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Food

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part II

The next two stops on the Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Homestead Tour that I want to share were two of my favorites.

Lori in Aurora was growing a great variety of vegetables.  In the circle in her front drive way she had many varieties of winter squash, summer squash, cucumbers and melons.   She was very generous and gave us two good sized spaghetti squash to take home.

In her back yard, she was growing in raised beds.

Her kale and tomatoes were fantastic, and we exchanged tips on season extension and overwintering greens.

But Lori had something completely different up her sleeves.  Aeroponic gardening.  Her website explains this a lot better than I can, but basically you can grow a large amount a vegetables in a very small space in about half the time as traditional in-ground gardening.

Above is a newly planted tower garden.  It holds water in the reservoir at the bottom.  The water is pumped through the tower which both waters and oxygenates the plants.  It can be plugged in to a regular outlet or converted to solar.

Below you can see water pumping through the tower.  We lifted the lid at the very top of a full-grown tower to see.

This tower was planted July 27th.  The photo was taken September 22nd.  Look at the size of that melon in only 8 weeks!

This would be an incredible option for those wanting to grow a sizable garden in a very small space (apartment dwellers, perhaps).  Also great for those who can’t do a lot of bending.  It is all grown vertically – the tower stands about five feet tall and is on rollers.

This tower is growing greens in the heat of the summer, a tomato plant, cucumbers and heirloom watermelon all in an area of 2.5 x 2.5 feet.  The towers are a bit spendy, but they do use water and space very efficiently, and the company offers payment plans.  This was the second planting of the summer for Lori and her family in this tower.

Check out Lori’s website for more info on aeroponic growing:  DenverTowerGarden.com

Where Lori’s gardens are so compact, Brenda and David Zserdin’s garden is completely opposite.

Up in old Lakewood, the Zserdin’s are growing on a half-acre, a very eclectic and sprawling mini-Eden.   Their little white coop houses 24 chickens, a mix of Bantams and full-size hens and roosters.

Inside the coop is a tree-branch roost that runs the length of the whole left-hand wall.  On the right are nest boxes, feed and water and space to store supplies.  The Zserdin’s had to give this coop a little TLC to make it warm enough for the winter by adding insulation and heat lamps.

It’s easy to see that Brenda and David’s birds are spoiled and happy.

H and E quickly found a friend in the Zserdin’s son, who also happened to be wearing a cape that day.  They ran off to play while we toured the homestead.

Their garden is just amazing.  Lots of re-purposed materials for garden structures as well as fun decorative elements make it a joy to walk through.

I loved the pole beans growing on actual poles and walking over wooden planks, past the cukes and melons trellised on old pallet wood.

Vegetables were planted in a tractor tire, old tubs and in the ground.  We wound our way through the tomatoes to the grape vines at the back of the garden.

Rick was quick to spot the Three Sisters planting among the extensive culinary and medicinal herbs that Brenda has growing.

I was in love with the compost bin set-up they had.

Brenda and I found a lot of common ground talking about chickens, homeschooling and preserving the harvest by canning and freezing.  David and Rick hit it off too, talking wood cutting, home brewing and whatever else men talk about while their women are off discussing the merits of sand for litter in the chicken area.

David and Brenda work from home doing an embroidery and screen printing business, Flutterby Designs, as well as homeschool their children.  The Zserdin’s were very gracious hosts.  They chatted and offered snacks and drinks and made us feel completely at home, like old friends.  We exchanged phone numbers and email and are excited to count them as new ones.

Later this week, I’ll show you the last three stops that we were able to get to on the tour.  In the mean time, make sure to explore the photos I posted in Part I.

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Categories: Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part I

Two weekends ago was the first annual Denver Botanic Gardens’ Urban Homestead Tour.  I was able to go on the tour and be a community sponsor.  It was so much fun to see what others around Denver were doing at their homes.  Each home that we visited was doing something different, and I thought everyone else might be as interested as I was to see our movement moving in the Mile High City.

