How to Cook Venison: A Complete Guide
Did you know that when it comes to sustainable foods, venison is one of the healthiest choices in the world? Some people even think that eating venison is a great pleasure. Deer are not only a free-ranging consumer of nuts, berries, acorns, grasses, and healthy herbs that are exempt from things like harmful hormones and antibiotics, they are a source of meat that is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and B6 and lower in cholesterol and fat. The only question is why don’t we all know how to cook it?
Many people might know about the health benefits venison offers, but they don’t eat it because they think that it is tough and chewy and has a gamey, wild flavor. The thing is, if you prepare it like you would beef, that would be the case. However, by following a few tips regarding this meat, you might love it so much that you will never buy beef again. You won’t just enjoy its nutritional values, you might just crave the flavor of it and serve it right alongside all of your heirloom veggies in order to round out a sustainable meal. Here are a few tips that anyone preparing venison needs to know.
Preparation Starts in the Field
You need to have a plan for dressing the deer (taking out its intestines along with the other internal tissues that are inedible) as soon as you kill it in order to remove the chances of the meat being tainted. Ensure that you get to the processor’s place asap if you will be using one. A processor will more than likely have a walk in cooler that stays at the ideal temperature to age the meat of the deer. This temperature should be 34 – 37 F. with a humidity at 88%. If you won’t be using a processor and will have to wait more than a couple of hours before you can process the meat, you should quarter the animal and get in on ice as soon as possible.
When you are processing it, remember that you need to get as much of the silver skin, gristle, sinew, and anything else that you can’t eat out. Doing this will ensure that the meat will be as tender as it can be.
People might forget that one of the most important steps in creating tender, succulent venison is aging. If you will be using a processor, this is something that will be done for you. However, if you will process the deer yourself, you can do this either before or after you thaw the meat.
There are 2 different methods when it comes to aging deer meat. There is wet aging and dry aging.
If you are going to be dry aging, you might want to do this before freezing it. With this method, the meat will need to be kept in temperatures that range between 34 and 37 F. This will break down (denature) the meat. You can make your own apparatus for aging deer meat. Just get a plastic bin and then poke holes in the top and sides of it. Once this is done, put the butchered deer meat on a cooling rack that you have placed inside your bin. Every couple of days, you will need to empty the blood out of the bin and continue aging it for anywhere from 7 to 10 days. Some people even age it for as much as 2 weeks, but 10 days will be sufficient when it comes to breaking down all of the muscle fiber and connective tissue so that you will get a meal that is tasty.
When it comes to wet aging, this is typically done after the meat has thawed. This is typically the way that places like grocery stores age their meat. Once the meat has been vacuum sealed, no air can touch it. After the meat has been thawed, you can let it age while vacuum packed for as much as 2 weeks.
If you don’t age the meat adequately, and you need to use it quicker than what the aging process allows, put the meat (unpackaged) on a cooling rack right on your counter and let a fan blow on it for about a half hour. You might be amazed at how well it browns and at the tenderness of it.
Enhance the Flavor of Venison as Opposed to Masking It
Deer meat isn’t really gamey, it just has a flavor. See, deer have to forage for whatever they eat. Cows eat corn while deer eat the things described above. When it comes to the taste of cows versus the taste of foragers, the cows tend to be rather tasteless. At times, the simpler, or fewer seasonings you use, the better the taste will be, especially with regards to the most tender cuts of deer meat, like the backstrap or tenderloins. You can cut the backstrap into steaks and season them with salt and pepper. Then, just cook them with a bit of olive oil over high heat.
Don’t Overcook It
There are quite a few types of cuts and cooking methods for venison that leave the meat rare. The thing is, if you overcook deer meat, it will be akin to eating rubber. However, if you sear it and then let it rest for as much as 10 minutes before you slice it, it will be like you are eating butter. Beef cooks slower than venison, and when you cook deer meat rare, it should only get to about 130 F. If it reaches 150 F, it will start to get tough.
Braise at a Low Temperature
Braising is a type of cooking technique where you sear the main ingredient before searing it in a liquid in a pot on low heat. This is a method that is typically reserved for cuts of meat that tend to be tough. The connective tissue and tough fibers will break down into collagen, and then this will dissolve into gelatin. With time, the fibers will expel their moisture, which can leave the meat dry. Once you have dry meat, when you continue to cook it, those fibers will finally relax and start to absorb all of the gelatin and fat, which creates a meat that is full of flavor and quite tender.
