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6.4.2 I bagged my deer. Now what do I do?




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This article is from the Food Preserving FAQ, by Eric Decker ericnospam@getcomputing.com with numerous contributions by others.

6.4.2 I bagged my deer. Now what do I do?

Subject: Venison Processing FAQ, final version
From: pleasure@netcom.com (Tanith Tyrr)

**Since I've been asked for inclusion in a FAQ, I figured I'd go over this
account and do it right. Here's a pretty well complete tutorial on what
to do with Bambi (or more accurately Faline) when you pot one. Reprint or
archive it anywhere you want electronically, just credit the author.
Enjoy!**

"Euwwww," cry the husband/wife/children of the mighty hunter who has just
dragged home the antlered kill. "This stuff is gamy and yucky. Do we
hafta eat it?"

Disappointed, and maybe secretly agreeing with the spouse and kids, the
mighty hunter chokes down his or her portion of venison and declaims in a
hearty voice that it's perfectly good and really just like beef if you
grind it into burgers and mix it with salt pork so you can't taste the
deer.

This is a rather sad scenario that has undoubtedly been played out more
times than most hunters (and cooks) care to think about. Why? It isn't
because venison is a poor quality meat; far from it. The finest chefs
serve medallions of venison braised with sauce Perigourdine and Merlot in
their fancy restaurants, and they get a hefty price for it because they
know how to cook it properly to maximize the enjoyable flavor. More
importantly, they know how to obtain it from the right source, which is a
young and healthy animal in prime eating condition.

The majority of game that tastes gamy, nasty, raunchy, sour or just plain
awful does so for one of two reasons: either you messed up in the process
of picking a target or you didn't treat the meat properly after you killed
it - sadly common outcomes among today's generation of sport hunters who
kill for antlers and not for meat.

Pick and treat your meat properly in the first place, and you will not
have any gaminess to worry about, nor will you need to disguise the fine
taste of properly prepared venison with strong flavored marinades.
Venison which is butchered quickly and professionally with a high standard
of hygiene and care is comparable to the finest cuts of lean beef - only
better and more flavorful - and it has absolutely no gamy or unpleasant
taste.

However, if you pick an animal to shoot that is not a good meat animal,
for reasons of age, sex or rutting condition, you don't have anybody to
blame save yourself if the results are not pleasant. If you shoot an old,
tough, nasty buck in rutting condition because you want trophies, your
dinner will taste crappy and you will have silly pointy things to hang on
your wall and brag about. Enjoy your bragging rights and choke on your
tough, testosterone-laden dinner, and don't say you weren't warned.

If you want to eat as opposed to rustically decorate your fireplace,
eyeball out a young doe with a nice chunky brisket-shaped chest bespeaking
plenty of fat. Look for graceful rounding in the hindquarters as well;
you want fat hams, and the rump is where well-fed deer tend to put on padding.

Choose your target not for massive size or horned protuberances, but for
a body conformation that indicates a plump, young, tasty meat animal.

Read agricultural texts or butchering handbooks for better information on
how to judge this, and study the pictures of cows, pigs and sheep
carefully until you are confident that you know by the eye at least some
of the characteristics that distinguish a fine meat animal from a poor
one. Then go out hunting; your taste buds will be better pleased with
the results.

Some folks say that wild game fat is rancid; I suspect that these are the
trophy-hunting folks who want to go shooting aged, tough males for the
dinner table. Silly people. If you must take bucks, take the spikes; an
old animal is a tough animal. You wouldn't eat a cow that old, would you?
Well, maybe you would, but my palate will take a pass, thanks. I'll take
the plump young meat animals every time, preferably 18 months to 2 years
old.

Fresh yellow-white fat from a well-marbled deer which has been grazing in
somebodies' cornfield is perfectly good food; the main danger here is eating
too much of it and getting fatty deposits on your hindquarters your own self.
;P Check each carcass as you process it by frying a small portion of the
fat and tasting it; individuals can vary. But don't chuck this lovely stuff
until you have at least tried it. Venison confit crocked in its own fat and
drained is stunningly spectacular with garlic mashed potatoes and sun-dried
cranberry sauce, among other things, and the sizzling fat from a side of
deer ribs popping and browning over the fire is an almost primal trigger to
the hunter's appetite.