The first homestead that we visited were neighbors of ours… we could have walked there, but I had no idea this place existed.  We live in an urban area.  Our lot is pretty small (in fact only two of the places we visited had lots as small or smaller than ours).  So I was surprised to come upon the gem that Leigh and Diana have created in my ‘hood.

Leigh is quite the craftsman.  He built the house on the acreage (!) himself, including the above green house.  The big trees were all on the property already, but the cherry, peach, plum and apple trees were all planted by the Bray’s.

Inside the green house they are growing bananas, among many other beautiful plants that we’d never get to survive otherwise in Colorado.

The Bray’s purchased the property from an elderly neighbor (Leigh said she told him she’d never sell), they worked with the city to narrow a portion of the ditch from 20 feet wide to 8 feet wide and at the same time got a the lane behind their property turned from a road into a walking path.

The Bray’s have a large garden area.  The older garden is in the background, and a newly dug garden, for 2013 is in the foreground.

Beyond the trees is where the ditch flows.  Calling it a ditch seems silly – it’s a beautiful, clean creek banked by green grass.  They even have two bridges over it and a little row-boat.  The bee hives are on the other side.  I wish I had taken a picture of it.

The Bray’s invited my boys to use the rope swing over it; I didn’t let them, it was our first stop.  But they did take them up on the offer to play in their tree house and zip-line in the yard.

The Bray’s daughter (pictured with my little super hero-cowboys) convinced her parents to get chickens.

Leigh naturally built the coop himself.  It’s a great design; wired for brooding chicks and a heat lamp for the winter.  Egg boxes that are easily accessible and a fully enclosed run.

See that second coop in the far background?  (click on the picture for a better view).  Leigh and Diana sell the coops that Leigh makes.  They offer three fully assembled sizes to house from 2 to 12 hens, AND free delivery up to 50 miles from Denver.  They can even be rigged with solar panels to power the lights.  Check out their website: chickencoopsofcolorado.com

The next stop took us into the heart of downtown Denver.  Matt McClusky of Foodie Call Catering opened his 2500 square foot garden to visitors.

Matt is using his lot to its fullest.  I loved the hanging tomato plants all along his porch at the front of his house.

Just beyond the fence, all along the front of the house Matt has veggies growing:

If you walk around the side of the house, you’ll see how he keeps pest out of the garden and nutrients in.  My boys were totally scared of the scarecrow, and this is just one of the many compost bins I photographed on the tour.

All along the North side of Matt’s property, he was growing a lush vegetable garden.  I lost track of how many varieties, which included beautiful eggplant and broccoli plants taller than Henry.

Here you can see how he uses trellises along the fence line.

And here are more beds running the full length of his lot.

Finally, here are the super tall pole beans with a beautiful herb garden growing at the base.

The gardens and homesteads we saw on the tour were just amazing.  This is the first of three posts that I plan to share about the tour.  I’m so grateful that all the participants agreed to let me photograph and share their homesteads here, as well as opening their yards to the public.

Edit:  I mistakenly stated in my original post that the Bray family had the city ditch moved, however, the ditch was hand dug in 1863 and it has been in the same place since that time.  Instead, the Bray’s worked with the city to narrow the ditch at the corner of their property back to its original size (8 feet wide) as stated above.  I apologize for my mistake. 

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

September Garden Photo Tour

Time for a garden update!  I’ve had a particularly good year in the garden this year.  It’s not been without failures, but overall, I’m pretty happy.

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I really feel like the new bed layout has done wonders for our little crops.  They’ve gotten more sun, the drip system has given them more consistent water and, as you can see by the GIANT tomatoes, they are loving it.

We’ve pulled the beets, garlic, and a few other crops, spread some finished compost and have room to start more crops.  Rotation plans are in the works for next spring.

I even peeped over the neighbor’s fence (the other neighbors).  They moved in this spring, in the rental tri-plex unit next-door.  And two of the households worked together to plant a huge garden in a tiny strip of dirt.  I’ve been so impressed with their hard work!

Want to show off your homestead?  Denver Botanic Gardens is still looking for entries for the upcoming 2012 Urban Homestead Tour on Saturday, September 22 from 10am to 4pm.  Click here for an entry form.

