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Thursday, Nov. 3, 1988

Don't like venison?
Right preparation may be key to liking it

By C. Mark Sakry
For The News-Tribune

eople object to eating venison for a few common reasons.   Ethics is one; squeamishness about eating wild game is another.  And then, some people simply don't care for the flavor of deer meat, particularly its characteristic "gaminess" or wild flavor.
    You could argue forever over the first two objections, but the latter is one that can actually be reckoned with.  There's no reason venison cannot be made to taste agreeable to anyone who eats pork or beef.
    Not to suggest that venison can be made to taste like any other meat, nor that it should be.  Venison has wonderful virtues all its own, once the gaminess is taken care of.  In fact, venison can be made to taste not only agreeable but downright fabulous.
    Preparation is the secret.  It's a process that starts in the field.

The Deer You Eat
   Like pork and beef, the flavor of venison depends largely on what the animal has been eating.   Most hunters believe that corn-fed deer taste better than any others.  Some will argue that acorn-fed deer are the best.  But they all seem to agree that northern deer of coniferous forest are the most gamy flavored.  So the preparation of your meat actually starts with where you hunt it.
    Many bunters favor woodland fringes along corn and bean fields.   If you can find neither corn field nor acorn (oak) woods, consider an area with lots of hazelnuts, the northern counterpart to acorns.  These shrubs are also found along forest fringes.
    For tender meat, a younger animal of either sex is preferable.   And flavor is usually mildest in younger deer.

Field Preparation
   Field dressing your game is the next important step in the preparation process.  There are many variations on the same basic method, but be sure to avoid breaking or cutting into any organs.  Bile and urine, in my opinion, are of greater concern than sex hormones for tainting the flavor of meat.  Dressing game should be done as soon as possible.   The inner carcass should then be carefully rinsed with water and allowed to dry.   Many hunters use saltwater to ward off insects and to parch the flesh.
    Once properly field dressed, keep the carcass cool.  Temperature plays an important role in the overall quality of your meat.  Try to keep the carcass below 50 degrees at all times prior to butchering.

Dealing with "gaminess"
   At this point, you can feel reasonably sure that you've done the best you can to avoid having meat with a gamy flavor.  Still, after using all the care and precautions you can muster to bring a good animal home, you may find its flavor somewhat strong.  (Who can resist sampling a bit of tenderloin?)  So what do you do about it?
    There are three ways to deal with gaminess.  Get used to it
which most people, understandably, would rather not have to do.  Cover it upoh, how much good venison goes to making spicy sausage every year!  Or, get rid of it by trying to get to the true noble flavor of the meat.
    If you can't get used to gaminess, and you're sick to death of eating sausage all year long, try "curing" the meat of the horrible affliction.
    This is an art of infinite variety.  I have heard of concoctions made from saltwater, vinegar, wine and milk in which roasts and cutlets may be soaked prior to cooking.  But I have yet to find one that really does a good job at it.   These are all essentially marinades, which do more to hide gaminess than to get rid of it (though there are some great venison marinades to consider using
my favorite is included with the recipes that follow).
    I suggest you throw away your home remedies and try a sure-fire method I've been using successfully for years:  age your meat.

Aging the venison
   Aging or "seasoning" game is a centuries-old practice.  It consists, quite simply, of hanging meat for an extended period in a cool, dry place to let it cure.  This effectively tenderizes it.
    Experts suggest 10 to 14 days is ample time to age meat.  The temperature must remain around 40 degrees and never be allowed above 50 degrees, so spoilage bacteria remain dormant.
    Needless to say, the process is best performed in the controlled environment of a butcher's meat cooler.

Venison virtues
   Your butcher can provide cuts of meats in any form you like.  You can specify cuts similar to pork, beef or lamb.  And you can substitute venison respectively for some of your favorite recipes.  But don't slight the virtues of venisonexperiment with it.  Once the "wild" taste is tamed, venison truly holds its own for culinary use.
    Seasoning combinations of thyme, marjoram and garlic are marvelous.   And for barbecues, I have found no better way to bring out the exquisite flavor of venison than with apple-wood smoke.
    A final tip:  Unlike pork and beef, where fat is a desirable flavor enhancer, venison fat promotes gaminess.  Fat does not "cure" like meat does, and bathing a carefully prepared and aged cut of meat in it will quickly undo your labor.  Trim your venison cuts of fat before you cook them.  Then enjoy
perhaps for the very first timethe real virtues of venison.

Venison:  It may be worth another chance

    The recipes which follow accent the natural pleasing flavor of good venison.  They also present an appealing variety of uses.

The subtle combination of seasonings and apple smoke make this roast venison recipe superb. Soak apple-wood chips in water overnight, then throw them over a hot bed of charcoal in a vented-covered grill just before you set the roast on.  If you can't grill the roast, add a little liquid smoke and bake it in a 350-degree oven for 1 to 2 hours for satisfactory results.