If you want this clean-tasting fat, don't hunt in areas where the deer are
known for desperate grazing habits; strong tasting fodder can and does affect
the taste of both fat and muscle meat. You'll figure it out if you shoot an
otherwise good meat animal and it tastes like a pine pitch and mud marinade.
Grouse is game that is famous for this problem in particular, but deer suffer
from it too if they're browsing too much on scrub or tree bark. Get as quick
a kill as you can, for mercy's sake and also for the meat's sake; an animal
that dies in pain and fear is not as good eating as an animal that dies quick
and clean.

So much for the hunting precautions. On to the butchering. Once you kill
the animal, draw it as quickly as possible. Forget any silliness about
cutting its throat; if you must finish it with a mercy stroke, use a brisket
stick, thrusting your knife into the brisket at first a straight then an
upward angle to sever the arteries around the heart. See a good butcher's
handbook for pictures and information on the correct method of brisket
sticking.

If you are not confident you can do an accurate brisket stick and the
animal must be put down quickly, use a throat stab, not a throat slice.
Insert (stab) the knife blade side facing outward as close to the animal's
spine on the throat side as possible. Pull straight forward with a single
swift move until everything from the front of the spine out to the throat
is severed. This technique reliably severs a throat; slicing tends to be
useless and unnecessarily cruel if you do not have the strength or the
expertise to do it properly. Often, an inexperienced hunter will miss one
or both jugulars or cut insufficiently deep to bleed the animal out
quickly using the slice technique. The stabbing technique essentially
can't miss and it *removes* the throat from the spine out, also severing
the windpipe.

If you are approaching a downed deer that is still alive, approach from
the back if possible. Those hooves are razor sharp and horns are no joke
either. If you can get on its back and an arm around a doe's neck forcing
the chin up, the throat stab-and-pull maneuver is easy and finishes the
deer rapidly. If your downed quarry has antlers, use them as handles and
pull the head up this way instead. Speed is of the essence; every second
your downed quarry remains alive, terrified and struggling increases its
suffering and decreases the quality of your fine steaks and chops.
Expect there to be some struggling and continued attempts to breathe even
after the throat is severed. If this bothers you, sever the spine just
between the skull and the first vertebrae with the deft insertion of a
knife. WARNING - Don't attempt this technique on a live deer until you
have practiced it and can do it reliably and quickly, one-handed, on a
dead deer.

There is a reason I don't advocate spine severing, eye stabs or braincase
stabs as the first method of dispatch - it's dangerous, as the knife can
slip on a struggling animal and hurt you badly.

It's better to wait for a clean shot in the beginning, but should you miss
and cripple, it is your responsibility to finish the animal as quickly as
possible. Some hunters use a second bullet or arrow at this stage, but
there are certainly reasons to prefer finishing with a knife. Should you
wish to save the blood, mix it immediately with vinegar in roughly 10-1
blood to vinegar proportions to use in a civet or sauce. You have about
one to two minutes before it clots completely and is unusable for most
culinary purposes.

Get those innards outwards as quickly as possible and wash and/or wipe the
carcass down with a towel. If you have to field transport, leave the skin
on, but get the skin off as soon as you make it to camp and get the
temperature of that carcass down by any means you can, as fast as you can.
A carcass left at blood temperature will quickly sour and ruin good meat,
and getting the skin off helps heat to dissipate. Ice can be helpful, but
be aware that moisture is not a good thing in general for meat, so you
want to keep it dry if possible as well as cold.

To start processing Bambi, fist the hide off the deer while it is still
warm from the kill, and mind those thin stringy flat pieces of muscle
under the forelegs that will stick to the hide and make your job a pain if
you don't catch them early on and separate them by slashing lightly ahead
of the muscle and into the silvery-white, slimy translucent membrane that
separates muscle and hide. Pliers may help in getting the "slippers" off
from the lower legs. Watch out for those nasty hairs that get stuck in
the membrane and take forever to wash out. Pull that hide and get it off
your butchering floor. Plastic tarps are your friend.

Don't pull the membrane from the muscle (the silverskin) if you plan to
hang the meat. Personally, I don't age venison if it's a fat young doe,
but that's a matter of taste. Once you've hung the meat, you can trim
the silverskin, which should be a bit dry and hard in texture if you've hung
it right (and it might even be blackened; this is common enough for an
extended aging process). Some meat will go with it, but this is the price of
aging.

