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A year of a deer.


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Most of the meat we eat in our house is game. I'm blessed to live in an area of the world possessing a variety and abundance of game. Moose, deer, bear, ducks, geese, pheasant, grouse, rabbit and hare can all be found in my freezer and a trip to the coast every summer gets us a few hundred pounds of salmon and halibut. Other than the occasional chicken or pork cuts we buy VERY little meat.

Over the last 12 years I have killed and processed 60+ big game animals for our food and literally thousands of waterfowl, gamebirds and small game. I've learned a lot about butchering them and cooking them, including utilizing charcuterie and sous vide in their preparation.

I thought it might be interesting for some to follow a single deer from the field through processing to the dishes it ends up in throughout the year. I won't show or talk about every single dish since a lot of it ends up being eaten as hamburgers or pretty pedestrian stews and stirfys but I will try to highlight some of the unique or special recipes I make with it.

PS. This is not meant to be a back and forth on the morals, need or ethics of hunting (lots of other places to duke that out) but to merely talk about one animal from a culinary point of view. Some of the initial pictures may be a little graphic for some but I've tried to tone it down as much as possible.

Anyway. Here's the product in the raw form. A young buck I shot in the back country west of my home. The land is designated as Forestry zone, so there are no homes or crops allowed and only limited grazing by cattle permitted. Some logging takes place but there are few roads. This deer is about as free range as any meat can get. I was able to get a steady and clear shot and put the bullet between his nostrils into the brain. A knife thrust to the heart sped him along and helped to bleed him out. The boys helped in the cleaning.

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After hanging by the pelvis with the hide on for 20 days at about 2-4 degrees C this was the state the deer was in. Normally I save the ribs off of younger deer but on the ones I hang, the rib meat is quite thin and dries out quickly.

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Starting the hide from the rear -- note the fat deposits.

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The deer completely skinned out. Again, note the fat layer on the outside.

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With sharp knife, all the outer fat is carefully shaved off of the meat, leaving the wide flat muscles coming off of the shoulder available for stir fry and fajita cuts.

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Front legs removed, exposing back loins.

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Spine and rib cage is all that is left.

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A front quarter, ready for boning out. With wild game we NEVER use cuts like those done for beef, but instead separate out all the individual muscle groups and package according to whether they are grilled, braised or ground. The long bones are cracked, roasted and used for stock making.

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A sampling of the cuts we get. Clockwise from top right: Neck meat (stews), Top Sirloin (grilling and one of the best cuts from the animal), Tricep (stews and braising), two Under Blade cuts (perfect for fajitas), and two heels (calf muscle) with the achilles tendons attached to add body to the liquids they are braised in.

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Everything cut wrapped, boxed and ready to freeze. Weighed 57 lbs of nearly boneless (fatless and silverskinless)meat (we keep the shanks on the bone). By comparison, the cow moose we got yielded 285 lbs of boneless meat so one moose equals 5 deer in terms of meat yield.

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The first two dishes (other than the fresh liver eaten the day after the hunt):

Venison Bibimbap:

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Tenderloins in a balsamic orange sauce with stuffed potato and beet puree (bad pic). The tenderloins weren't aged but removed the day of killing -- they tend to dry into jerky if left to hang at all.

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Edited by sjemac (log)
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Great looking deer. I would be very interested in watching a year's progression of cooking the deer. We just brought home two deers worth of meat from the processor and I would like to avoid buying much meat this year. I need some new ideas on how to cook it and will follow your posts with great interest.

Thanks for doing this.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Nice job! I wish I had the space to let them age properly (and the low temps).

Do you have a picture of the apparatus you use to hang it from the back end? I usually use the gambrel method, like a big coat hanger but I'm curious as to how you are holding that deer, what is the chain hooking on to?

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.

- Errol Flynn

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What a great surprise to find the start of a fascinating topic. Do you really think such fine looking deer will last a whole year?

If we had digital cameras a thousand years ago, there would pictures like your first one -- excited youngsters posing with pride.

So, I'm assuming US . . . are you in Minnesota?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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What a great surprise to find the start of a fascinating topic. Do you really think such fine looking deer will last a whole year?

If we had digital cameras a thousand years ago, there would pictures like your first one -- excited youngsters posing with pride.

So, I'm assuming US . . . are you in Minnesota?

Alberta actually. No. One deer would never last an entire year. We got through 4-5 a year and this year we got a moose so that will replace more than a couple of deer.

