By Aaron Farley
I did not grow up eating wild game. Although I had tried a bite or two over the years, there wasn’t a lasting impression in my mind of a particular taste or texture. What I did remember was the way family and friends would speak of venison being very “gamey” and usually in a downward tone. As I started to take up hunting in my early twenties, this began to brew into a real internal conflict.
In hunting, I had finally found something that I was passionate about and connected with on a soul level. It was right, it was natural. Embracing the fact that I was a predator, and a decent one at that, actually helped me through a low point in my life. So how could something I loved as much as hunting be reconciled with the idea that the results of my efforts would never be enjoyable (or so they said). Was I destined to pursue game, and then choke down dry and gamey meals just to do what was right and not waste the meat? Was the sauce and cheese covered version of ground venison as good as it would get for the next 40+ seasons I planned to hunt? Thankfully not!
As many of you know, the quality of the meat we get from deer is too good to waste. Imagine going to the butcher at the local market, buying the top grade organic, free range, all-natural, additive-free meat available and then taking it home and grinding it into spaghetti meat. That would be crazy wouldn’t it? Yet, that is not much different than how many of us handle the prime meat we bring home from the woods.
What I found after wasting a year’s worth of harvest in the grinder, was that venison is a very versatile and tasty table fare. True, the fears I had of gamey meat did prove warranted at times (I think we’ve all experienced a dud of a venison meal once in awhile). While deer can be mistreated and gamey, it can also be prepared in excellence. Eventually, I went from being scared to take that first bite for fear of rancid flavors on my taste buds, to getting excited when I found out we were having roasted deer for dinner.
With a freezer full of deer meat, a family can get sick of tacos, spaghetti, burgers and chili 21 nights a month. It was only a matter of time until we began to experiment and try new tastes and flavors with our venison. Here in Georgia, I am fortunate to kill enough deer that we eat on the meat well into the summer months. To fight off the monotony, we started to experiment and try new recipes.
Considering the time, resources, money, effort, and determination we put into harvesting these animals, it seems fitting to put a fair amount of ourselves into what we do with the meat we take away from the hunt. Some recipes we tried were for other meats and we simply substituted venison. Other recipes were specifically from venison cookbooks, while others were suggestions from friends. After a season’s worth of cooking, we felt like we had a pretty good grasp on how to treat the meat I worked so hard to bring home to the freezer.
Here are a few tips we found that helped us in exploring options with our venison:
Bigger is better. If you can cook the muscle groups in larger sections, it seems to be more tender.
Add fat. Venison is a very lean meat, and if you don’t add some kind of fat it can get tough and dry fast. We use bacon, pork, and caul fat often. If you are leery of fat, oils can help as well.
Sear. If we are cooking venison, we usually sear the cut – even if it’s going into the oven or crockpot. That sear will help seal up the moisture in the meat and fight off some of the tendency towards dryness.
Slow is Softer. The slow cooker has a way of breaking down deer meat into tender pieces that even a discerning pallet would mistake for beef.
If you have grown weary of the same 4-5 meals from your deer meat, perhaps these ideas will lead you to a new recipe. Keep trying new ideas, and as one fails – mark it off the list and move on. As you continue, you will come to find you soon have 10-15 go to meals that you will not hesitate to serve to a first timer to help dispel the “gamey” stigma once and for all.
Here is a quick read on the way we usually prepare our roasts – it is my absolute favorite meal, enjoy!