I have two favorite ways to process a carcass. One of them is the
traditional gambrel hang, with a cross-hatched stick splitting the legs
and the deer hung from a tree. T'other, the one I pick when in my home
facilities under ideal conditions, is a waist-height table with a raised
metal surface which is holed to allow blood drainage.

Hang the deer up by its forelegs to let gravity do your work for you in
removing those unpleasant bits. Unzip the front end of the deer carefully
as you do not want the guts on your shoes in a hurry and by surprise, and
have a barrel lined with a big Hefty garbage sack between the deer's legs.
I make a *tiny* cut first, then slip my hand inside the carcass and keep
two cupped fingers on the back of the knife as I cut. This keeps the guts
from accidentally being slashed, which is as you probably can figure a
really disgusting mess. Unzip slowly and let the guts fall down unbroken
out of the slit you are making.

If you've done this technique right, you will have a mess of guts neatly
in the barrel. Urge them into the right place with your hands. Wear
latex gloves if you're fussy. Don't forget to get the stomach out too,
and carefully sever any connections between the stomach and other
organs. Let the stomach fall into the barrel; it's tough and won't
burst unless you were clumsy with the knife earlier. The rest of the
mass will likely remain attached; fish around the diaphragm (just
under the heart and lungs) with a short bladed knife that is not too
sharp and find the connections to cut when you're ready to dump the
stomach and guts. You may find it helpful to haul out the guts in your
fists and try to have the connective tissue visible before you cut into
it. Small scissors can also be invaluable at this stage.

Don't forget to tie off the bung and *carefully* find and remove the
bladder, or your meat will be unsanitary and smell funny. I once clumsily
dropped a deer bladder I had just carefully removed, and it burst on my
tennis shoes. The results were really unpleasant. Dispose of the bladder
carefully and don't let go of the tube on the other end until you have a
wastes bucket to dump it.

Likewise, cut off the bung (the intestine leading up from the rectum)
about eight inches from the bottom and tie it off carefully, after
squeezing its contents to clear the area of your cut. Tie off both ends
with a standard square knot. Without letting the cut ends touch flesh,
dump the stomach and attached guts into the waste bucket and push the
tied-off bung end through the rectum. Yes, I know this is gross. Do it
anyway. Wear latex gloves and discard them when you are done touching
these less than sanitary parts of the carcass. Take your knife and cut
out the deer's entire rectum, with some flesh around it, including the
tied-off bung. Carefully discard this unclean bit, without letting it
touch the meat. Wash your hands. Wash any meat which has come in contact
with this yuckiness very thoroughly, and cut out any discolored or suspect
pieces. Discard the guts and waste away from your butchering area.

You can then fish around and grab a tough bundle of flesh up past the
heart that is attaching the rest of the more solid innards to the carcass.
Cut it as high up inside as you can reach, and pull. The whole mess will
come down, so have another clean sack ready. This mess, except the green
bubble attached to the liver, is good eating, don't waste it. Wash it
well and save it on ice. You can eat the heart, the liver, the lungs, the
spleen and the diaphragm, though I recommend throwing the latter scrap of
tough flesh into the stock pot with the bones. Remove the nasty green
gallbladder from the liver carefully and pitch it along with stomach and
intestines.

You may wish to be extremely anal retentive about using all of your kill,
and try to get something out of the deer's less pleasant parts. I used to
be. Two experiences washing out deer stomach and intestines and using
them in haggis and sausage was enough to convince me to never mind. They
take hours to wash free of ick and they don't taste all that wonderful
anyhow. The only use for deer gall that I know of is authentically
medieval ink, which you make by mixing in pounded oak ashes. Not in my
food processor, thanks.

One small warning: the kidneys of a deer can range from flavorful to
pungent and disagreeable; you can either discard or soak in milk overnight
to reduce ammoniacal odor and taste. The kidneys of a rutting buck aren't
even worth discussing; no marinade can save them, except possibly turpentine.
There is only one recipe worth thinking about for buck kidneys in my opinion,
and it is this: bake the kidneys underneath a hot brick in the oven for 8
hours. When finished, discard the kidneys and eat the brick, which will
probably taste better.