Categories: Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Removing Bitterness from Eggplant without Salt

Some years are corn years and some are melon years.  This year is the year of the eggplant.  I keep seeing pictures of beautiful aubergines all over Facebook, from the West coast all the way to New York.  Local Kitchen has called it “Eggplantocalypse 2012,” a term which totally cracks me up.

It seems like eggplant is either a love-it or hate-it fruit.  I think a lot of people want to love it, because lets face it, eggplant is beautiful.

I received this amazing Nubia eggplant in my CSA share last week.

The problem is eggplant tends – heavily – toward the bitter.  Coupled with its weird texture, it just becomes hard to palate.

Eggplant also has a thick, rubbery skin.  Unless I really feel sentimental about its pretty color, I usually peel it completely.  I will at the very least peel half.  In general, the skin is a bit too tough to really enjoy.

I’ve heard all about salting eggplant to help remove the bitterness, but honestly, I don’t like this process.  I’ve never felt it helped all that much, plus it takes too long.

I recently read a novel in which a French man taught a young South American boy to cut and cook an eggplant.  The Frenchman told the boy to remove the seeds.  The boy forgot, but cut the eggplant so beautifully, the man did not care.

This got me thinking, “How would one remove the seeds from an eggplant?  Why would you, since they are totally edible.”  But then I remembered that eggplant is a member of the nightshade family.  It’s the same plant family as tomatoes and peppers.  The pith and seeds of bell peppers are bitter.

I decided to try it.  I sliced my eggplant length-wise and used a spoon to scrape out as many seeds as I could.

Then I chopped it and cooked it up in some ratatouille.

It was sweet and delicious.

Could it have been a fluke!?  Rick suggested I try it again to prove my theory.  So I did, again and again.

All summer long, we’ve been enjoying sweet eggplant… without salting it.

Suddenly I’m hearing my three-year-old say, “I love eggplant.”

I felt like I discovered a whole new way to get kids to eat eggplant!  Wait, no…  I know how to get people to eat eggplant!

It’s magic!!  I know how to remove the bitterness from eggplant!

I searched online to see if anyone else knew about this.  There wasn’t much, although I did discover that eggplant is also related to tobacco and that is why the seeds are so bitter.

There are a few applications when seeding an eggplant is not really desirable, like eggplant parmesan or for a pizza.  For those recipes I use a Japanese eggplant instead, as they tend to be less bitter to start with.

For everything else, seeding is the way to go for me.

Easy Lunch-Time Summer Pasta with Eggplant

1 eggplant
1/2 small zucchini
1 bell pepper, any color
1 large heirloom tomato
olive oil, salt and pepper
pasta, any shape

Slice, peel and seed eggplant.  Seed and chop pepper, halve and slice zucchini and chop tomato.  Combine and toss all with olive oil, salt and pepper in a shallow pan.  Roast in a medium-hot oven (375-400°) for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, being careful not to over cook.  If the eggplant roasts too long it will become mushy.

Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water until al dente.  Reserve 1/3- to ½-cup pasta water and drain.  Toss cooked pasta with roasted vegetables and reserved pasta water.  Enjoy.

And, here’s the proof…

Categories: CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

Wild Elk and Venison Jerky on Northwest Edible

From the Native Americans to The Hunger Games, people have carried jerky.  You know that if the zombie apocalypse hits, you’ll want some too.

I’m so excited that Erica at Northwest Edible Life has allowed me to do a guest post on her blog about my favorite way to preserve meat.

Rick got this recipe from his mom.  All the men in Rick’s family are big-time hunters, and my mom-in-law is the designated jerky maker for the family.  Her sons, brothers and dad all drop meat off at her house to have her transform it into this good stuff.

I’m sharing the secret recipe over at Northwest Edible.

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Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Venison Stew

When Rick and I got married, though I possessed a decent degree of skill in cooking, my meals were rarely balanced (“chicken breast is dinner… what to you mean what else are we having?”).  It took some time for me to learn that a meal included more than one thing.  But there was an exception to this; soups and stews.

