Venison

Ask just about any Wisconsin native what deer meat is called and they will answer venison.  They will be correct.  But venison is more than just deer meat.  This term also broadly includes the meat of elk, reindeer, moose, caribou and antelope.  Being a Wisconsin native though, I will be referring to venison as meat from the elusive and wily white-tailed deer.

I enjoy deer hunting.  I only go out on opening day and hike into the Vernon County hills, carrying breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks enough to last from opening minute to closing minute.  For people who don’t know much about hunting, there are specific hours that you may hunt; that is, shoot at something.  These times are based on daylight.  In more than theory, you need to know exactly what you are shooting at.  Some people who hunt don’t.  But that is totally another (often tragic) topic.

I have been lucky enough to either bag a deer, have someone give me a deer or receive packages of ground and various unknown cuts of venison most seasons.  I graciously and enthusiastically accept it all.  After all, I have my GameFeed to think about.  When I have a whole deer, I like to let it age, hanging it in a cool/cold, shaded spot for as long as possible.  I age deer for up to nearly four months, the end of November to early March.  I check it regularly, sniffing for decay, looking for mold growth and varmint teeth marks (including our Black Lab Joi’s, who knows better but can’t help it).

Aging meat reduces the moisture in the meat, intensifying the flavor, deepening the color and tenderizing some of the connective tissues, this according to the Food Lover’s Companion and also gleaned from my personal experience.  Aged meat is stronger-tasting, darker in color and it is easy to trim away the silver skin and any fat.  Whether I age the meat or not, I always trim all fat and all connective tissue, leaving pure meat.  It makes it easy to cook and I find that any cut of venison that has been perfectly-cleaned is tender and can be used in a myriad of recipes, from Moroccan Tagines to Steak with Irish Whisky Sauce to Korean Pressed Meat or Italian Bolognese Sauce.  Most people who hunt or have hunters in the family think either of not-very-delicious venison dishes they have had or of venison sausage prepared by a commercial butcher.  But venison is surprisingly versatile and of course delicious when prepared correctly.

I have offered some adult cooking classes featuring venison, and occasionally, I also have a class including a venison appetizer as part of the menu.  I would love to offer more cooking classes featuring venison, but (aside from my own freezer) it’s hard to find a reasonably-priced supplier of venison, and venison from farm-raised deer is milder than venison from taken from the wild.  And I think many people’s assumptions and/or previous experience with hunters’ meals make them wary of venison. People will say “I don’t like venison, it is too gamey!”   But when they try some of my dishes, they love them and are hard-pressed to tell what kind of meat was used.  Venison is a great meat on so many levels.  It is locally-grown, a native species that is sustainably-harvested, it is lean and organic.  There is lots of information about the benefits of eating venison out there, so I’ll just give you a few.  Check them out:  Healthy EatingOutdoor LifeThe GuardianGRIT, and of course Good Housekeeping.

If you want to learn how to prepare great venison dishes that your friends will rave about, contact me.  I am always available to share my love, experience and knowledge of cooking venison to anyone, or any group or organization.

Here is one of my favorite Venison recipes.

Venison Carpaccio

Whittled into transparent slices, the limejuice “cooks” the venison.

Zest of one lime

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

2 stalks lemongrass heart, finely minced

1 teaspoon ginger juice, grate finely, then squeeze the juice

¼ cup minced cilantro

½ pound venison, slightly frozen and shaved as thinly as possible

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Method:  Combine the lime zest, shallot, lemongrass ginger juice and cilantro in a bowl.  Lay the meat out uniformly thin on serving plate or platter.  Sprinkle the limejuice over the meat.  Scatter the herb mixture.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve with saltines.  Serves 4-6.

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