Take a hose to the inside of the carcass once it is gutted out, or if you
are field butchering away from a water source, wipe down with a damp cloth
thoroughly. Dry the meat with a clean towel before proceeding. If the
day is hot, throw some ice in the carcass instead and skip the dry towel
the moisture content of the meat might suffer, but the temperature is more
important.

At this point, you have a whole mess of tasty and hopefully clean-smelling
meat ready for your processing. You can hang at this stage if you like (I
don't, especially with a doe whose hindquarters are covered in nice yellow
fat - mmmm!), but you can also proceed to dismember into neat freezer
and fridge packages. A fresh-killed deer keeps a surprisingly long time
in the refrigerator, but your results may vary depending on the condition
and holding temperature of your refrigerator.

I separate the meat into: shanks for long braising (venison osso bucco is
delish!), two shoulders, two hams which I usually bone out, a whole saddle
roast (that's the butt end minus the bare bone you have left after the legs
are gone), a crown tenderloin roast with the backbone split in half and
about 6" of the ribs still on, two slabs of ribs for immediate BBQ slathered
in homemade sauce, the neck for stewing and the flank for scrap. You can
further reduce the saddle or the crown tenderloin roast into chops; it
depends on how many folks you want to invite over to eat.

Now, all of this is *damn* fine eating and the only parts I would turn into
burger or sausage would be the flank, the neck and the shoulders of a lean
deer. (A fat deer makes a nice shoulder roast!). The innards are nothing
to waste, either. Stuffed deer heart with breadcrumbs and onions and bacon
is marvellous, and if you're a medieval cook like I am, haggis is always in
the works when I get hold of a nice chunk of internals that includes spleen
and liver and lungs. Boiled deer tongue is not unlike beef tongue if you
are fond of such things, and you can also use the jowl and palate meat in
slivers in any French recipes calling for ox palate. Warning: skinning a
deer head really and truly sucks, so less than die-hard medieval recreation
enthusiasts may choose to skip this step. I've done it a number of times,
but since I managed to get carpal tunnel syndrome, I'm not sure I'll ever do
it again. It is some tedious and painful work, though you do get a nice
"deer face" that you can flesh out and tan to make an interesting hat or
shaman's pouch. Deer brains are good poached, but make sure you cook them
well and don't mind the bottfly larvae that you will occasionally find in
the nasal cavities of the skull as they're not uncommon to find. If you're
squeamish, don't delve in there at all.

Even the bones of a deer can provide some amazingly good eating. Cut the
bones into fairly small chunks (1-2") or have the butcher do it for you,
roast them until lightly browned and boil down with the scrap meat for 4-6
hours for venison demiglace, which stores for months in the freezer and
adds amazing flavor to all kinds of dishes.

If you must make sausage, make it well. Venison can actually make a very
good sausage product that showcases rather than disguises its unique
flavor. Much depends on whether you do the sausage "black" or "white"
style, ie, do you bleed and rinse the meat thoroughly first for a more
delicate product, or do you make a civet with the reserved blood mixed
with vinegar? The former will produce a mild, delicate product which
takes well to a bit of sage, basil and shallot in the mix. The latter
takes to onions and garlic or perhaps fennel or caraway. The middle
ground is to use fresh venison that is neither washed and beaten free of
blood or civetted, and much depends on the individual carcass - age, sex,
diet, condition, etc.

A lot of hunters ignorant of fine venison cuisine turn the works into
deerburgers or hash or sausage, trying to disguise its taste rather than
showcase it with fine cooking. I suppose if you shoot a rutting buck deer
and then don't gut it out before it sours, burgers or sausage or dogfood
is a reasonable destination for such a wasted kill. But geez Louise, if
you have a mountain of fine gourmet steaks and roasts and chops in front
of you and you make mush out of them or allow them to spoil, you have just
effectively pissed money away into the snow. Also it's bad karmic brownie
points, y'know? Eat what you kill. Don't waste good food, or the life of
an animal, senselessly. The Goddess is watching you. ;P

It is all very well I suppose to want to kill the biggest boy deer with
the biggest antlers if you wish to prove your fitness to rule the herd and
to mate with the does. I guess it's a phallic kind of guy thing. ;P
Since I'm not a guy, I'll just take good venison where I can get it and
never mind the big rack of antlers, a sure indication to me of a less than
prime meat animal.

