If you are or have a hunter in your life you are fully aware that it is open rifle season for whitetail deer. You can tell by the early morning wake ups, and the many smells of hunting; the tang of gun cleaning solvents, the clean aroma of cover scents, (spray me so a deer won’t catch a whiff of stinky humanity) and the occasional, “oops I spilled the bottle of eau de perfume of doe urine.”
Truly, I love hunting and all the work, effort and smells that go with it. The smell almost all hunters love the best, however, is the delicious, savory aroma of roasting venison wafting through the kitchen. Enjoying a meal of tender, mild, but still wild meat is inimitable. It is best served with a dash of boasting and long simmered in the gratification of self-sufficiency.
Unfortunately, what we often end up with is a chunk of tough, gamey, dry fiber on our plate that is better suited for shoe leather. The cook is often not to blame. Look to the hunter. Good quality meat starts in the field. How a hunter selects, harvests and processes the game will often have the most impact on the quality of the product on the dinner plate.
The harvest: A clean, humane kill is an excellent predictor of the quality of the meat. Animals that are pushed or experience long periods of pain and fright excrete high amounts of adrenaline that reduce meat quality. And, while hunters yearn for the boasting rights of a magnificent rack, an old buck that has spent a full autumn fighting, rubbing, scraping and chasing does will be lean and tough. Think hamburger or sausage.
Quick and clean field dressing: This is the result of practice and good knives. Entrails that are cleanly separated from the gut cavity ensures the meat is not tainted and reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. Carcasses will bloat rapidly and this process is accelerated in warm weather. Field dress as soon as possible.
Quick cooling: This is synonymous with good field dressing. Getting the carcass to 42 degrees or cooler as quickly as possible will help determine the “hanging time” you can allow for your deer. This is a judgment call that considers the outdoor temperature (is it 60 degrees or 20 degrees the day of a successful hunt?), how far you are from where you are going to hang or process your meat and your availability in the next few days to process it if you are going to process the meat yourself. A good hunter will let a deer go if the shot risks not retrieving the deer in a timely fashion.
Good trimming: Most people do not appreciate the gamey, tallowy flavor of venison fat. Most custom processors will substitute beef or pork fat to ground venison and sausage. If you are processing at home, you will want to trim off most of the deer fat. While I like lean venison, it is important to know which cuts are best turned into hamburger or pressure canned, which cuts make great steaks and which cuts should be long roasted for the perfect meal. Birds will appreciate deer fat as a source of calories during the winter. Add seeds to the tallow and hang from a suet feeder this winter and the birds will chirp “thank you.”
While most hunters freeze their venison, I also love the convenience of pressure-canned meats. Cornell Cooperative Extension can help hunters safely pressure can their venison. Water bath canning of meat will not destroy botulism spores, is dangerous and not recommended. For more information call the Cooperative Extension at 315- 788-8450.
Cathy Moore is a registered dietitian-nutritionist and the agriculture program leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson county. Contact her at 315-788-8450 or email@example.com.