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July 9, 2007

How to Keep Venison from Becoming Door-Stop Material


There is a certain mystery to eating wild game. The mystery is usually precisely how it’s going to taste.


We’re accustomed to expecting our steaks to taste a certain way, our pork chops to taste another and our chicken breasts to look bland and flaccid before cooked.


The reason for this is simple enough – all of those animals are reasonably expected to eat the same thing during those days before they visit the slaughterhouse. Wild animals, on the other hand, often feed themselves on the first thing they come across.


Venison, the meat of the deer, offers perhaps a clearer example of this than anything else. A deer that has eaten field corn most of its life will taste milder. A deer that has foraged off things like acorns will have a gamier flavor. So, while it’s true that you are what you eat, it’s equally true that you also taste like what you eat.


There is another stark difference between venison and beef. Beef is produced today to have a perfect kind of marbling, which will add more beefy flavor to it. Venison, on the other hand, is a very lean meat. When the words “very lean” are attached to venison, it’s meant to convey the notion that, as a meat, if it had any more lean to it, it would fall over.


This plays an important role once it comes time to cook it. Lean meat cooks faster, and it also dries out faster. In fact, there are people out there – cavemen, really – who will argue that the proper way to cook venison steak is to pass it four feet over the top of a fire, flip it, and again pass it four feet over the top of the fire.


Like certain kinds of hair, it tends to dry out the longer it’s exposed to heat. Why this happens to your hair only Paul Mitchell can explain, but venison dries out quickly when exposed to heat because it is so very lean. So, to properly cook a venison steak, it should be properly soaked in marinade and also cooked only for a short period of time.


This makes it a high-maintenance kind of food. You cannot put it over your coals and wander off to talk shop with the neighbors. You must heat it for a short period of time, flip it and heat it for another short period of time, and remove it before it becomes as tough and dry as shoe leather.

The question is: In what you should soak your venison steak? There are as many answers as there are constellations in the nighttime sky, perhaps more, but a good one will include some kind of liquid that is highly acidic. This will help soften the meat, and make it a bit more forgiving if a shiny piece of metal distracts you as you cook.


For instance, mix some olive oil and white wine vinegar together. Into that, mince a couple cloves of garlic, some coarse salt and thyme and rosemary. You can substitute any herb for thyme and rosemary, but any replacement must also come from the family of so-called “meat herbs,” things that seem to have a natural affinity for foods from things that bleed.


Once your marinade is ready, the next step is fairly obvious. Dredge your steaks through it, place them in a dish and place that in a cool place for at least half an hour. This will give the marinade time to penetrate the open cracks of the venison and for the vinegar to soften the muscle tissue.

In fact, while the meat soaks is a good time to prepare the coals. Keep in mind while building your pyre of coal that venison cooks quickly. If you ever foresee an advantage to skimping on coals, this is a time to work it.


Once the coals have ashed over, you are ready to cook your venison steaks. It’s vital to know the heat of your coals, since venison will cook quickly. To gauge their heat, here is a trick to use – hold your hand over them. The hotter it feels, the hotter your coals. Adjust your cooking time accordingly, but seven or eight minutes a side is probably a good base to start.

You will soon know whether you have guessed the time for cooking properly. Either you will soon have a tender treat, or you’ll have wrapped your lips around something best used to keep the door open.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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