I grew up in a home that made soups and stews regularly.  They were a staple in my parents’ home.  Both of my parents worked outside the home, so my mom is proficient at pressure cooking which made soup an easy weeknight meal.  She is also the master of slow cooking a stew for hours to get it just right.  I used to tell people my favorite foods were easy to remember; sushi, steak and soup!  (Mom makes a mean rare rib-eye too).  It’s tradition for our family to have a big pot of potato soup on Christmas day, which keeps everyone out of the kitchen and allows us to spend time together as a family instead.

I don’t know how Rick felt about stew before we got married.  I don’t get the impression that he had it much growing up.  For me it’s soul food.  There is nothing so good as a hot, delicious soup to warm you up at the end of a long or cold day.  I think our kids feel the same way.  If you were to ask H what is favorite food is he will either tell you potato soup or chicken noodle soup – the homemade stuff – which is my favorite as well.

Naturally, having wild game in the freezer means venison stew shows up on the menu pretty often in our home.  This recipe is one that I’ve developed by marrying my mom’s beef stew with elements of a venison recipe that an ex-coworker of mine shared with me from some now-forgotten cookbook.

Venison Stew

8 slices of bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
12 oz beer – something you like to drink, but not Guinness
4 cups water
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp black pepper
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
3-4 potatoes, peeled or not, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup fresh parsley, snipped

In a 4 quart dutch oven or other large pot, cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and save for later.  Saute the onions over medium heat in the bacon grease until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and quickly brown the venison.  Add the garlic and saute for about 30 second.  Turn the heat back to medium and add beer, water and spices including salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about two hours.

When venison is nearly tender, add the carrots and potatoes.  Simmer, uncovered for another 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender.  Taste for salt.  If you wish, thicken the stew by mixing 1 cup of cold water and 1/3 cup flour in a separate container and slowly add it to the stew while stirring.  Reheat the stew to boiling  for 1 minute.  Serve topped with reserved bacon and snipped parsley.

Categories: Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Gamey Taste of Game Meat, Part II

Every so often I publish a blog post either about hunting or with a picture of an elk steak in it.  Usually after this I get at least one or two questions about how to prepare game meat so that it doesn’t taste so “gamey.”  I hear lots of people saying they would hunt but they don’t like the taste of the meat, or that they just don’t know how to cook it. Likewise, whenever we serve game to friends and family, we get lots of surprised comments about how flavorful and good the meat is, not at all gamey as they expected.

In part one of this series I talked about the differences between beef and venison and how that affects the tenderness and juiciness of the meat.  It is important to know that wild game is not beef and therefore must be prepared differently and will taste different.  Today I’m going to talk about processing wild game and its relationship to the “gamey” flavor that venison often has a bad reputation for.  This is not a how-to, but rather an overview of the entire process.

What does venison taste like?

Deer, elk and antelope (as well as other game animals) each have a distinct flavor.  Antelope (pronghorn) and whitetail tend to have a bolder, wilder flavor, while elk tends to be less so.  Yak and bison taste the mildest, most similar to beef but slightly sweeter.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to them all as venison, despite the differences between the animals.  Mule deer, which is what we most often get in Colorado, is somewhat middle of the road on the wild-flavor scale.

First and foremost, let’s talk about what venison should taste like.  It should taste:

  • fresh
  • richer and more “meaty” than beef
  • bold with a lot of depth
  • of a mild sage or juniper flavor (depending on the animal’s diet)
  • according to some, similar to mutton, but much leaner
  • depending on the species, mildly sweet

Venison should not taste:

  • “off” or rotten
  • pungent
  • bitter
  • overly sweet
  • bland
  • like beef

Venison is darker in color than beef and should not ever smell bad or be tinged green or grey.  It is my opinion that the bad reputation of venison’s “gamey” flavor comes from poor processing habits and the serving of meat that is actually rancid or at least borderline.

