Deerly BelovedNov 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Richard Soderberg
To me, one of the best parts of living here is the abundance of deer—and the liberal regulations that allow us to harvest them from nature. A guy needs a nice slab of beef once in a while, but I absolutely could not live without venison. Some of the people I talk to report that they don’t like it because it’s “gamey,” whatever that means. Some say they have recipes that make venison taste “just like beef.” Why would anyone want to do that? Venison is delicious, with a rare and unique flavor worthy of enjoyment on its own merits. I hope these recipes will convince the skeptical of the virtues of wild venison.
Basic Stock and Bone Sauce
Some of these recipes require a stock or a sauce. Never throw away a bone! Roasted bones make a darker, richer stock. Stock made from unroasted bones will be lighter. Combine the roasted bones—I use the pelvis, neck, spine, and knuckles from the long bones—with fresh thyme and parsley, a cup or so each of diced leeks, diced onion, and diced carrot. Simmer for at least 6 hours, keeping everything submerged throughout the process, then strain out solids and reduce liquid to 2 or 3 quarts while skimming off the crud that floats to the surface. Your stock is finished. You will need some of it to make the bone sauce. I can the rest so I can use it all year.
To start the sauce, cut the de-knuckled leg bones into little pieces. I use a Sawzall. You need about a pound or enough to cover the bottom of your pan.
I make bone sauce in a cast iron wok. Heat a cup or so of oil until it starts to smoke. Then add the bones and cook until they are nicely browned. It takes about 20 minutes. Deglaze (add liquid to the hot pan to get the good bits) twice with your prepared stock.
The third deglazing is with vegetables. Add a cup or so each of diced onions, leeks, and carrots. Cook in the hot oil until caramelized and the moisture from the vegetables has cooked off. Deglaze. Add 4 cups of stock and strain into a saucepan. Make sure you scrape up all the goodness from the bottom and sides of the wok. Simmer while carefully spooning the oil off the surface of the sauce. Continue until you have reduced the sauce to about a cup. Your finished sauce is an oil-free, dark, rich, thin liquid.
Loin of Venison with Root Vegetable Puree and Blueberry Sauce
This is my signature venison dish, reserved for my most deserving guests. I use a 5 to 6-inch piece of venison loin per serving for this dish. Here’s what you need: meat, fresh blueberries, venison bone sauce, turnips and parsnips, additional vegetable of your choice, and white chocolate chips. Cut the venison into pieces longer than they are in diameter so that it stands up like a little tower, and that the silver skin has been removed.
Do the meat last. To prepare the puree, peel, chunk, and boil the turnips and parsnips until tender. Drain, add the white chocolate, and puree until smooth. Cook fresh blueberries down to a liquid. Thicken with cornstarch dissolved in a little of the venison bone sauce. Sear the meat on all sides in hot butter. Don’t let the internal temperature exceed 120 degrees.
To assemble, place a dollop of the puree on a plate, stand the venison up in the center, top the meat with blueberry sauce, drizzle the roots with venison bone sauce that has been thickened with cornstarch, and garnish with something green.
If you didn’t mess it up, the meat will look like this (photo, above) when you open it up.
Roast Venison and Popovers
Most hunters and their cooks think that venison has to be canned or cooked to mush in a crock pot to be edible. Try cooking it like a fine beef roast and you will never use the crock pot again.
I use the sirloin for this dish. Season with salt, black peppercorns or grains of paradise (a pepper-like spice related to ginger), and fresh garlic (main photo of the article).
Wrap in bacon and cook at 350 degrees until internal temperature reads 120 degrees. Remove from oven, tent with foil, and rest. Serve with popovers.
To make popovers you need a special tin. A muffin tin doesn’t have deep enough cups. Place the popover tin in a 500-degree oven and warm it up while you make the batter. Prepare the popover batter—1½ cups flour, 1½ cups whole milk, 3 eggs, and a pinch of salt will make 6 popovers. Mix the batter with a whisk. Don’t use an electric mixer. When the tin is hot, remove it from the oven, place a pad of butter in each cup, spray with non-stick cooking spray, and fill cups to within a half an inch of the rim of each cup. Cook at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, reduce to 350 degrees and cook another 15 minutes. They will look like this (photo, below) if you did it right. (Even if they don’t, they will be delicious.)
Deer on a Stick
The trick to making shish kabob is to cook the components separately—this is because they require different cooking times. I use the top or bottom round for this dish. You can use any vegetables, but I prefer onions, cute little sweet multi-colored peppers, baby bella mushrooms, and tomatoes. The meat and onions can go together, as can the mushrooms and peppers. The tomatoes must be cooked alone.
Cook the meat/onion skewers first, then the pepper/mushrooms, and finally, the tomatoes. All elements should have a slight char.
Serve over rice.
Venison sirloin works well for this dish. Slice into ¾-inch steaks and beat them with a hammer that has teeth. Coat the prepared steaks first in flour, then in egg, and finally in crushed saltines. Fry in oil until golden brown on both sides. Scrape up what’s left in the pan used to fry the meat, add butter and flour to make a roux. When the roux starts to turn brown, add milk to make a simple white gravy.
Serve with mashed potatoes and rough greens for the dinner version. Serve with hash browns and eggs for the breakfast version.
Corned Venison and Cabbage
Store-bought corned beef comes from the brisket of a cow. I make my own from the top or bottom round of a deer. Prepare a brine consisting of a half-gallon of water, ½ cup each of coarse salt and brown sugar, and a tablespoon or so of pickling spice. Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are needed to keep the meat red while it cures. This can be added in one of two ways. I use Prague Powder #1 or Insta Cure #2. These are mostly salt, but also contain a little sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. If you use one of these two products, add 1 teaspoon to the brine. Morton’s Tender Quick can also be used, but, in this case, substitute it for all the salt because it contains less sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite than Prague Powder or Insta Cure. Cook the brine gently until the salt and sugar are dissolved and let cool. Add the brine and meat to a one-gallon ziplock bag and refrigerate for a week or so. Once out of the brine, cook it by simmering in a covered pot for 2 hours. Serve with steamed cabbage. Or, make a Rueben.
Most people grind the shank meat into burger when they butcher an animal. Actually, if properly prepared, the shank is a very tasty cut. The shank is the ankle, found on each leg of a quadruped (photo, above).
Start the process by assembling chopped carrot, onion, and garlic. Season the shanks with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Cook the onions and carrots in a little olive oil in a Dutch oven until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about one minute more. Remove the cooked vegetables from the Dutch oven and set aside. Add a little more oil and brown the shanks. Remove shanks and set aside.
Brown carrots and parsnips in the Dutch oven, scraping up all the bits of goodness that have accumulated. Set it aside.
Return the shanks and chopped vegetables, but not the sliced carrots and parsnips, to the Dutch oven. Add a cup or so of red wine and bring to a boil. Then add venison stock until the Dutch oven is about half full. Add a bouquet garni composed of thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay leaves.
Cover and cook in the oven at 275 degrees until the meat is tender, but not quite done. It takes about 2½ hours. Check every hour or so and add stock if necessary to maintain depth.
Add the reserved sliced carrots and parsnips, increase temperature to 325 degrees, and cook for one more hour.
Remove shanks and sliced vegetables. Strain the liquid into a small saucepan and discard the solids. Reduce by half, spooning off the junk that rises to the top, add a little butter, and whisk until smooth. Serve with a simple risotto made with vegetable or chicken stock, the sliced vegetables, and the reduced sauce. Bon appétit!