Since I've got this one labeled and put in a special spot in the freezer I will only be posting pics and recipes from this specific deer here. Since he was so cleanly killed (I personally hate the word harvested) nearly all of the usable parts are there to be cooked.

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You didn't mention elk, so I wouldn't have guessed Alberta.

What happens to the hide?

What a great surprise to find the start of a fascinating topic. Do you really think such fine looking deer will last a whole year?

If we had digital cameras a thousand years ago, there would pictures like your first one -- excited youngsters posing with pride.

So, I'm assuming US . . . are you in Minnesota?

Alberta actually. No. One deer would never last an entire year. We got through 4-5 a year and this year we got a moose so that will replace more than a couple of deer.

Since I've got this one labeled and put in a special spot in the freezer I will only be posting pics and recipes from this specific deer here. Since he was so cleanly killed (I personally hate the word harvested) nearly all of the usable parts are there to be cooked.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Excellent work with your butchering. I've hunted deer for years and taken some but always had it processed by a butcher. I can't imagine taking and eating a moose. We don't have them here.

Once you learn to do it yourself, you get to cut what you want. Game butchers leave dirt and fat and silver skin on and they cut through bones. Game bone dust and marrow is responsible for a lot of the "off" flavor you get from some game. By butchering it yourself, you will also get back a lot more meat than you will from the butcher. They aren't as concerned about getting all the edible bits off. For them it is a numbers game and a lot of usable trim gets binned.

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I'm really glad you started this topic. Dad and I sometimes butcher the deer we (mostly he; I haven't killed one in awhile) shoots, though where we live on the Eastern Shore of Md. it's more of a meat harvest than a hunt anyway. Plus, the deer eat lots of corn and soybeans so they're somewhat semi-farm-raised anyway.

But you know what you're doing more than we do, so I'll try to learn more here.

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When I was young, I remember my Dad hanging deer in our basement. At the time all I could think about was Bambi, but now I'd love to try game again. When I was growing up, we always had deer on the table, or rabbit, caught out in the backyard in snares. Occasionally, my aunt in Newfoundland would send down some potted moose or rabbit she'd made. My grandmother always thoughtfully brought a frozen char with her when she came down from Labrador for visits, and I always remember thinking, "Gawd, why can't we just eat chicken like normal people." But one summer I visited my family in Labrador, and we had the sweetest trout, char, and elk fondue - I still remember it to this day, although I couldn't have been more than seven at the time.

It's great to see that your kids are involved in the hunt, and enjoy eating game; I was a complete brat about it most of the time. But I wonder what my Korean friends would say about that bibimbap! Deer is taken medicinally in Korea in the form of antlers, but I don't think it's that common to eat the flesh.

I can't wait to see what else you make with it. Do you have any tips for cooking deer? I remember my mothers' always coming out tough and chewy, one reason why I hated it so much.

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I admit, I always feel a wee twinge of sadness for the animals, but at the same time, I think, "Cool!"

I have questions which may seem stupid for hunters. . .

Why do you trim off the fat? Fat is usually good, no?

Why do you hang some deer and not others? Does it affect the flavour or quality of the meat in some way?

I'd like to know what you do with the hides, too. Not food related, but still of interest! At least to me!

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Anyway, what do you do with the bones?  Is venison stock any good?

All game stocks are great. I use the same methods one would use for any stock. I keep cubes of frozen venison demiglace in the freezer to use in sauces and/or stews.

I can't wait to see what else you make with it. Do you have any tips for cooking deer? I remember my mothers' always coming out tough and chewy, one reason why I hated it so much.

5 minutes or 5 hours is the rule with venison and wild duck. Hot and fast, done to medium rare at the most or braised very low and slow (Like 200 degrees or less) for several hours. If we have venison steaks I refuse to cook them past medium. Medium rare is about 135 -140. 150 is garbage already. You also have to trim all the connective tissue or it tightens right up.

Why do you trim off the fat?  Fat is usually good, no?

Why do you hang some deer and not others?  Does it affect the flavour or quality of the meat in some way?

I'd like to know what you do with the hides, too.  Not food related, but still of interest!  At least to me!

Fat is good in animals that are fed a pretty constant diet of the same mild tasting food, be it grain, corn, grass etc. Wild game will eat from many different sources during the course of the day including spruce trees, sage brush and other things that you might not want the flavor of. Those flavors concentrate in the fats. Deer fat is also extremely tallowy an taking a drink of cold water after taking a bite of fatty deer leaves your mouth with an unpleasant waxy coating.