What effects flavor:

The key to fresh tasting meat it to get it cool and skinned as fast as possible.  Leaving it hot or leaving the hide on will cause it to rot quickly and leave your meaty tasting quite “pungent” (i.e.: rotten).  This is important whether you plan to butcher the animal yourself or are taking it to a pro.  If you leave the hide on longer than necessary or don’t cool the meat quickly, it will have a bad flavor.

Often I’ve seen hunters leave their meat hanging, skin-on, in the garage to “age”  or “cure” the meat in hopes of making it more tender.  While properly aged meat is delicious, doing it in your attached garage is a very good recipe for rotten deer steaks.  Leaving your deer carcass hanging for days in a tree, barn, pole or garage is not aging it – it is rotting it.  Colorado weather is not conducive to the traditional buck poles of the Great Lakes states.  If you wish to age your venison, take it to a butcher or meat processor where it can be done safely, in a temperature controlled environment.

Additionally, avoid meat from trophy hunters, and avoid becoming one yourself.  Trophy hunters are usually after great big, hormone-filled bucks in the middle of the rut (mating season).  All those male deer hormones add a distinct musky flavor to the meat.  Does and cows taste much cleaner and nicer than bulls and bucks depending on when the animals are harvested.  Also, meat harvested during archery season in Colorado is going to tend to be more mild than meat from rifle season, because the archery season is before the rut.

Field dressing and cooling your meat:

Hunting is a tradition that is passed on from generation to generation, and so is processing meat.  “Processing” is a nice term for cutting and preparing an animal for consumption, including gutting, skinning and cleaning (a.k.a. field dressing).  While you can learn to do this on your own, I’ve found that most hunters have learned to do this in the field, taught by an experienced relative or friend.  Rick learned from his grandfather and uncles.

This means that if the teacher has bad meat processing habits, he (or she) will most likely be passing them on to the student.  And this leads to bad tasting meat.

Please, please, if you are not confident in your ability or the ability of your teacher to effectively process your animal, find someone who’s game tastes delicious to teach you.  Ask tons of questions, or just take it to a professional processor.

Packing out meat using game bags.

The real work of hunting is not in the tracking down and killing of the animal.  That is only where the work begins.  After harvesting an animal that is fully grown, looks healthy and is of the sex you have a license for (preferably with a shot through the heart and lungs), you should immediately open it up and gut it.

Be very careful during this process not to nick the intestines with your knife or let any of the digestive juices or fecal matter touch the meat.  Take your time and have someone who has more experience show you how to do this in the field.  Any meat that has come into contact with fecal matter or digestive juices is essentially ruined. 

Once gutted, your next move should be to remove the hide.  Take care to keep the hair and any dirt or debris off of the meat.  If it is a large animal, like an elk, you will need to quarter it to pack the meat out.  Put the skinned meat in game bags.  Game bags are inexpensive, protect your meat, and allow you to remove the hide in the field so that the meat can cool as quickly as possible.  They are well worth the small investment for the taste of your meat.

If you harvest a smaller animal such as a pronghorn or whitetail and wish to drag it from the field without quartering it, leave the hide on until you get it to a point where you can skin it as quickly as possible with out the meat becoming dirty. In either case, get the animal in coolers with ice as quickly as you can.  Keep coolers and ice in your vehicle.  If your animal is whole, saw though the sternum, pack the cavity with ice jugs and wrap it in a tarp until you can quarter it.

If it is possible, you should begin butchering the meat as soon as you are back to your work area.  If you must leave your animal overnight before you can butcher it, quarter it (if you didn’t before) and put the quarters in coolers with plenty of fresh ice jugs to get/keep it cool.

Some hunters will hang the meat, propping the body cavity open to allow it to cool overnight.  We have seen this done in the Colorado mountains where it gets below freezing each night during hunting season.  I don’t recommend this method of cooling because temperatures are not certain and can easily fluctuate, promoting bacteria growth on your meat.  If you choose to do it, make sure to quarter the animal and get it over ice first thing in the morning; sunny Colorado daytime temps can get well above 40 degrees even in late season hunts.  Also be aware that leaving your venison hanging overnight will invite bears and other predators to your camp.  Rick’s uncles have lost entire sides of an animal and incurred lots of damage to barn doors that way.

