Venison does not have to taste bad.
This is the reason that I chose to find out why the venison that I was served in my youth bore no resemblance to the venison described by my grand father; to develop recipes and to rediscover the harvesting techniques and cooking procedures that would make cooking and eating your venison a pleasure rather than an ordeal. There is absolutely no reason why your venison should not taste as good as the finest grain-fed beef.
Reindeer are believed by many to be one of the first domesticated deer. A 9th century letter from Norway's King Ottar to Alfred the Great mentioned his fine herd of over 600 Reindeer. Deer farms have existed in China since about 2,000 BC. (Varro, 116-27 BC) wrote "Nowadays, people enclose many acres within walls so as to keep numbers of wild boars and roes...[these game reserves] retain their old name of leporia for not only are hares enclosed in its woods, as used to be the case on an acre or two of land, but also stags and roes on many acres."
In Medieval times, cattle eventually became more important to feed troops than deer because cattle provided a meat that is high in fat content which is essential to soldiers who needed to stay warm during cold winters. For the same reason, beef became the staple food for peasants, while the leaner venison became a "royal food" for the landed aristocracy who lived in warm and protected homes. In the Doomsday Book there are 31 deer parks listed at the end of the 11th century. Census of world deer farms indicate that over 2,215,700 deer are under farm management in the world today. It is estimated that the world population of farmed raised deer will approach 8,000,000 within the next 4 years.
Because of unregulated recreational and market hunting, the North American white-tailed deer was well on its way to extinction at the turn of the century. In 1880, 70,000 deer were killed in Michigan. Subsistence farmers and sportsmen took 4,000, compared to 60,000 by market hunters. An estimated 5 million pounds were shipped out of state. As a result, a bill restricting the sale of Michigan game meat in other states became law in 1881. Across the country legislation barring market hunting became the rule rather than the exception. Federal law, the Lacy act of 1900, put the end to the market hunting industry by making it a federal crime to ship game across state lines. In 1908 the United States government issued an Extension Bulletin which provided prospective deer farmers with guidelines for building and managing a deer farming ranch.
As a direct result of the enactment of hunting regulations and legislation, it is estimated that there are now 52 times as many deer in the Untied States as there were in 1900. It is believed that there are over 26 million head of white-tail deer in North American today; more than were present when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.
In Mississippi it is estimated that there are over 1,750,000 head of deer today. In 1995 over 300,000 deer were harvested by over 175,000 licensed deer hunters.
In Colonial America, venison was the primary source of large game meat for the family table. The Colonial cook knew hundreds of ways to prepare and preserve game. The most prized delicacy of all, was venison. Early Americans had few domesticated nimals. These animals were far too precious to be killed for the table. A typical 1746 American Colonial venison recipe was 'Sauce Espagnole for Roast Venison' as described in Menons cook book, La Cuisiniere Bourgeois. Lincoln's Second Inaugural dinner menu featured Roast Venison with Herb Crust.
Today, many cooks are afraid to prepare venison because they have heard about its alleged dryness, toughness and unpleasant flavor. Cooking your venison is very easy, once a few basic harvesting and cooking procedures have been learned.
If you do not hunt or do not have a ready access to domestic venison, you will find listed in the Appendix and on the INTERNET many firms that raise and ship farm raised venison. Since it is illegal to buy, sell or trade in deer species which are indigenous to the United States, these ranchers have imported European, Australian or Oriental deer and breed them specifically for this market. These suppliers are USDA inspected and they will be able to provide you with the exact cuts of venison that you require. Some of these firms also market prepared venison products. Other firms have fresh venison air shipped daily from New Zealand and Europe.
Venison is a fine, delicately textured and virtually fat free meat. Many cuts are very similar to veal. Other cuts, such as chops, look like pork. Round steaks, although smaller, have the appearance of beef. Stew meat and ground venison also resemble beef. Even though many cuts of venison look like other meats, venison has one overall characteristic that distinguishes it from other meats. Venison is a low or no fat meat and during cooking it needs additional moisture.
Venison responds best to slow and very moist cooking. Fast frying can turn a thinly cut chop or steak into something closely resembling harness leather. Dry roasting will give you a piece of very dry meat. Frying venison should be done very quickly. Brown the outside, but leave the inside less than medium (preferably medium-rare). Many outstanding recipes call for quickly browning, then slowly cooking in a gravy over a very low heat.
For dry roasting, larding (inserting into the venison thin strips of moist meat such as bacon, salt pork or beef/pork fat) and/or wrapping the roast with moist meats such as bacon or salt pork will provide moisture. These moisturizing techniques are almost a must. Ground venison for burgers, sausages and other ground venison recipes will need to have a small amount of beef suet or pork fat, bacon or mushrooms ground in with the venison.
If you have a meat smoker, an interesting variation is to smoke your bacon, beef or pork fat. The smoked meat additive is especially good when making recipes which call for ground venison such as for burgers, meatloafs, meat balls and sausages. Smoked bacon sides are available, but they are expensive. By smoking your own additive meats, you not only save money but you can control the amount of smoked flavor in the meat.
As with other types of meat, the tenderest cuts comes from the muscle groups that are used the least. The neck is one of the toughest cuts because it is in almost constant motion from either grazing or looking around. The tenderest muscle group is the little tenderloin, it is closely followed by the long backstrap. Venison chops, cut from the backbone and which contain the tenderloin and/or the backstrap are one of the finest cuts of meat you can find. Fore and hindquarters are used to make roasts or large steaks. Although somewhat less tender than the backstrap, fine steaks can be cut from the top 1/2 of the quarters. These quarter muscle groups need care to prevent toughening while cooking and when they are used as large roasts; slow cooking to no more than medium and larding with moist meats will prevent their drying out during the dry roasting process.
