Missouri Offers Tasty Venison Recipes

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Not to impugn hunters' creativity, but the treatment that venison usually receives in the kitchen does not show much creativity. If you removed jerky, summer sausage, chili and pot roast from the menu, not much would be left on most sportsmen's tables. It doesn't have to be that way. Deer meat can be as versatile as a cook is creative.

Admittedly, venison imposes certain constraints on those trying to think outside the crock pot. Unlike most domestic animals, deer do not store fat throughout their muscle tissue. Instead, it is found in the body cavity and under the skin. That is just as well, since deer fat is solid at room temperature, and it feels waxy on the tongue - not a pleasant sensation. Smart cooks trim off all the fat they can.

Venison’s lack of fat is great for a heart-healthy diet. The downside is that overcooking can make even high-quality venison dry and tough. One way to avoid this is to cook steaks, roasts and other whole cuts no more than absolutely necessary. Venison loins (found against the backbone inside the body cavity) and back straps (the cuts of meat just under the hide along each side of the spine) can be as succulent as beef prime rib if cooked rare.

Roasting can ruin venison if overdone. To avoid this, sear the outside of roasts first, and cook them quickly in an extremely hot oven. Coating with a crust made of ground nut meats, bread crumbs and olive oil with seasoning also helps keep moisture in the meat. Or create a pulp with chopped fresh garlic, olive oil and kosher salt and pack it around a loin or back strap before roasting.

Another venison challenge is gamey taste. This comes in two varieties. One is preventable. The other is fixable.

Some people develop a dislike for venison based on bad experiences with spoiled meat. Nothing can salvage venison that has been tainted with stomach contents or that has spoiled because it was not chilled promptly and kept cool. Proper field care is beyond the scope of this article, but you can learn more at mdc.mo.gov/hunt/deer/deer_hunting/dress.htm.

Even if you take good care of your venison, the meat of older bucks can have a strong taste. This is partly due to hormonal changes during the rut and partly due to the stress of the rutting marathon. A huge, five-year-old buck with enormous antlers taken in December will never be as good on the table as a fat young doe. However, treatment with marinades using vinegar or wine can diminish gamey favor, and highly seasoned recipes, such as Swiss steak, can make it much less noticeable.

One excellent use for tough, gamey venison is turning it into sausage. Commercial processors offer this service for a fee, or you can do it yourself.

A common sausage recipe begins with equal parts of venison and Boston butt pork roast. Each type of meat is ground separately, then mixed by hand in a large container with seasonings and ground a second time. An electric kitchen grinder will do the job if you use the coarse screen.

This base can become breakfast, Polish, chorizo or Italian sausage, bratwurst or anything your imagination concocts, depending on seasoning. Hundreds of recipes are available in wild-game cookbooks or online.

An example is this recipe for hot Italian sausage. 2 pounds fresh venison 3 ½ teaspoons minced fresh garlic 2 pounds Boston butt pork roast 4 ½ teaspoons salt 7 teaspoons fennel seed 1 ¼ teaspoons cayenne pepper 3 ¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes 7 teaspoons ground black pepper ¼ cup dry red wine

Grind venison and pork together, using coarse screen. Mix dry ingredients together, and then combine with meat. Add wine and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then stuff into casings, or package and freeze.

This sausage is excellent in any Italian recipe. For example, you can sauté a pound of bite-sized sausage pieces in ¾ cup of olive oil until golden brown. Add one large sliced onion and one each large red, yellow and green bell pepper, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender-firm. Add salt and red pepper flakes to taste and serve over small penne pasta with grated parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese.

Instead of discarding deer livers, consider the following recipe for venison pate. Slice the liver into 1-inch slabs and cook it on a smoker or covered barbecue grill with plenty of wood chips for smoke. Cube the smoked liver and run it through a meat grinder’s coarse screen. Mix the ground liver with enough prepared mustard - plain yellow or Dijon - to make a paste. Regrind the mixture using a fine screen. Spread it on crackers or toasted sourdough bread slices.