Cooking Venison Made Easy
by Elizabeth Folwell
White-tailed deer are abundant this fall, thanks to a mild winter and long summer. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that hunters will harvest upwards of 230,000 bucks and does across the state in 2012.
Whether you scored fresh meat with bow and arrow, muzzle-loader or rifle or got a nice gift from a friend, venison is a special treat. Like any wild game it’s lean and typically needs additional fat, such as bacon, butter or olive oil. With a choice cut like backstrap, the simplest preparation yields a delicious meal; roasts carved from neck or shoulder benefit from marinating, braising and slow cooking.
Wrapping a slice of tenderloin in pesto and bacon is an easy gas-grill recipe. The New Zealand chef who supplied this dish refers to “aubergine” and “courgette,” but eggplant and zucchini are available at the supermarket any time of year.
Ground venison makes the tastiest burgers, though the trick is to cook the meat to medium for six to eight minutes total, preserving the texture and juices. Taking a cue from the New York Times Minimalist Mark Bittman—who uses this with ground lamb—turn your cheeseburger inside-out. Shape a ball of ground venison seasoned with a little salt, pepper and garlic and insert a piece of smoked mozzarella and grill. The cheese may escape just a little but it’s awesome on a nice ciabatta roll.
Members of the onion family harmonize with venison nicely. For a steak or burger a simple sauce of equal parts butter and olive oil with chopped fresh garlic, shallots, leeks and red onions is divine; begin by sautéing the onion and leek, add garlic and shallot and deglaze with a little red wine. Cook at least three minutes once you’ve added the wine to meld flavors. Place the meat atop the onion blend and have a baguette handy to capture all the little bits.
Mushrooms also partner well with venison, especially wild oysters, which can be found on maple stumps even into November in the Adirondacks. Of course, if you’re new to fungi foraging find an experienced friend to help you on your quest. Oysters can also be found in many supermarkets, as can dried morels and porcini. For dried mushrooms rehydrate in plenty of water; when the pieces are plump, pour liquid and all through a strainer to capture the liquid. Sauté the mushrooms in butter or olive oil, add the liquid and cook until the sauce is concentrated. Spoon over cutlets gently sautéed until still rare.
There’s more to deer season than just eating venison. In Saratoga Springs the Community Torah Project relies on the generosity of local hunters to donate hides, and volunteers prepare the skins that become the pages of the sacred book. The writing is done with quill pens made from turkey feathers, adding another natural dimension to this amazing undertaking.
For more venison options see Northern Comfort, a collection of fall and winter recipes from the pages of Adirondack Life.