This PAGE Last Updated On: Thursday, January 27, 2000
This SITE Last Updated On: Friday, January 28, 2000
Proper field dressing of your deer results in superior quality food.
Deer, or venison as it is called in culinary circles, is easy to cook. Overcooking is the biggest problem with venison, because it has much lower fat content than beef or pork. With a little care, however, you can have a great venison steak or chop.
Because venison has relatively little fat and in the United States is typically not aged, it can be tougher than beef even when cooked properly. The aging process is actually a controlled rotting, which allows the tough fibers in the tissue to break down a little. (The beef you eat has been aged, unless it is "kosher" which prohibits any aging. This is why kosher meat can be much tougher.)
Europeans typically age their deer for 12 to 22 days, according to the weather. The amount of aging requires a practiced eye, and overaging was apparantly quite common in olden times, given the number of recipes attemping to mask the taste of spoiled venison.
An alternative to aging is marinating, which is nothing more complicated than soaking the venison in a wine or wine and vinegar solution, along with some spices. This helps to break down the tough connective tissue and give the deer additional flavor. Many people, of course, like the taste of deer as it is.
Venison has relatively little fat, causing it to dry out easily during cooking and to be tougher. (Think of the difference in consistency between a pot roast made from a lean cut like rump roast and one made from a fattier one like chuck.) This is an easy problem to deal with. Some cooks use larding which involves threading some pork fat through the venison, but this tends to defeat the low-fat, low-calorie benefits of venison. Others coat the surface of venison steaks with butter, which helps to protect against moisture loss as well as to give the meat a nicely flavored outside.
Vension has been cooked in a variety of ways, ranging from grilling on hot stones over twenty thousand years ago, to wrapping in pastry dough and baking, to stewing, to sauteeing, and to charcoal or gas grilling. The most popular way to cook venison today is either roasting or charcoal or gas grilling. There are, of course, many ways to prepare venison.
Venison has been consumed for tens of thousands of years and has been prepared in a variety of ways. No matter how it is prepared, venison has always been considered to be an excellent food.
The Pilgrims would not have been served turkey at any celebration, as the Lenni Lenape -- the tribe living in the New England area -- considered turkey to be a second rate food. They would have served venison. Venison was not a dish exclusive to the new world, however. It has been eaten in Europe for tens of thousands of years.
The famous diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 6 January 1660 that "[dinner] was good, only the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome.". (In other words, the premium meat of venison had been replaced with an old cow which no longer gave milk, since this was the usual source for beef, and was not very tasty.) A pasty is venison doused in pepper or ginger wrapped in pastry and baked. It was very popular in England from medieval times until the 1800s.
The technique involved making a stiff pie shell or coffyn using a mixture of flour, suet, and boiling water. These shells were baked empty, or "blind". After baking, the greyish pastry was brushed with egg yolk to give it a golden color. When it came time to cook something, the shell was then filled with a mixture of meat and spices and then baked.
This technique is also known as "huff paste", and was a common way to prepare fowls. The entire bird would be wrapped in pastry and baked. This tended to steam the bird so that it would not dry out during cooking.
In his 1615 book The English Hus-wife, Gervase Markhan wrote that pastys should be prepared using a coarse rye flour crust as they were expected to be stored for some time before they were used.
The tough pastry shell was intended to be used as a container, and was generally eaten only by the servants after the meal had concluded. Some guests did, however, eat the shell as it became soaked with the meat juices liberated during cooking and became tasty, although it was still quite tough.
Pastry that was intended to be eaten along with its contents used a fine wheat flour, made with butter and hot water. Meat broth was sometimes substituted for hot water. Wheat pastry was still hard, but much more appetizing than rye pastry. Fine pastry, like that made today, used a high grade wheat flour, butter, eggs, and cold water and was soft and flaky. Saffron and sugar were used for sweet pastrys.
Marinate a six pound haunch of venison, after deboning, overnight. Turn the venison several times during this process, if possible. Place in a roasting pan on top of a rack (to ensure air flow around the meat) and cover with either six strips of fatback bacon or with thin shavings of butter. (Because venison lacks fat of its own it will dry out without the added fat, and the surface will not have that delicious roasted meat taste.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the over is hot, put in the venison and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Cook for fifteen to eighteen minutes per pound, with a little less cooking if your like your meat rarer and a little more cooking if you like it more well done. (But well done will be tough.) Generally speaking, an internal temperature of 120 to 130 degrees indicates rare while one of 130-140 indicates medium rare.
If you want to have an excellent sauce, do not discard the marinade, but instead cook it down.
There are two ways to cook steaks on your stove. The easiest is to saute venison steaks in a hot frying pan with a thin layer of oil or fat, such as butter or lard. A few pats of butter or tablespoons of oil will suffice. (Any remaining fat can easily be removed by patting the steaks dry with a paper towel after cooking.) The other is to use a teflon pan with a very little butter or oil. Some fat must be used or the venison will not cook properly.
A marinade is a fancy name for a solution which tenderizes and flavors meat. Marinades are commonly made using a combination of red wine and vinegar, but can be made with white wine or no wine at all. The vinegar is usually a sweeter vinegar, like red wine, apple, or balsamic.
The marinade remaining after the meat has been removed can be cooked down into an excellent sauce, so it serves a dual purpose. Note that if you intend to use the marinade as a sauce it must be cooked, and we cannot stress that strongly enough, as it has been in contact with raw meat.
A wine-based marinade without vinegar can be easily made by combining:
This will make enough marinade for up to six pounds of venison. To make less venison than this, reduce the marinade recipe proportionally.
A marinade that combines wine and vinegar:
This will make enough marinade for approximately two pounds of venison. To make less or more venison, adjust the recipe proportionally.
A marinade can be cooked down into an excellent sauce. While most cookbooks will tell you to spend several hours cooking down roasted bones and vegetables, there is a simpler, and quite tasty, solution.
Take the marinade and place it in a sauce pan. Cook it down for a few minutes on medium meat, then combine with two cans of Franco-American onion gravy, and 1/4 cup of tomato purée. (What can we say, other than at AMB Deer Processing we have far better things to do than spend all day making sauces from scratch, so we cheat a little.) Cook the sauce down over a medium flame, stirring constantly, for about half an hour or so until it has a consistency you like. The longer you cook it down, the less water it will have, and the thicker the sauce will be.
Add some dried fruit -- apricots, currents, pears, etc. -- to the sauce after you have cooked it down, but about fifteen minutes before you serve it. (You can use only one type of fruit or mix two or three of them.) Soaking the dried fruit allows it to rehydrate and become soft again. If you add the fruit while you are cooking down the sauce you can boil the flavor out of the fruit. (Great sauce, but less flavorful fruit.) You can leave the fruit whole or coarsely chop it. This is largely a matter of individual preference.
You can also make an excellent l'orange sauce by adding some orange sections. Section an orange, removing all of the connective tissue leaving only the orange pulp, and add the pulp to the sauce. Since oranges contain a fair bit of water, you will have to cook the sauce down a little more. You can also add some orange juice if you do not have an orange handy.
Depending upon your tastes, you can add more black pepper, typically 1 to 2 teaspoons, to make an excellent au poivre sauce. (We at AMB Deer Processing are fond of garlic and black pepper, and add lots of it.)
Venison is like other game, duck, and lamb, in that it benefits from fruit accompanyments, such as berries or reconstituted dried fruits like apricots, as well as jellies.