It is the same with wild waterfowl. A mallard that has been eating grain for a month is beautiful roasted whole with a thick layer of fatty skin. The same bird feeding in a salt marsh on mollusks would have to be skinned out completely and all the fat trimmed to be even palatable.

I hang deer that the temps and conditions allow me to. If it is too warm, I have to clean them up quickly and if it is too cold, I've got to clean them up before they freeze solid. Young deer of the year are already quite mild and tender and don't require much, if any hanging. Hanging more mature animals lets the enzymes in the meat break it down and make it more tender -- much like aged beef. I find the flavor "meatier". Again, because we are not dealing with a cookie cutter feeding and slaughter process, two deer of the same size and weight shot on the same day can have very different flavors due to diet and whether they were stressed at death -- among other things.

The hides go back out to the forest to feed the coyotes and ravens. They will clean up a pile of deer scraps overnight.

Edited by sjemac (log)
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I love to butcher deer--that is the only part of marriage that I miss, I guess. :hmmm: I always boned mine out, and marked it just like yours, by how I planned to cook it.

I think we had one done by a processer--not good, like you say. Of course, the year I had to do 4 all by myself, I was ready to send one or two off.

I like deer ribs barbecued, like pork ribs, especially if they come from a nice fat doe.

Too bad I don't like getting up early in the cold darkness--if I could hunt on a nice spring afternoon, I'd go get my own.

sparrowgrass
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. . . . 5 minutes or 5 hours is the rule with venison and wild duck . . . .

I agree. That goes for almost any lean & gamey meat.

So how do you do the 5 hour version? I don't own a gun but I'm very happy to have good friends that do, and like me, they enjoy bartering. Sometimes it's a basement poker game, either way there's no GST.

Right know I'm doing Venison Stew from The Silver Pallette for the first time. I skipped the part where you burn off the gin (I just can't bring myself to do that to Blue Sapphire) and I don't have any chicken livers handy, and no juniper berries, but other than that . . .

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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It is the same with wild waterfowl.  A mallard that has been eating grain for a month is beautiful roasted whole with a thick layer of fatty skin.  The same bird feeding in a salt marsh on mollusks would have to be skinned out completely and all the fat trimmed to be even palatable.

I might disagree with you a bit there. We took a fresh wild goose last Thursday that my friend killed that morning, plucked, gutted and cleaned it, sopped it in the accumulated juices on the back well of a pig slowly cooking over applewood overnight for a Christmas party -- and then roasted it with the hog for a few hours. Very low temperatures (below 200 in the beginning while it sat atop the pig in the goodness, then up front by the embers at like 250 for the remainder, to brown and crisp), and it was rare in the middle.

Everything on that bird -- including the skin and fat -- was nutty and delicious. Granted, geese here on the Eastern Shore eat a lot of farmers' corn left in the fields and soybeabs, but still it's wild game.

I know this gets away from the deer discussion. I don't like the taste of venison fat. I tend to slowly braise and stew my venison (often with Guinness or another dark beer as liquid) in stews.

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It is the same with wild waterfowl.  A mallard that has been eating grain for a month is beautiful roasted whole with a thick layer of fatty skin.  The same bird feeding in a salt marsh on mollusks would have to be skinned out completely and all the fat trimmed to be even palatable.

I might disagree with you a bit there. We took a fresh wild goose last Thursday that my friend killed that morning, plucked, gutted and cleaned it, sopped it in the accumulated juices on the back well of a pig slowly cooking over applewood overnight for a Christmas party -- and then roasted it with the hog for a few hours. Very low temperatures (below 200 in the beginning while it sat atop the pig in the goodness, then up front by the embers at like 250 for the remainder, to brown and crisp), and it was rare in the middle.

Everything on that bird -- including the skin and fat -- was nutty and delicious. Granted, geese here on the Eastern Shore eat a lot of farmers' corn left in the fields and soybeabs, but still it's wild game.

I know this gets away from the deer discussion. I don't like the taste of venison fat. I tend to slowly braise and stew my venison (often with Guinness or another dark beer as liquid) in stews.

I'm not sure that you really are disagreeing, Chappie. It sounds like your bird ate grains in addition to or even instead of mollusks. Then again, taste is a subjective element, anyway.

