For the past several weeks here the woods have been bustling — and not just because the wildlife that inhabits them are feverishly preparing for the long winter ahead. It has been, and in the next few weeks will continue to be, hunting season. First, in the month of October, come the bow hunters. They were followed by modern firearm season — shotguns and rifles, depending on the region — during the last two weeks of November, which is followed by muzzle loader season and late doe season during December.
We’ve been in the woods off-and-on ourselves; hoping to fill the freezer until next year — our red meat needs are met almost exclusively with venison, rather than beef. And there are few people in our close group of friends who weren’t in the woods too. It’s as if life, outside of work, all but stops during firearm season. And, as far as I’m concerned, for good reason.
Gamey, tough, foul-tasting; wild game, and venison specifically, gets a bad reputation it doesn’t deserve. Throughout much of the midwest, such as here in Michigan, deer are grain fed; or at least supplemented. They glean their bounty directly from the crop farmers’ fields — much to the chagrin of those farmers and the detriment of the final crop, of course. Long has it been since deer fed off the slim pickings of swamps and ran for thousands of miles prior to their first birthday. In our area, prepared well, even older bucks are ‘good eating’ these days; having to travel only relatively short distances to find food, potential mates and suitable areas for bedding down bodes well for both deer and the hunters who plan to consume them.
Which is why I was particularly excited to find The Michigan Venison Company selling wild, Michigan-harvested venison via Foodzie for the country to enjoy. From tenderloin and steaks to ground venison — which is great in any recipe calling for ground beef — their shop contains it all.
But what is well prepared? It’s easier than you may think. Before we get to that however, make sure you’re starting with a quality cut of venison. Many deer now inhabit regions that offer plentiful food and a relatively low stress and travel lifestyle, but that’s not true of all areas. If you either don’t live in an area that can offer quality venison or can’t find quality cuts for retail locally — check with butchers and processing centers — consider ordering venison in from a reputable company such as The Michigan Venison Company. And a quick word to the wise, as long as we’re on the topic, if you want wild game read the fine print. Traditionally wild animals, like deer, are now farmed as well as hunted and their meat offered for sale. While this isn’t necessarily an issue in and of itself if you’re looking for a wild meal this is important to note.
Once you’ve got your quality venison in-hand you can begin the preparation. You needn’t even have a venison specific recipe in hand; venison can be successfully substituted in any recipe calling for beef in the same or similar cut. Ground venison, for instance, is delicious in all of our favorite meals; tacos, chili, goulash, lasagna, spaghetti, shepherd’s pie, and many others. There are just a few principles of cooking with venison to keep in mind:
- Venison is Lean. Add fat as needed. And perhaps more importantly, just because fat is traditionally there, doesn’t mean it’s needed. As a general rule of thumb add fat only when you need to meat to hold together such as in hamburgers or meatballs.
- Venison cooks more quickly than beef. Don’t “set it and forget it”; especially the first few times you cook it. I’m convinced most of those who think venison is tough really just don’t know how to cook it. To err on the side of complete caution it’s recommended that venison be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In practice however, it is routinely cooked to 130 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the preferences of the diner.
- Venison requires less seasoning. Especially salt. Not only does venison’s natural flavor allow it to be spiced and seasoned less than it should be salted only lightly, if at all, so its natural juices are not drawn out.
Happy wild eating! Do you have a sure fire wild game preparation tip? Share it in the comments.
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White-tailed Deer photo at top of column by YdnarImaging.