Chops should be cut thicker than one would cut from pork. Round steaks can be cut the same thickness as one would cut from beef. Quick browning and very slow cooking for chops and steaks make for outstanding meals.
For the purist or primitive at heart, making jerky out of venison is an outstanding way to preserve the meat for long periods of time. Home canning of venison is also easy.
Native Americans and early settlers harvested deer in a way that we did not re-discover until the early 1980's. They quietly stalked or waited for their game. With one well-placed arrow or musket ball, the deer was harvested quickly and cleanly. This method of hunting deer produced venison that was mild flavored and sweet smelling.
When I first began trying to cook venison, I could not stand the 'wild taste.' I wondered; "if venison tastes this bad, how could my early Mississippi ancestors stand to eat it?" I knew that when Jacob Curry settled in the Spanish Territory of what is now Mississippi in the late 1790's venison would have been the main-stay in his families diet.
While visiting with old family friends in Leakesville, I have had occasion to be invited over Sunday dinner or barbecues. The venison that I was served was glorious.
It was not until the mid 1980's, in Leakesville, Mississippi, that I found out why many of the old families preferred venison to beef. They harvested their deer by still hunting and cooked their venison in moist recipes. My attitude towards venison was changed forever.
What I didn't know about the venison I was served, was that a few of these old Greene County Scots and Frenchmen would occasionally ease out to the woods and harvest a deer in the quiet of the early evening. This was the hunting that they really enjoyed. At first, they didn't talk much about this to me. This was the venison they served to their families and to special invited guests.
I don't remember anyone telling me how the venison used in those particular recipes were harvested. When I would ask what made the venison taste so good, I would be blessed with sympathetic smiles and mumbled replies. It wasn't time for me to know the secret. For the time being, I would have to be satisfied with little real information. Hunting magazines, large generic cookbooks or general game cookbooks did provide a few basic recipes. These recipes featured descriptions of complicated marinades which were promoted as a means of masking the 'wild taste' of venison. I was not a very successful venison chef. In time, the secrets would be shared with me and my adventure would begin.
APPLE-CURRANT STUFFED VENISON CHOPS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a pocket in the side of each venison chop. Mix together the croutons, apple, cheese and currants. In another bowl, combine melted Homemade Butter, orange juice, salt and cinnamon. Pour butter mixture over the crouton mixture and mix gently. Lightly stuff the venison chops with the butter-crouton mixture. Place the stuffed chops in a shallow baking pan and bake uncovered for 1 hour. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Serve with Apple--Orange Cranberry Liqueur Sauce. Serves 6.
Harold W. Webster, Jr.
ROAST VENISON TENDERLOIN WITH BLACKBERRY SAUCE
Mix thyme, nutmeg, pepper and soy sauce, and marinate venison tenderloin overnight in the refrigerator. Soak 1 cup of hickory chips in a bucket of water overnight. Build a fire in a covered barbecue grill using 5 lbs of charcoal. Allow the coals to burn for 30 minutes. If using a gas grill, preheat for 30 minutes. Scatter the soaked chips over the coals and close the lid for 10 minutes. Place the tenderloin on the grill and baste with the marinade, Close the lid and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the tenderloin and baste again. Close the lid and cook for another 10 minutes. The meat should be slightly pink in the center and quite moist. Serve on a platter with Blackberry Sauce. Garnish with parsley sprigs, radish rosettes and yellow squash slices. Serves 2 to 4.
Harold W. Webster, Jr.
By Harold W. Webster, Jr.
NEW for 1996.....Over 700 venison recipes. Over 400 pages. 8"x10".
The definitive book on Venison Cooking. Addresses virtually every aspect of venison harvesting, processing, preparation, cooking, and preservation.
Teaches you from the very beginning, how to prevent your venison from 'smelling gamey' and tasting tough.
Beginning with basic recipes for home and camp, to preparing and presenting venison for the most elegant dining occasions.
The venison chef will enjoy the experience of preparing and eating venison as you would never have imagined. Also included, are over 250 recipes that either complement venison or are used to assist in the preparation of other recipes.
"I can assure you that no self respecting woodsman, hunter or camper would want to be without this wonderful collection of recipes. A much needed addition to any cookbook library." Tom T. Hall, Nashville, TN.
"At long last we have a definitive resource on venison cookery." Carol Daily, The Everyday Gourmet.
"A must for every deer hunter. This book will increase both your knowledge and your appetite for venison." John Louk, Ol' Man Treestands.
"In The Complete Venison Cookbook, Harold Webster has created a moveable feast. A Good feed. A good read." Will D. Campbell, Author/Historian.
INDIVIDUALS CAN ORDER SIGNED COPIES FROM:
Harold W. Webster, Jr.
1623 Ivy Street
Jackson, MS 39202
$19.95 US, cash, check or money order, plus $3.00 postage per book in US. 10% discount on 5 or more copies. For orders of 10 or more books, contact the author for special pricing.
BOOKSTORES OR RETAILERS CAN OBTAIN MORE INFORMATION AND ORDER FROM:
Quail Ridge Press
P.O. Box 123
Brandon, MS 39043
CALL TOLL FREE 1-800-343-1583