Caring for venison
From the field to the freezer
Are you one of those sportsmen who loves to hunt deer but doesn't enjoy the taste of venison?
There are several important steps from the field to the freezer to the table, and a few simple precautions along the way can make a big difference in the final product. Here are some tips that will turn your next wild-game feed into a gourmet's delight.
*Tip No. 1: Make sure you field dress and bleed the deer as quickly as possible, allow the body cavity to cool down and skin it as soon as possible. A lot of hunters let their deer hang in the garage in 60-degree weather with the hide on. After that, they take it to their favorite meat locker, where the animal might sit for another week before anyone gets around to butchering it. And you wonder why venison has a "wild taste"? A much better approach is to quarter the deer and let it age for two weeks. The ideal temperature for aging is 35 to 40 degrees. The quarters will store nicely on he racks of an old refrigerator. It's difficult to find aged meat these days. Most butchers don't go to the trouble of aging beef, let alone venison. But aging improves the eat-quality of the meat dramatically.
*Tip No. 2: Nothing destroys the flavor of wild game like freezer burn. Unless you eat an awful lot of game, those packages of venison will be stored in the bottom of your freezer next to ducks, pheasants, quail, fish and whatever else you've taken during the year, where they might sit for six months or more. Improperly packaged meat will start to freezer burn in a matter of weeks. Air and moisture are the culprits. The best way to freeze any kind of game is in vacuum-sealed bags. A vacuum sealer removes practically all the air bubbles and moisture from the packaging, allowing the meat to store a year or more without a hint of freezer burn. But most sportsmen don't want to cough up the bucks for a good vacuum sealer, so here's the next-best thing.
First, wrap each cut carefully in several layers of Saran Wrap, being sure to squeeze out all the air bubbles. A little extra time here will make a big difference six months from now.
Second, place each cut in a Slide-Loc bag, the one with the little tab that guarantees complete closure. Close the tab to within an inch of the end, squeezing out as much air as you can. Next, fill the kitchen sink with water and submerge the pack with just the tab out of water. Press the edges to force the rest of the air, then close the tab. The water pressure helps force out the air, leaving a bag that's virtually vacuum-sealed. Between the plastic wrap and the sealed baggie, your meat should be safe from freezer burn for a good long time. Even at that, check your game from time to time to see if any frost is forming inside the package. If you see frost, it's time to eat the meat. This process also works with fish and other game. Avoid the temptation to store your game in milk cartons filled with water. Air bubbles can exist in water and the ice will eventually evaporate, exposing the meat. Besides, you don't want your aged venison to soak in water while it's freezing and thawing, do you? What would you think if you bought a steak at the grocery store that was frozen in a milk carton full of ice?
*Tip No. 3: When it's time to prepare your venison, treat it like you would a good cut of beef. If you normally eat beef medium-rare, prepare your venison medium-rare. The tendency with most sportsmen is to cook the life-and the juices-out of all wild game. The result is a chewy piece of meat that tastes like an old hunting boot. Others prefer to drown their venison in cream-of-mushroom soup or anything else that masks the flavor of the game, and slow-cook it to add tenderness. But venison is supposed to taste like venison, not beef. If the meat has been properly aged, you can prepare it just like beef. Season it to taste and put it on the grill. Or do it in the oven in a closed pan with some water on the bottom. A water-cooker is another great tool for fixing venison. Add some wood chips during the last half-hour to add a smoky flavor. Whatever you do, don't cook the life out of it. Venison is much leaner than beef, which means the more you cook it the more of those precious juices--and flavor--will be lost.
Give these tips a try. You might be surprised how good venison really tastes.