Great topic and great job!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It is the same with wild waterfowl.  A mallard that has been eating grain for a month is beautiful roasted whole with a thick layer of fatty skin.  The same bird feeding in a salt marsh on mollusks would have to be skinned out completely and all the fat trimmed to be even palatable.

I might disagree with you a bit there. We took a fresh wild goose last Thursday that my friend killed that morning, plucked, gutted and cleaned it, sopped it in the accumulated juices on the back well of a pig slowly cooking over applewood overnight for a Christmas party -- and then roasted it with the hog for a few hours. Very low temperatures (below 200 in the beginning while it sat atop the pig in the goodness, then up front by the embers at like 250 for the remainder, to brown and crisp), and it was rare in the middle.

Everything on that bird -- including the skin and fat -- was nutty and delicious. Granted, geese here on the Eastern Shore eat a lot of farmers' corn left in the fields and soybeabs, but still it's wild game.

I know this gets away from the deer discussion. I don't like the taste of venison fat. I tend to slowly braise and stew my venison (often with Guinness or another dark beer as liquid) in stews.

Nearly all wild mallards here feed on grain -- those are the birds I'm talking about. Other mallards on the west coast feed extensively on herring eggs and taste like it.

Your goose was still likely grain fed or fed on some other crop. I spent 26 years on the east coast hunting on Prince Edward Island. Most geese there eat grain and little to no animal matter. Some will eat eel grass which makes them even tastier. I've eaten black ducks that were feeding in grain fields and black ducks that were feeding on tiny snails. Grain fed was definitely better.

Most people don't like the deer fat taste but careful trimming and dissecting out of the muscle groups (as opposed to cutting across them as per beef butchering) removes most of this.

Edited by sjemac (log)
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. . . . 5 minutes or 5 hours is the rule with venison and wild duck . . . .

So how do you do the 5 hour version? I don't own a gun but I'm very happy to have good friends that do, and like me, they enjoy bartering.

Various ways but the basics are sear, add the aromatics and liquids and braise. I generally don't slow cook roasting cuts but choose cuts from the shoulder and neck. I do a fantastic braised shank with couscous or orzo.

wow, fantastic thread.

do u smoke any of it? i had smoked shoulder the other week, it tasted great. also, i think smoking the heart is considered a delicacy up north here in sweden.

Smoke some of it, depending on what I want. I've done breseola, and smoked sausages and have corned the heart and tongue for sandwiches.

Some basic dishes made recently from this deer:

A curry with an almond/yogurt paste based on this Recipe

Served on rice and garnished with cilantro and ginger. It needed more spice and acidity. I would increase the level of coriander in the spice mixture and add a more flavorable pepper -- likely in the form of a sauce.

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A traditional tortiere from my Acadian roots (my family has been making this since the 1700's at least -- the crust has evolved over the generations and it was made with wild hare). The filling is simply deer meat, salt and pepper with some deer stock for moisture all cooked in a pot till it is fall apart tender. The flavor in the dish comes from the crust which contains Old Bay, smoked paprika, onion powder, cayenne, pepper and salt.

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And to answer an earlier question as to how we hang the deer by the pelvis:

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Great post. Your pictures hint you are as good in the kitchen as in the butchering room.

This year, we got a lot of deer carcasses (carcassi ?) from our neighbors who know we feed our dogs raw food and meaty bones. By the end of hunting season, I could tell they were getting tired of deer (or else their freezers were full) since they pretty much just removed the backstraps, heads and hides and left the rest for us. Wish I had your butchering skills! But I got a lot of practice.

I *DID* take advantage of having so darn many bones around and made stock and demiglace. Used the first of it right before the holidays, and it was great. We are out of room in our freezers now, too.

M. Jackson

“Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love.”

M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1942)

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Great post.

I've only had deer a few times and didn't really care for it but recently had deer backstrap and it was a revelation.  Wonderful, just wonderful

95% of deer flavor is in the care and preparation BEFORE butchering. If you shot a fine steer in the guts and chased it for miles and then dragged it through mud and crap before putting it in the back of a pick up in 75 degree heat for the 3 hr drive home then beef would be pretty rank too.

Air dried venison Carpaccio:

Venison loin from the neck end sliced thin and on a rack for drying.

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24 hrs later. Drying gives some "chew" and concentrates flavor.

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Marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, capers, shallots, green olives, salt and pepper for 24 hrs.

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Finished with shaved parm cheese and green onion.

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