Rare roasted venison, fragrant with bay leaves and garlic on a bed of wild
rice with pecans, is serious cuisine. Deer neck braised Moroccan style
with lemons and honey and olives is delicious over cumin-scented
couscous. Venison shanks osso bucco, steam-braised for hours in your
oven, will fill the house with its tantalizing perfume until the neighbors
sniff their noses into your yard and cry, "What's for dinner?"

In a rougher setting, wrap chunks of lean hind leg or whole tenderloins in
bacon and shishkebab them over the fire with a little cracked black
pepper, or throw a slab of deer ribs on the fire and baste at the last
minute with the best sauce your granny ever gave you a recipe for.

If you must make sausage, make it well. Don't disguise the taste of the
meat; enhance it with the freshest herbs and the finest ingredients. The
conventional wisdom is that deer fat is rancid; sometimes this is so and
more often in my experience it isn't. Fry a small piece and judge for
yourself for each carcass. If there isn't enough of it, add some fresh
pork fat of the best quality, and possibly some veal meat, which does not
overpower the venison as pork can do.

Venison should be done either rare or falling-off-the-bone well stewed for
the tougher cuts such as neck or shank. To enhance the meat, marinades
are permitted, but remember that if you've done your job well in selecting
a good animal and butchering it cleanly, you don't need to overpower any
gaminess with the marinade. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots are traditional
companions of venison, and should you have some money to splurge, a fine
red Bordeaux from one of the great vineyards would also not be amiss. These
can be sipped along with the venison as well as making a fine marinade with
the addition of some fresh herbs, garlic and best quality olive oil.

Dry coatings for a venison roast are as good as marinade and in many cases
better; try powdered porcini mushrooms and pink peppercorns in seasoned
flour, or crushed dried chanterelles and hazelnuts as a crust before
roasting. Drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil for additional basting
on your lean meat. Herbs du Provence, with lavender and rosemary, can add
a note of delicate sweetness when balanced by the mellow sweet tang of
balsamic vinegar. Keep your aceto balsamico in a small spray bottle; you
will find it amazingly easy to do a thirty second spray-on "marinade" to
all sorts of meats and vegetables that way, and it can give a lovely
caramelized look and taste to dishes like mashed potatoes or baked savory
pies if you spray it on at the last minute.

To accompany venison, I recommend simple dishes with hearty, earthy
flavors - a duxelle of dark wild mushrooms perhaps, or wild rice with
roasted chestnuts and brandied dried cherries. The simplicity of fluffy
mashed potatoes drizzled with a bit of olive oil and served with a head of
softly sweet, caramelized roasted garlic always complements a good piece
of venison. Vegetables on the grill can be sprayed briefly with balsamic
vinegar and dipped in fine olive oil and herbs, and then seared briefly
before joining the tender pieces of meat and the creamy pillows of mashed
potatoes on your plate.

Any sauce you want to use on your high quality meat can of course be
enhanced with truffles, and if you find yourself the fortunate possessor
of some of this Perigourdine black gold, chop it very fine and simmer
gently in a simple sauce made from the roasting venison juices thickened
with a little cream and flour. Simmer (but do not boil) until your whole
kitchen is perfumed with the indescribably savory aroma of venison and
truffles. Then eat like the kings and queens of old, feasting on the
finest viands in your kingdom. Your deer deserves it, don't you think?
Not to mention the hunter.

Larousse Gastronomique gives recipes in plenty for venison done in this
royal style, often enhanced with foie gras or other delicacies or enclosed
in fine pastries. They knew how to properly treat a deer in that culinary
era, to be sure; and none went wasted or unappreciated by the serious
gourmet. The phenomemon of "deerburgers" is a modern abomination of
antler-mad sport hunters who care nothing for cuisine and consider venison
a mere by-product of the hunt instead of its object.

I have no moral qualms with hunting, but when it comes to wasting and mis-
treating fine meat, I will certainly have some words to say to the ignorant
boor who does not respect his kill enough to use it properly. (The mildest
are: Give it to me, you bozo, and I'll enjoy it properly if you're not
going to!)

However you cook your deer, you should certainly enjoy the rightful reward
of the hunt - the taste of venison in all its glory, not disguised but
showcased and enhanced by careful handling of the meat and respectful
cooking.

 

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