Butchering game:

Double-wrap and label your meat.

Before you begin butcher your animal, thoroughly wash your hands, knives, cutting surfaces, counters or tables and any other tools you might be using.  Butchering an entire animal is a big, messy job that most average kitchens can’t handle.  Many hunters end up using a garage or barn.  If you are among that group (we are), make sure your garage and work surfaces are scrupulously clean.  You are planning on eating this meat.  Don’t give yourself food poisoning.  Also, make sure you can keep the area cold.  Heat will rot your meat.  Dress in layers while you are cutting meat if you have to.  Lastly, make sure your knives are sharp and keep a sharpener handy.

While Rick’s family taught him how to process the animal up to this point, we don’t butcher the meat in the same way he was originally taught.  I cook quite differently than Rick’s mother and grandmother, so I prefer our meat in different cuts and thicknesses than those Rick used to bring home.  In this way, we are still learning to butcher meat ourselves.  We have read lots of books and studied diagrams, and still most of our cuts of meat (besides the back-straps and tenderloin) get the general label of “steak.”  Because of this, I’m not going to give specifics on butchering.  But here are the the points that I feel are important to share:

  • Keep everything clean.
  • Keep everything cold (40 degrees or lower).
  • Cut your steaks a little thicker than you think you should.
  • Throw away any blood-shot or bruised meat, typically around the wound.
  • Remove the silver skin (the white, inedible connective tissue over the meat).  It is easier to do it now than after you cook it.
  • Set odd bits and small pieces aside for hamburger or sausage.
  • Package your meat into serving sizes for your family.
  • Vacuum seal or double wrap your meat to prevent freezer burn.
  • Label your packages clearly with the date.

Finally, when butchering, don’t dawdle.  You are working against the clock to get your meat in the freezer before it rots.  If you need to take an extra day off of work, do it.  Don’t rush through the work, you must be careful not to cut yourself, but don’t put off the butchering.  It takes priority over other activities.

If you get the feeling that I’m blaming the negative connotations of “gamey” meat on it being rotten, you are right.  I stand firmly in the camp that if the meat tastes bad, it is bad.  By getting the meat skinned and cooled as quickly as possible, and by keeping it cold while butchering it, Rick and I have enjoyed much better tasting meat.  Not “gamey” at all, just fresh, wild and delicious.  The time invested after the animal is down is well worth it.  And enjoying the meat is the whole point.

If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve posted about cooking wild game so far, please subscribe to have my future posts shown in your RSS feed or emailed directly to your inbox by using the form in the sidebar at the right.  You can also find me on Facebook.  Thanks for reading.

Categories: Food, Hunting | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

The Gamey Taste of Game Meat, Part I

Every so often I publish a blog post either about hunting or with a picture of an elk steak in it.  Usually after this I get at least one or two questions about how to prepare game meat so that it doesn’t taste so “gamey.”  I hear lots of people saying they would hunt but they don’t like the taste of the meat, or that they just don’t know how to cook it. Likewise, whenever we serve game to friends and family, we get lots of surprised comments about how flavorful and good the meat is, not at all gamey as they expected.

Since hunting season is just around the corner for many parts of the country, and since our family mainly eats game meat, I thought I’d share a bit about how we process and cook the meat, and how we deal with the “gaminess” of venison and other meats. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to publish a series of hunting related posts, including recipes for cooking wild game.

Making wild game into a delicious meal was learned through trial and error over the last nine years of cooking and processing game.  We’ve made some discoveries that have really helped us.  When people refer to venison as gamey they are either speaking of the toughness or dryness that often occurs when cooking the meat, the distinctly wild flavor, or both.  It’s a bit backwards but I’m going to talk about cooking game meat first.  This addresses the toughness and dryness of venison.  In part two, I’ll talk about harvesting and processing game and how that directly affects the taste of your meat.

Eye fillet of grass-fed beef.

Eye fillet of grass-fed beef. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Venison is not beef.

It might seem obvious, but deer, elk and antelope are all very different from cattle.