Many people might use their slow cooker for this, but what they will get from it is meat that is tough and stringy. The best temperature for cooking slow and low needs to be between 131 and 149 F and most of the slow cookers on the market do not have that low of a temperature setting. The best option is to cook it in a Dutch oven that is on top of your stove and on a low simmer. If you have an oven that will maintain temps that low, you can put the Dutch oven in and then cook it for several hours.
If you are cooking it slow and low, if you allow it to cool before putting it in the fridge overnight, the meat will continue to relax, and it will make for an even better meal the next day.
Match the Cooking Method to the Cut
You need to make sure that you match the cut of the deer meat to the right method of cooking in order to bring out most of the flavor as well as to get results that are the most tender. Yes, some of the cuts will be naturally tender, such as the tenderloins and loins, but the rest of the cuts tend to be stringy and tough. Here are a few of the methods to cook various cuts of deer meat:
Loins and tenderloins should be served rare.
Neck, shanks, and shoulders should be braised on low and are best used in soups and stews.
Hindquarters are quite versatile. You can cut it into strips for use in sandwiches, burritos, fajitas, or salads; cut it into cubes for use in sauces, or tenderized and cut into steaks to be cooked like loins.
Other cuts of meat from the deer’s carcass like rib meat and flanks, you can grind and use for things like Bolognese sauce, spaghetti sauces, sausage, hamburgers, and anything else that calls for ground meat.
Using a brine, marinade, or a dry rub will tenderize the deer meat, which will allow you to cook those cuts that are tough as if they were tender cuts. Each of these methods will break down the meat while infusing it with flavor, creating a juicy tender result.
Dry rubs consist of nearly endless combinations of dry spices and herbs. If you are going to use this method, combine the herbs and spices before massaging them vigorously into the meat. Put the meat into a glass container before covering it and letting it sit in the fridge until the next day.
Tenderizers that are enzymatic are ones that have already been prepared. You can find them in most grocery stores. Typically, they will use pineapple, figs, or papaya to break down all of the amino acids that are in the meat. However, these rubs can take some of the flavors from the meat and if you leave them on too long, the meat can get mushy.
Marinades and brines are awesome for tenderizing deer meat. Brines consist of salt, water, and occasionally sugar. This method can reduce the strong flavor or gaminess of the meat. To do this, mix the ingredients of the brine before submerging the meat in it. Then refrigerate it for 24 hours before cooking.
Marinades can also be made at home or purchased in the grocery store. They will add flavor while denaturing the meat and the result is a meal that is both tasty and tender. To do this, either combine the ingredients in a bowl with the meat before covering it and refrigerating it overnight before cooking. You might also consider putting the meat and marinade in a Ziploc bag for an easy cleanup.
Kitchen Tools Matter
Kitchen tools can make preparing deer meat an enjoyable and wonderful experience or a nightmare. You need a knife that is very sharp. It needs to be able to hold the edge and not rust. You also need a honing steel.
Cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens are some of the most essential tools that you will need for cooking deer meat. Both of these can be found for prices that are incredibly reasonable. A cast iron skillet will heat the deer meat evenly and cause a gorgeous caramelization when you brown your meat. Dutch ovens hold heat well and are able to take very high temperatures in the oven. Both of these kitchen essentials are ones that are extraordinarily versatile, and you can use them to make anything from pies, breads, soups, stews, stuffed loin, and more.
There are a few more things that can round out your minimum kitchen needs in order to prepare and cook deer meat. They are twine, a mortar and pestle, and a meat mallet. When you are pounding deer meat, regardless of the cut, your meat mallet can tear the connective tissue and the fibers, which will immediately give you a meat that is incredibly tender. Once you have the meat tenderized, you can truss it, stuff it, or even fry it. You can also make a complete meal if you chop up some veggies and herbs and place them right on top of the pounded deer meat. Then, just truss it and brown it in your cast iron skillet before putting it in the oven to finish it off.
If this is your first experience with preparing deer meat, don’t let it intimidate you. It can be very simple, and the meat will make for lovely meals as long as you keep to the steps as outlined above.
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