Prize-Winning Chef Offers Venison Cooking Tips

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Missouri's reigning champion of wild-game cookery is happy to share his secrets for tender, juicy venison.

People who say they don't like the flavor of venison might reconsider if they tried Rodney Carr's corned venison and cabbage. The recipe won the St. Louis resident first place in the Missouri Conservation Agents Association's Wild Game, Fish and Nature Harvest Cook Off. He says the key to good venison dishes is slow cooking with plenty of mosture.

Carr's victory at this year's Missouri State Fair was not his first. His wild game culinary creations have taken top honors before. He says he inherited his love of hunting and fishing from his father, and his flair for cooking from his mother, who always found creative ways to cook the game her men folk brought home. His own cooking is highly experimental, which leads to some failures but lots of innovative successes, too. His recipe for corned venison is a case in point.

He starts with a large venison back strap, cut in half. This cut of meat lies on top and along each side of the deer's backbone. He has tried corning roasts and other venison cuts, but nothing works quite as well as back strap.

He soaks the meat overnight in brine made with Morton Tender Quick, a home meat cure, using package directions. After the first 24-hour soak, he drains and replaces the brine. He repeats this every day until the brine remains clear. Total brining time is five to seven days.

"I watch the meat real carefully, turning it every day," said Carr. "The brine shouldn't be too salty."

After rinsing the meat, he places it in a deep pot, adds six large carrots, four small red potatoes and four medium onions, all cut into large chunks. Seasoning consists of two or three sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, a large sprig of thyme and a teaspoon of dry English mustard. He adds enough water to cover all these ingredients and slowly (this is important) brings the water to a boil, then simmers for two hours.

Next, he cuts a large head of cabbage into quarters or eighths and arranges the pieces around the meat and other vegetables. After another one to two hours of simmering, both the meat and the cabbage should be so tender they seem to be melting.

Carr slices the corned venison lengthwise into 1/8-inch strips before placing it on a platter surrounded by vegetables and topped with the pot juices. He mixes a little dry mustard with water in a bowl and puts it on the table for seasoning.

Carr isn't hung up on shooting big bucks. "The younger the deer, the better the meat," he said. "Venison from young deer is a lot like veal." He said young deer are good for filet mignon and kabobs. His wife, also a past winner of the wild-game cook-off, turned one of the deer he shot this year into a terrific meatloaf.

Carr is sold on the health benefits of eating venison. "My wife and I are very calorie-conscious. Venison is very good for you, because it is much leaner than beef or chicken."

Meat from older deer can be tough if cooked too hot or too fast. Carr likes to put venison roasts in a crock-pot with water, lots of vegetables and a packet of dry onion soup mix and let it cook overnight on low heat. The combination of moisture and low heat keep the meat juicy and tender.

Another good choice for less-tender venison is chili. Carr said slow, moist cooking helps tenderize the meat, and the robust flavors improve the flavor of meat from mature bucks, which can be gamey. The following recipe works well with venison cuts normally reserved for burger, sausage or stew meat.

MEAT-LOVER'S STEW Fry one pound of thick-sliced bacon in a large Dutch oven until crisp. Set aside the bacon to drain and pour the grease into a separate container. Cut four pounds of venison into half-inch cubes. Brown the meat in four batches in the Dutch oven, using a little bacon grease with each batch. Set the browned meat aside.

Add another tablespoon of grease to the Dutch oven and cook a large, diced onion and three diced cloves of garlic until tender. Return the venison to the pot and add the following:

The cooked bacon, crumbled

1 cup green pepper strips or canned nopalitos-cactus pieces, drained

12 Serrano peppers, seeded or chopped

2 ten-ounce cans of Mexican green tomatoes or 3 cups of diced tomatillos

1 six-ounce can tomato paste

3 cups beef stock

1 and ½ tsp. ground coriander

5 tsp. crushed cumin seeds or ground cumin

1 and ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

Simmer for 2.5 hours, adding liquid as needed and stirring to prevent scorching. Serve with cornbread.