When you cook beef, the fat and marbling you should look for when buying a steak keeps the meat moist, tender and flavorful.  A delicious juicy steak depends on it’s fat.  Nicely marbled beef can be tender and choice even cooked past medium.  This is because cattle is mainly fed corn to fatten them up (literally, to fatten them).

If you’ve ever cooked grass-fed beef, you know what I’m talking about.  Grass-fed beef is leaner than conventional corn-fed beef.  Often grass-fed beef is “finished” on corn (meaning the last few weeks of it’s life it gets corn to add in some fat).  And even if it is not, grass-fed beef still has more fat than venison.  Cows are bred to stand around and eat.  Cattle ranchers make an effort to keep their cattle from using their muscles.  Even if not confined, they don’t want them running around.  They want lazy, fat, contented cows.  They want tender muscle.  1,400 pounds of well-marbled, tender muscle.

We all know a muscle that is exercised gets harder, tougher, stronger.

Elk fillet, same cut as beef shown above.

Deer (and certainly antelope) don’t just stand around all day filling their stomachs.  They live their lives using their muscles.  They have to keep on the move, running and jumping, staying away from predators.  They have to search out water and food.  Their food is not usually a lush field of grass or corn (unless they are Nebraskan whitetail).  It’s often patches of under-brush, sage and other soft-wooded plants.  Deer eat twigs and bark and shoots.  They are nearly fat-free beings, trim at 150 (or perhaps 400 for an elk) pounds, with the hardened muscles of athletes.

This means you can not cook venison the same way as you cook beef.  While you might like your beef steak medium- to medium-rare, your venison needs to be much closer to rare, else it becomes shoe leather.  It generally should not be cooked well-done or it will be ruined, dry and tough.

Likewise, grouse, pheasant and duck are not chickens.  You must add fat when cooking grouse and pheasant.  Duck is an entirely different bird and it’s breasts can be treated as red meat, cooked to medium-rare or medium.

How to cook wild game:

To start with, use thick cuts of meat.  If you get your game processed by a butcher, ask them to cut your steaks an inch thick or thicker.  Or if you process your meat yourself, use a ruler or make yourself a template when cutting, so your steaks don’t end up too thin.  The idea here is to preserve moisture as much as possible and not over-cook the meat.  Deer and elk steaks are going to be smaller than beef steaks anyway, so if your steaks are thicker, you have more leeway with this.  Remember, you can always cut your meat thinner if you need to later, or for other uses as you get used to cooking your game.

Venison greatly benefits from a marinade.  Most of the time we, at the very least, drizzle our elk, deer or antelope steaks with olive oil and let them sit in it for 20 minutes to half an hour before we cook them.  Olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme is a great, simple combination.

Before cooking we also add fat to the pan (or grill).  Heat your pan and add a bit more olive oil.  Then cook the steak, flipping once, being careful not to over-cook it.  Remember that venison is smaller and less forgiving than beef, so keep a close eye.

Bacon grease and lard are delicious, traditional ways to add fat to your venison.  A lard-seared elk steak, to die for.  Onions sauteed in bacon grease,  the perfect base for a venison stew.  Or keep it simple with olive oil.

After cooking, let your venison steaks rest for up to ten minutes, covered, before serving.

Notice that I didn’t mention salt?  This is because salt draws moisture from meat.  When cooking venison, salt should be added just before serving.

Important to remember here is that you can’t just take a beef recipe and make it into a venison recipe without accounting for the leanness of the meat.  You want to do your utmost to preserve the meat’s juices and moisture.

If you enjoy stir-fry and fajitas, I recommend using a flank-type steak, cooked whole to medium-rare and then thinly slicing.  Only add the sliced steak into the pan for the last few seconds (if at all).

Check out websites like Field and Stream’s The Wild Chef blog or Hunter-Angler-Gardener-Cook for lots of delicious, trusted game recipes.

If you’ve enjoyed what I’ve posted about cooking wild game so far, please subscribe to have my future posts shown in your RSS feed or emailed directly to your inbox by using the form in the sidebar at the right.  Thanks for reading.

Categories: Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 27 Comments

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