptly after being shot and then
kept clean and cool until it goes in the freezer will yield good meat. Shoddy
care can compromise the quality of even the best deer carcass.
Handle With Care
One way to ensure against toughness is to cook tender cuts fast and
serve them rare. An example is cooking tenderloins the best of all cuts in an
oven preheated to 450 degrees. The intense heat sears the outside of the meat,
locking in juices and flavor. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the
loin. For best results it should be pink in the middle. Loins from young deer
cooked this way are five-star fare.
You can get similar results by sauteing half-inch slices of loin in a little
butter or olive oil. Cook them just until they are lightly browned on each
side. The key is not cooking them any longer than absolutely necessary.
The other way to prevent tough, dry venison is to cook with moist heat. In the
case of old deer, pressure cooking or canning may be the best option. For
average cuts, nothing beats slow cooking in a cast-iron Dutch oven. These
throwbacks to pioneer times have tight-fitting lids that seal in moisture. Put
a layer of vegetables, such as carrots, in the bottom with your choice of
seasoning and a little water and arrange 3/4-inch thick venison steaks on top.
Cooking at low heat for several hours produces fork-tender meat with pan
drippings for gravy. Dutch oven cooking can be done in a kitchen stove or over
coals in the fireplace. If you don't have a Dutch oven, a crock pot will serve
the same purpose.
Venison from gamey bucks is best used in highly seasoned recipes. A classic is
Swiss steak. Tomato sauce and cooking sherry tenderize the meat, and these and
other robust aromas blend to make the flavor of the meat less noticeable.
Smoking or barbecuing also can enhance the flavor of venison from older bucks.
Bass Pro Shops a Missouri Company sells a sausge seasoning mix that turns ground
venison from older bucks into a savory treat. When working with tougher,
stronger-tasting venison, consider using one of several commercial rubs and
seasoned salts made in Missouri. These include Andy's Seasoned Salt (Andy's
Seasoning, Inc. St. Louis, (www.andysseasoning.com), My House Salt (My House
Seasonings, http://www.myhousesalt.com) and Old World Steak Dry Rub and
Marinade (Old World Seasonings, Kansas City, (www.oldworldspices.com).
You can reduce gamey flavor by soaking cuts from big, old bucks overnight in
salt water to draw out as much blood as possible. This works best when the meat
is in thin cuts, such as steaks. To reduce gaminess even more, soak venison in
white vinegar for an hour before cooking.
Here are some recipes to get you started.
You can find more in the classic "Cy Littlebee's Guide to Cooking Fish and
Game," available at Conservation Nature Centers statewide or from The Nature
Shop online, http://www.mdcnatureshop.com
Dutch Oven Doe
2-pounds venison steaks 8 oz. beef stock 1-pound peeled carrots 4 tsp. Andy's
Seasoned Salt 6 celery stalks 2 cups bread crumbs 2 medium onions, chopped 4
oz. bacon 4 oz. can mushrooms « cup grated Parmesan cheese 3 tbsp. olive oil or
butter Combine bread crums and seasoned salt. Dredge steaks in salt/crumb
mixture and set aside. Fry bacon in a 12-inch Dutch oven. Add onion and saute
until soft. Remove onions and set aside. Add olive oil to pot and fry steaks
until brown on both sides. Remove meat and set aside. Put celery and carrots in
bottom of oven. Add beef stock and liquid from mushrooms. Arrange steaks on top
of vegetables, top with mushrooms and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 300 degrees
until tender, 2-4 hours.
Hat-Rack Buck Swiss Steak
4-pounds venison round steak cut into serving-sized pieces 4 Tbsp shortening 1
tsp. MSG Salt & Pepper 1 cup flour 4 Tsp. catsup 2 tsp. paprika 2 cans
tomato soup 2 cloves chopped garlic 16 oz. canned mushrooms w/liquid 2 oz.
cooking sherry Combine four, salt, pepper, MSG and paprika. Press steaks
into flour, then put on a cutting board and work flour mixture into meat with a
tenderizing mallet or the edge of a heavy plate. Melt shortening in a skillet
and brown steaks. Put meat in a shallow, covered casserole pan. Combine
remaining ingredients and pour over meat. Cover and cook 1-hour at 325 degrees.
Button Buck Scallopini
2-pounds young venison loin 4 Tbsp. Chopped fresh parsely 4 chopped green
onions 1 tsp. dry rosemary 8 oz. canned mushrooms « tsp. dry thyme 8 oz. tomato
sauce « tsp. fennel seed 4 oz. dry white wine 2 Tbsp. olive oil « tsp. garlic
powder 2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional) 1 cup flour Salt & Pepper 2
Tbsp. butter Sautee onions and parsley in olive oil until tnder. Add tomato
sauce, mushrooms (with liquid), rosemary, thyme, fennel seed, garlic powder and
(if desired) pepper flakes. Simmer for 20 minutes. Slice loin into 1/2-inch
cutlets. Mix flour, salt and pepper. Roll loin in flour and brown slices in a
skillet with butter. Add sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Add wine and simmer
another 10 minutes. Serve with warm garlic bread or focaccia bread.