Every now and again, it seems appropriate to list a few of the more important guidelines to give your antlered game the best chance of getting rave reviews at the dinner table.
Let’s face it, we’ve all had some pretty funky venison. Hopefully, any unpalatable dishes you prepared in the past resulted in a learning experience. Sometimes we gain as much knowledge by making mistakes as we do by our successes, a concept I’ve reminded my 20-year old son about for years. In my formative years as a wild game cooker, I had some remarkable culinary failures.
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The one that always comes to mind is my Goose Loaf. I had a vision of a terrine-like loaf of pounded goose breast medallions sandwiched between layers of colorful roasted peppers, cheese and fresh basil. When it came time for the big finish, I upended the loaf pan to reveal a bloody pile of nothing you’d want to eat. No layers, nothing worthy of a photo, just a big mess.
Knowing what I know now, it hurts a little when people insist that wild game tastes awful. Some folks won’t even consider the smallest nibble of a perfectly cooked deer meat. Many have never even tried venison. They’ve just heard that it tastes nasty. Others recall childhood memories of overcooked, gamey deer meat that they were forced to eat if they wanted to dessert. Considering some of the inedible deer that has been served to me over the years, I think I’d rather pass on dessert as long as I don’t have to eat the main course. I’ve actually had people ask me what I do with my venison after I boil it. Yes, boil it. Wait…you don’t boil your venison, right?
Here’s a list of things that, in my opinion, you should keep in mind long before you put antlered game to the flame. I’ve included additional information from a few notable pros on the subject:
- It starts in the field. You’ve heard it a zillion times. Get your animals field dressed, cooled and transported to some place cold as quickly as possible. Rather than drive your deer around on a 60-degree day to show your friends, take a few photos, post them online somewhere and get down to processing. The rational part of your mind has to understand that it’s a bad idea to drive meat around on a warm day.
- Aging is important. You may not think so, but that’s probably because you grind most of the meat or cook the snot out of it in a slow-cooker. Proper aging will make for a more tender hunk of deer meat once cooked. I recently had a conversation with a friend who let me know that he had done everything he’s seen me do with a venison backstrap many times, but his was really tough. I asked when he shot the deer. His response, “Yesterday afternoon.” Problem solved. My deer hand for a week or more before I break them into parts. Here’s a quick chemistry lesson.
The Great Debate: Aging Venison. https://www.realtree.com/brow-tines-and-backstrap/the-great-debate-aging-venison
- If your antlered game has not been properly aged prior to packaging for the freezer, it’s not too late. And not just large roasts. David Draper describes how to dry-age a deer steak in your refrigerator to make it more tender and delicious.
How to Dry-Age a Venison Steak in Your Fridge. https://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/the-wild-chef/how-to-dry-age-a-venison-steak-in-your-fridge
- Don’t Overcook It. My mantra for decades. Look, I know that some people were raised on nothing but well-done meat and they just can’t stomach (literally) the thought of eating a lesser-cooked steak. One of my most rewarding victories involves getting people to give a medium-rare sliver of venison a taste. I’ll usually cover it up with a dark sauce so that the crimson color isn’t apparent. Almost without exception (some people are just really stubborn) they will marvel at its tenderness and want to know what kind of magic I used to turn otherwise tough and chewy venison into something so delicious.
- Will Brantley summarizes why he thinks nobody likes the deer you cook. 12 Reasons Why Your Venison Tastes Like Hell. https://www.realtree.com/deer-hunting/articles/12-reasons-why-your-venison-tastes-like-hell
VIDEO. While shooting an upcoming episode of The Sporting Chef show, I got off on a bit of a rant about what processors, both professional and amateur, do to make a mess of antlered game backstraps.