Apple-barbecued venison roast

3 pound venison roast
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
teaspoon thyme leaves, dried
teaspoon marjoram
teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup wine (red cooking wine is good)
1 cup water
1 bay leaf

Rub roast thoroughly with garlic slices, transferring scent to meat.  Mix together salt, thyme, marjoram and pepper, then rub uniformly with fingers onto outside of roast.  Set roast into small "grill-proof" roasting pan, such as a throw-away aluminum cake pan.  Add wine, water and bay leaf.  Cover pan with aluminum foil; seal edges, leaving a slight opening at the top for smoke to permeate meat.  Set on center of grill and secure cover; adjust draft vents for good heat and a full, steady flow of smoke out the top (smoke should barely lick out of bottom vents).  Check once or twice during cooking time and replace water as needed to prevent burning on bottom of pan.  Cook for about 2 hours or to desired doneness, depending on type of grill you use; or use meat thermometer ("medium beef" reading is good).  Serves 6.

    Cream of mushroom soup is still one of the best kitchen standbys for quick and easy cooking.  In this recipe, it provides great flavor and a thick, hearty gravy to boot.

Hearty braised venison chops

6 to 8 venison chops
medium onion, sliced into rings
2 tablespoons vegetabie oil
One 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
cup water

Heat oil in large skillet.  Brown chops and onions in oil, then reduce heat.  Spoon cream of mushroom soup over chops, then add water.  Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until done, turning chops half-way through cooking time.  Remove chops and stir gravy until smooth.  Spoon gravy over wild rice or mashed potatoes.  Serves 4 to 6.

    The subtle flavor of sesame oil adds the final touch to this marinade.   Sesame oil can be found in the Japanese food section of 'most supermarkets
—but if you can't find it, the remaining ingredients will do an elegant job as well.

Elegant marinade for venison steak

2 cloves garlic, minced
cup vin.gar
cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
cup water

Thoroughly blend all ingredients.   Cover venison steaks with marinade for at least 4 hours (overnight preferred) prior to cooking.  Turn steaks periodically, or add more marinade, to saturate.  Broil or grill steaks to your preference.  (Once again, apple-grilled steaks are terrific!)

    Klops are German meatballs, and this traditional German recipe adapts well to ground venison.  Some of
the ingredients may seem unusual, but don't skimp on any of them.  You will be amazed at how delicious this dish really is.

Ground venison klops over noodles

2 pounds ground venison
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
5 slices dry bread
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup wine (white cooking wine is good)
1 cup water
4 whole cloves
5 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
cup water
cup parsley, chopped
1 lemon, thinly sliced
teaspoon salt
One 16-ounce package egg noodles, cooked

Soak bread slices in milk while you cook onions in butter.  Saute until tender.  Mix together first eight ingredients, blending thoroughly, then form into meatballs.  Place wine, water and spices in covered dutch oven and set meatballs in carefully, distributing them loosely and evenly.   Cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove meatballs and strain spices from liquid.   Blend flour and water and stir into liquid in dutch oven.  Add parsley, lemon and salt.  Stir over medium heat until thick.  Arrange meatballs over noodles on individual platters; spoon sauce over each.  Serves 6 to 8.

   So you don't like liver—much less liver of venison.
  Well, here's a recipe designed to convert you.  It's a delicious blend of delicate ingredients that will appeal to almost any palate.  So save that liver!

Sauted venison liver over rice

1 pound venison liver, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
green pepper, chopped
pound fresh mushrooms sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cups frozen peas, thawed
cup cold water
2 tablespoons corn starch
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 cups long grain brown rice, cooked

Heat oil in large skillet then add liver pieces; saute until brown.  Add onion, green pepper, and mushroom slices.  Cover and steam at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender.  Shake together water and corn starch in a covered jar until smooth; stir into mixture.  Add remaining ingredients; stir until thick and bubbly.  Serve over cooked rice.  Top with chow mein noodles, if you like, for an Oriental touch.  Serves 4.

    Here's a good way to use up some of that trim meat left over from butchering.  Cooking in a crockpot is a great way to maximize the flavor of good venison, but your kitchen range will work well, too.  The key word for making good soups and stews is "slow."  Keep that heat down to a low, low simmer.

Slow venison stew

1 to 2 pounds venison trim meat (or round steak), cubed
6 small onions, quartered
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large potato, cubed
One 16-ounce can green beans (with liquid)
1 quart beef or vegetable stock
1 cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
teaspoon ground sage
teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Melt lard in large stew pot and brown meat slightly.   Add all remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly.  Cover and simmer 6 to 8 hours over extremely low heat.  Serves 8.

Copyright C. Mark Sakry 1988

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