My family eats a lot of venison. It’s my son’s favorite, and I’ve come to prefer it in many ways over beef. We all love the cost – it’s a gift from the land.
It’s nutritious and full of iron, and I like not having to participate in the commercial meat industry. I’m a confident cook when it comes to venison now, but there was a time years back when someone gave me my first parcel, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
I find it is best to just consider it to be a lot like beef for cooking purposes. I think it’s important to remember that while it is often great in beef recipes, it is NOT beef. It has it’s own taste. I think when we first starting eating it, we were so used to beef that it seemed like it tasted ‘off.’ It wasn’t bad, but it was new, and ‘the new’ seemed ‘off.’ Our young son loved it though – he didn’t like beef that much, yet he just adored deer steaks. I soon realized that I would not eat a pork cutlet and expect it to taste JUST like beef, so I shouldn’t expect venison to taste like something it wasn’t either – but it is similar, and it cooks much the same.
The one big difference that matters to both processing and cooking, is that unlike beef fat, deer fat is not good. Venison is a naturally lean tasty meat, and should be cut that way. Unlike beef, which is great when well-marbled, I always trim off any fat I see on venison. Deer fat is not good.
I see a lot of recipes that are supposed to help cut down on the ‘gamey’ taste of the meat. Personally, I don’t find that to ever be an issue if the meat is well killed and processed. If the shot is clean, and the deer dies quickly, and it is field dressed properly and processed fast, there is not any strange taste at all – it’s a LOT like beef. If you have your meat processed by someone else, make sure you get your OWN deer back – else you don’t know what you’re getting. We’ve actually been finding that meat that I process here at home is the best of all.
One of my favorite things to do with deer meat is to make cubed steaks for steak and gravy, or steak biscuits. It is SO much better than beef for this, because it’s lean, and doesn’t have all the gristle from connective tissue. I cut some tenderloin or backstrap meat into 1-2inch pieces and pound them flat with the meat mallot, flip them, and pound them again. That’s your cubed steaks. Then I just dredge them in flour and a bit of Montreal steak seasoning and fry them up. It’s a delicious breakfast meat.
It’s great in chili and stews. This was what we used to mainly do with it, before we really grew to appreciate it and use it in other dishes. Sometimes I grind it for chili, sometimes I don’t- if you slow cook it, stew meat is fine in a chili. Ground venison makes good burrito filler too when fried with some minced onion, chili powder and cumin added in.
A basic hunter stew is another crock pot favorite too – I dredge stew meat cuts in flour, then lightly brown in a bit of oil, then I put those in the crock pot with a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of water, a beef bullion cube, chopped onion, and about 2 teaspoons of Italian herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. I cook it on high, then turn it down and let it simmer for hours. When the meat is tender, I put in some white potatoes and carrots and cook it some more until tender. I’ve never thrown any out! If I have fresh tomatoes, I substitute 5-6 peeled, chopped ones for the can of crushed tomatoes. They cook down.
Ground deer isn’t the best for burgers because it is too lean, and will crumble. We’ve experimented with it here, and the best burgers EVER are 1/2 deer and 1/2 lamb. Next to that, 1/2 deer meat and 1/2 ground chuck make good burgers. The thing is, you really need some fat from another source to make burgers that won’t crumble and fall apart.
Beef jerky is another big favorite. I always use Alton Brown’s basic recipe, but I’ve been known to add in a teaspoon or two of Louisiana Hot Sauce too. Then I dry it for several hours in my food dehydrator. I would love to say that we preserve meat this way to put up for emergencies, but jerky never lasts more than a day or two.
What I DO NOT do is wrap my deer meat in bacon, or soak it in vinegar, or any of the other weird things that I have had folks say that they do that are supposed to ‘MASK’ a gamey taste or to make it taste ‘better.’ That advice usually comes from people that don’t eat it often, and I wonder if they are getting fresh meat at all. When I talk to seasoned hunters, and others that love it, they all just cook pretty much like I do.
Venison is a great, nutritious meat just the way it is. If yours isn’t, I’d look at changing hunting or processing tactics. The best meat comes from a deer that doesn’t get scared or suffer or ran, and is processed with respect and care.