Sunday, October 23, 2016

How To Eat Venison

I would like to thank Kat, who commented on Monday's post and posed the question "What do you like to make with the venison?".  That comment, and question, made me realize that I am again doing what I often do, which is assume everyone is like me and lives like me and knows what I know, and therefore I'm not really doing a whole lot of describing of the things I do on a regular basis and take for granted.  Like eating venison.

So thanks, Kat, for commenting on that post and asking what you did.  You inspired this post.

Once upon a time, I didn't eat venison, wasn't around people who ate venison, and when I met DH and (eventually) he offered to cook me dinner, which was venison, it seemed like a strange and exotic food.  As the years went by, and we had land available to hunt on without traveling for hours to get there, venison became a staple in our diet.  To the point that I eat more venison than I do beef (which is saying a lot, since I love beef!).  And I forget that once upon a time, like most people, I had no idea what to do with a deer's worth of meat (anywhere from 40-80 pounds of meat, usually).

We process our own deer rather than send them somewhere else to be cut into tidy packages of meat ready for the freezer.  Through the years we've experimented with different ways of cutting the meat, but have realized there are some things we just aren't fond of.  Like venison soup, made with bones.  So we don't save those anymore.  Or venison roasts, which are kind of dry since venison is a very lean meat.  So we don't cut part of the deer into roasts.  What we do end up with are five 'kinds' of meat: steaks, stew meat, jerky meat, tenderloins & backstraps, and ground venison.

The largest muscles we cut into steaks. Typically these are the large ones in the hindquarters (more specifically, the muscles you would think of as the 'butt'). The smaller ones of the hindquarters and the larger shoulder muscles of the front quarters (plus the ends of the large muscles that would make too tiny of a steak), we cut into 1" chunks for stew.   Some long, tender strips of meat, (from anywhere on the deer) are set aside to be made into jerky. The 'outer loins', or backstraps, which are the two muscles that run along the left and right sides of the spinal column, are cut into half, giving us four good sized hunks of meat.  The 'inner loins', or tenderloins (the two muscles running along the 'bottom' side of the spinal column which is inside the rib cage of the deer) are usually the first things eaten after a deer is harvested--they never make it to the freezer. Tenderloins are the most awesome cut of venison you could ever eat. And everything else gets run through the meat grinder, twice (usually a coarse grind plate the first time, and a finer plate on the second grind) and made into venison burger.

What do I do with it from there?

Well, the tenderloins are so tender, and narrow, that we just cut them into 1" wide pieces and saute up with some onions and garlic and eat for breakfast.  A little salt and pepper before they go into the pan, and then you just stir them around until the onions are soft (and the loins are still pink inside).  You don't want your loins cooked well done because that makes them tough and chewy.

The backstraps are reserved for grilling.  In our house it is sacrilege to pan fry or bake a backstrap!  Like the tenderloins, you want them to be rare to medium rare for the best flavor and texture.  A loin cooked until it is brown all the way through is like eating leather.  No matter whether we are grilling the backstrap as a whole piece of meat, or cutting it into 'filet mignon', I like to season it liberally with garlic powder and onion powder, and then a lessor amount of pepper and seasoning salt, then let the spices soak into the meat for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

The steaks we typically pan fry; seasoning first with seasoning salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, then coating lightly with flour and pounding (with the edge of a plate) on both sides to tenderize the meat.  You can use either olive oil or lots of butter in the frying pan to fry the meat in.  Either one tastes good.

Other than that, I use the venison exactly like you would cook any similar cut of beef.  Steaks can be cut into smaller chunks and used in shish kebabs.  Or substituted for beef in the round steak and brown gravy recipe my mom gave me decades ago:

3 pounds beef round steak (or similar amount of venison steak)
1/3 cup flour
3 Tbsp shortening
1 tsp onion powder
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water

Cut the meat into serving size chunks (or, if the steaks are relatively small, leave them uncut), and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Dust with the flour, then  pound meat (I use the edge of a plate). Flip the meat over, dust with the flour again, and pound at a 90 degree angle to how you pounded the first side.

In a skillet, melt the shortening over medium heat.  Add the meat, turning once to brown both side.  Mix soup, water, and onion powder in a mixing bowl, and pour over meat.  Simmer, covered, for approximately 1.5 hours.  Serve over cooked rice, noodles, or with mashed potatoes.

Stew meat can be used just like beef stew meat.  And ground venison is just like, yep, you guessed it, ground beef.  With the exception that ground venison is super lean and when you start with a pound of raw meat, you will end up with a pound of cooked meat.  A quarter-pound venison patty will still be a quarter-pound when it's cooked and served on a burger bun.  Very filling!  More bang for your buck (ha, ha, get it?  A hunting/venison pun!).

One other muscle that we eat, that I didn't mention when describing how we process our deer, is the heart.  Since it is taken out, along with all the other internal organs, during the field dressing process, I forget to include it as a cut of meat.  Here is our recipe for pickled heart, or it is also good thin sliced and sauteed up like the tenderloins.

For some other venison recipes I have posted in the past, check out this one for a soup not made with bones(!), this one using stew meat, this one for sloppy joes.  Like I said, you can substitute venison in pretty much any recipe that calls for beef.  You can use ground venison in meatloaf, in meatballs, in spaghetti or lasagna, in chili, in goulash, in Hamburger Helper, in stroganoff. . . the possibilities are endless.  We also use it to make summer sausage and hunter sticks, although those are DH's secret recipes that he is still developing--along with his perfect jerky recipe--and I'm not even privy to what all ingredients (and amounts of those ingredients) are in them, so I can't share that info (yet).

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