It’s that time of year ... deer hunting season has begun, at least for those who use a bow. Gun season starts Nov. 21. It’s time to wear blaze orange if you’re out in the woods, whether you are a hunter or not.
Cooking and preparing venison depends on two things: the hunter and the cook. And the more important of the two is the hunter -- he or she is the one primarily responsible for the way the deer is processed.
The most important part of harvesting a deer is the field dressing. I still think they should be “bled,” but this is losing popularity. The whole idea of field dressing is to cool the meat as quickly as possible. This is done by gutting it and removing the innards to create an air cavity, which should be propped open with a stick to let the air circulate.
Get the deer home or to the processor as quickly as possible. This does not include throwing it across the hood of a truck and parading through town with it while you honk your horn. The hood is hot and does not promote quick cooling.
Depending on the weather, deer can be hung outside to age for several days to a week. Temperatures have to be consistently cold (34 to 40 F) and it should be hung out of the sun -- somewhat tricky with no leaves on the trees. A properly aged venison roast is much superior to one that was frozen outright.
However, when you have too warm of temperatures and don’t take it to a processor, there is no other choice but to immediately butcher and freeze the meet. At this stage it is important to know what you are doing or have someone show you the way to butcher the animal to achieve the best cuts.
The best cuts
It used to be that meat -- game and venison in particular -- were “larded,” meaning they were laced with lard (fat). A larding needle was the instrument with which to do this. Nowadays, of course, no one will admit much to adding fat to an already lean piece of meat such as venison. But it is done. You couldn’t make venison sausage without adding fat of some kind. Actually, most processors tend to use pork and mix the two together -- best to ask before you take it in.
“Barding” is of the same intent: It involves wrapping the meat with strips of bacon or salt pork or rolling the bacon inside of a roast, then slow cooking the whole thing, an easier method for sure.
Shoulder roasts are not so often boned out, rolled and tied, but I think it’s the best way to handle them -- if you have an option. If you are doing your own processing you can roll up some of that bacon or salt pork at the same time.
Tenderloin roasts are very small on deer but very good, and I would suggest you always trim them out and cook that up first -- sort of a victory dinner.
The saddle is the part between the last set of ribs and the rump. If you have the means to control the temperature, and the time it takes, cooking the saddle on an outdoor grill is outstanding.
Rump roasts -- depending on the butcher, you’ll get one or more -- make excellent pot roast.
The two points to remember when cooking venison: Cook it slow and cook it wet, meaning with moisture or other ingredients that will lend moisture. This does not mean you give up searing a venison steak or charcoal grilling a cut. But be forewarned -- for the best taste with those methods you will need to add some fat or, as in barding, fat in the form of bacon.
When cooking venison, or other game animals for that matter, I like to complement its woodsy beginnings with other wild flavorings and ingredients, such as wild rice, nuts, woodland berries and wild greens. This list includes black walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns (if you have the patience), cranberries, blueberries, crabapples, chokecherry, wild grapes, wild plums, dandelion greens, morel mushrooms and fiddleheads.
While some of these you will not get until spring or summer that is for the better. They will add taste and character to your stash of frozen venison.
Pot roast of venison
-- If your rump roast is much bigger than 2 pounds, you will want to add more cooking time.
1 rump roast of venison
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, grated
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup wild rice
2 cups chicken or beef stock
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup black walnuts, or hickory nuts (optional)
2 bay leaves
In roaster pan, heat three tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the onion, garlic, carrots and mushrooms until onions are tender. Add the wild rice and stock and bring to a boil. Stir in cranberries and walnuts.
Salt and pepper the roast and set in roaster on top of the other ingredients. Put in the two bay leaves. Cover the roast and cook at 325 degrees for two hours. If the rice has not absorbed all of the liquid, remove lid for last 15 minutes and cook until liquid is gone.
Remove from oven. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing thin. Serve with the wild rice.
2 lbs. cubed venison
1/4 lb. bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. whole mushrooms
2 or 3 large carrots, diced
2 or 3 parsnips, diced
1 lb. potatoes, diced
3 cups meat broth (chicken, beef, pork, venison)
2 tsps. parsley, dried, crushed
1 tsp. thyme, dried, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 bay leaves
2 Tbsps instant tapioca
12 oz. fresh greens, cleaned
In saute pan, heat bacon until sizzling. Add cubed venison and keep cooking to brown. Clean and dice leeks and add to pan along with the garlic. Saute until leeks are tender.
Pour this into a slow cooker along with the mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, meat stock, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cover with lid and cook on medium for four to six hours (check your slow cooker directions for specific cooking times). Or place in a roaster or Dutch oven at 325 F in the oven for four hours.
For the last hour of cooking, add the tapioca and the greens.