By Aaron Farley
I have a friend who loves to hunt. He kills a couple deer every year. He works hard to bring home quality, free-range, organic meat. His family won’t eat it. I mean they won’t touch it. He can bread it, fry it, hide it, and disguise it – nothing.
Some of my family shares this resistance to eating wild game, especially venison. They usually blame the taste. I tend to think it’s because they can’t stand the idea of eating Bambi, or because they worry about the “safety” of wild game meat. Whatever the case, flavor gets the blame. And while I want to blame them for being closed minded and naive, they’re right.
Along the way, they’ve probably had some wild game that was “gamey”. When I hear that term, it solicits a reaction in my soul similar to what happens when you hear fingernails on a chalkboard. Once I get over having my feelings, I have to remind myself that they likely come by this distrust of game meat honestly. Someone hasn’t properly cared for a deer in the field, cooked it to a crisp for fear of bacteria, and served it to these folks. Now here I am to pick up the pieces.
Does someone in your family refuse to eat game meat? Do you have a new girlfriend or wife this hunting season? Are there some friends of yours who keep asking if they can try some deer and you feel the pressure to perform?
Maybe you’re like me and plan on sharing the wild game you harvest with loved ones. Here are some ideas on ways to introduce (or re-introduce) family and friends to the bounty we enjoy as hunters. A friend of mine actually slipped a couple of these into his normal dinner menu without telling his wife. She ate the deer regularly for a month before he told her what she’d thought was beef was actually venison. While I don’t necessarily recommend that tactic, I hope these will help in one form or another.
Here are some ideas for introducing skeptical eaters to their first (or second-first) venison meal:
1. MIX THE MEAT – One of the simplest ways to help reduce the gamey flavor of venison is to mix it with other meats.
Burgers. Venison is too lean to make proper hamburgers. We usually add in the necessary fat by mixing either bacon, beef fat, or fatty ground beef in with our venison. If you have these fatty ingredients available when you’re grinding your venison, it makes it very easy to add in. When using bacon, we typically follow a 5:1 ratio of ground venison to bacon. For beef fat, we sometimes go as high as 8:1. Beef fat can be hard to find, and sometimes you’ll have to go to a butcher to get it. Another option is to use fatty ground beef (80/20) mixed with the ground venison at about a 3:1 ratio.
Sausages. Making breakfast and hot sausage is as easy as adding a spice mix and pork fat in with your grind. Venison breakfast sausage is probably the easiest way to totally mask the taste of venison. It keeps well, and is hard to distinguish between the store-bought stuff. One of my favorites is venison summer sausage. I’ve never made any myself, but supplying my local butcher with 10 pounds of meat and a little cash yields some of the best tasting smoked meat sticks you’ve ever tried. Ask your local butcher/processor for summer sausage the next time you’re there and give it a try.
2. SAUCE THE MEAT – Venison has a reputation for being dry and tough meat. Yes it’s lean, but it doesn’t have to be dry or tough. Not over cooking venison is key to tenderness. If you are still not the culinary wiz you hope to be one day, sauces can hide a lack of perfection when cooking venison.
Spaghetti. I would venture to say that more deer meat has been consumed as spaghetti than any other form. It’s quick, easy, and the thick sauce hides any imperfection in the meat. If you’re looking to please picky kids or family, spaghetti may be a great place to start.
Steak & Gravy. My kids love this meal. We cube thin steaks, bread them, pan fry, and top with gravy. The grease from frying and the gravy on top will account for any dryness in the meat. The cubing and frying should help overcome any toughness to the lean meat. When my friend, mentioned above, does convince his family to eat venison with him, it’s usually fried steak and gravy.
3. SLOW COOK – A crock pot or a cast iron roasting pot in the stove, can make tender, juicy venison meals for the family. Slow cooking involves a little more preparation, but allows the cook to enhance the flavor of the venison without masking it.
Pot Roast. Easily my favorite venison meal. We use the “Perfect Pot Roast” recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Substitute venison for the beef, and do everything else the same. It will knock the socks off any pessimist – guaranteed.
Chilli & Stew. It’s hard to beat a big bowl of steaming deer chili with a huge hunk of cornbread on a cool fall evening. Substituting ground venison for ground beef in chili recipes usually will produce great results. We use our venison in stew recipes as well. Remember to cut some of your “grind meat” into chunks instead if you’re planning on going this route. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself sacrificing good roasts and steaks to a stew – which should be illegal.
4. BACON – There’s an ancient saying that still holds true today, “When in doubt, add bacon.” One of the greatest weapons in making new converts to venison can be the old standby – bacon.
Poppers. There isn’t much that doesn’t taste great when wrapped in a Jalapeño, cream cheese, and bacon. We make these little “poppers” as appetizers with small chunks of venison. Throw a dozen on the grill and serve with your next meal. Folks can’t resist the crispy bacon wrap. You could probably tell them it was road kill in there and they’d try it anyway. After all, it’s wrapped in bacon.
Wraps. Wrapping any meat in bacon will help to transfer some of the fatty content into the meat. Venison bites, steaks, or burgers can all become explosively delicious when topped or wrapped in bacon. Having trouble with dry deer meat? Wrap it in bacon, don’t over-cook, and repeat. It works every time.
5. RESOURCES – One of the best things we ever did for our cooking of wild game was to recruit some good resources. Simple Google searches will yield more options than you can ever use. Here are a couple of our favorites.
Honest-Food – Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has some great recipes and cooking tips on his website. He is a wealth of information, and really delves into the process. I’ve learned a lot from his site and always take away way more than just a recipe from his posts.
Love Of The Hunt – Brad Lockwood of Love of the Hunt TV has a great website that includes tons of videos with tips and recipes for wild game. We’ve taken some great ideas from his videos and always seem to pick up a tip or two when we watch his videos.
Well there you have our simple tips for improving the odds that those skeptical friends and family will try venison.
What did we leave out? Do you have any simple tips and tricks to help introduce new converts to wild game as table fare? Please, share in the comments section below.
– Aaron Farley, RusticMan.com