Deer hunting, in one form or another, has been interwoven in South Carolina’s human history dating back to when Native Americans used all parts of the animal, edible and otherwise, as an integral part of their lifestyle.
In the early Colonial era, deer hides were among the Colony’s leading exports, with hundreds of thousands being shipped to Europe annually. Similarly, venison was a dietary staple on the Palmetto frontier. Today, hunters welcome the opening of deer season with unbridled enthusiasm, and savvy ones do so at least as much in anticipation of scrumptious feasts as for the joys of the quest.
Venison, after all, means a great deal to gurus of cooking game, barons of backyard grills, and lovers of fine food. Most of all, celebration of the cardinal sporting ethic, which dictates “eat what you kill,” requires its use. Fortunately, this food is healthy, devoid of the growth supplements and antibiotics present in domestic meats, versatile when it comes to preparation, and wonderfully tasty. This article offers some suggestions and recipes for sampling and savoring venison on the table.
Delicious venison begins with proper dressing of the animal followed by careful processing, sensible aging, full awareness of how you plan to use the meat, and, of course, the culinary respect the meat so richly deserves. If you enjoy organ meats, keep in mind that the heart and liver of deer are greatly preferable to the same cuts from domestic beef. Carrying along a heavy-duty plastic bag to hold those portions of an animal when it is field dressed makes things simple, and with organ meats the aging process is not a factor.
The ideal situation is one in which you can age, butcher, package, and freeze your own venison. That guarantees getting exactly what you want whether in the forms of steaks, cubed steaks, burger, sausage, roasts, or something else. You also know it is clean, comes from deer you took, and is properly packaged before going into a freezer. Most of us do not have this option, but fortunately plenty of reliable processors are available. The major shortcoming with most of them is that if they are busy the meat seldom gets an ideal period of aging (seven to 10 days at temperatures within a degree or two of 38 degrees F). On the other hand, many can prepare all sorts of fancy types of sausage, meat and cheese blends, and other offerings not readily available to the home processor.
Over time you will learn what cuts or methods of preparation you prefer or that fit your needs. For example, ground venison is so versatile that the only limitations are the boundaries of your culinary imagination, while the delights of backstraps and tenderloins are something better experienced in person than described in print. About all this devotee to venison can offer is favorite recipes; an admonition to remember that with finer cuts, overcooking is a cardinal sin; and the tip that the word “gamey” never enters the equation if you process properly and understand use of marinades, gravies, spices, searing, and the like.
Venison isn’t beef and equating the two is an error. They are different, and as someone who seldom goes two days without dining on venison in some form, I’ll take free-range, clean, healthy meat that has never seen a corral or a grocery counter every time.
Backstrap in Blueberries
4 venison loin steaks
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chicken broth
Juice and zest of one fresh lemon, about 2 tablespoons
4 tablespoons butter, separated
1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
2 or 3 generous dashes ground cinnamon
A few dashes ground ginger
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet and cook venison loin steaks to medium-rare doneness. Turn once to brown on each side. Place on a platter and keep warm. Deglaze skillet with lemon juice and chicken broth. Cook over high heat until reduced to a half cup. Lower heat to medium and add 4 tablespoons butter, whisking in a tablespoon at a time. Add blueberries and spices, stirring just enough to mix into sauce. Pour the blueberry sauce over the steaks and serve immediately.
Loin Steak with Crab and Shrimp Sauce
1 pound loin steaks, cut ½ inch thick
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet and cook steaks quickly until medium rare. Place on a platter and keep warm. It is best to wait to cook the loin steak until the seafood sauce begins to thicken.
Crab and Shrimp Sauce
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cups whipping cream
¼ cup white zinfandel wine
¼ cup butter, cut into 12 pieces
½ pound crabmeat or surimi crabmeat
12 medium shrimp, cooked and shelled
Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add mushrooms. Saute 5 minutes. Add cream and wine and reduce until thickened (10 to 12 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Stir in butter a piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding the next. Add crabmeat and shrimp and heat through (about 1 minute). Pour over venison steaks and serve immediately.
Place a carefully cleaned venison roast, ideally one aged for 7 to 10 days, in a roasting pan of the type and size used to bake turkeys. Pour enough water around the roast to fill the pan to a level of ½- to ¾-inch. Melt a stick of butter in a skillet and add 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves and stir them into the butter. Pour this over the roast. Season with a sprinkling of salt, black pepper, oregano, and if you like a bit of heat, a dried cayenne pepper or two crumbled atop the deer ham. Drizzle a bit of canned syrup, molasses, or honey over the ham along with a good splash of apple cider or a smaller amount of apple vinegar. Place several slices of bacon atop the roast, using enough to pretty much cover it.
Put the pan’s lid in place and slow bake at 225 F for 8 or 9 hours. Check once or twice to be sure there is plenty of moisture in the pan’s bottom. Slice and then baste with liquid from the roasting pan (a turkey baster is ideal for this although you can do it with a large spoon). It’s ready to serve, and if you aren’t already famished from the aromas that have been wafting through the air for hours, then it’s quite possible your sensory glands are out of whack.
Crockpot Venison Cubed Steak
1 large or 2 small venison cubed steaks per person (this recipe serves 4)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 soup can of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Use a meat hammer to pound cubed steak thoroughly. Dredge each piece in flour and brown each side quickly in a preheated skillet containing the olive oil. Place browned steaks in a crockpot containing 1 can of cream of mushroom soup that has been mixed with water. Set crockpot on medium and cook 4 to 6 hours. Check occasionally and add water if needed. If desired, you can during the final portion of the cooking add rice and water and allow the rice to cook until fluffy and ready to eat. Likewise, the crockpot preparation can be turned into a stew through the addition of sliced potatoes, chunks of carrots, and green peas (do not add the peas until close to the end of the cooking process).