If there’s any reward to hunting and fishing other than a trophy on the wall or the memories shared with friends and family, it’s food. During the cold-weather months a lot of time is spent catching food through the ice or preparing the protein harvested in the fall during the bow and gun season.
I’ve spent several hours this year processing venison. The three deer harvested during the rifle season went from field to freezer with little help from anyone else except to hold a leg during the field-dressing process. And thanks to the purchase of an electric winch a year ago, I no longer need any help hoisting up the venison into the garage rafters.
Everything was meticulously packaged for the year ahead. Some of the trimmings were sent to a processer for making a large batch of ring bologna, but the rest of the process was by myself. A few pounds of cubed venison went into the freezer for an easy stroganoff meal, and the steaks, tenderloins and backstraps were cut to my family’s specifications, an inch or more thick, and wrapped in plastic wrap as well as freezer paper. Some of the other trimmings out of the neck and ribs were reserved for both jerky making and about 25 pounds of the breakfast sausage that I eat with an egg or two nearly every morning.
To top it all off, several roasts were cut and wrapped for a future slow-cooker meal.
Venison offers an endless list of possibilities and in many ways my family prefers it over beef. It helps, too, that I enjoy the processing end of things, as it gives me something to do in the basement on a cold winter day.
Venison, it seems, wasn’t always the best table fare, as my grandma pointed out in a recent phone conversation. Her thoughts were that many of the deer they consumed many years ago were from the North Woods, where there wasn’t an abundance of food plots, cornfields and other agricultural bounties for deer to choose from. The taste, she claims, was always gamey.
I tend to prefer the taste of wild game. I cleaned out the freezer last weekend and found some turkey legs and thighs buried deep, from a tom I’d killed last spring. After thawing them a couple days in the fridge, I chucked it into the slow cooker for the day and shredded it up for a week’s worth of sandwich meat. My wife doesn’t care much for dark meat, yet she was pleased with the taste as well as I was. It was a touch dry but nearly similar to a venison roast or the beaver pot roast I made a couple of years ago, and the kids, who can be picky eaters, really enjoyed it.
About a month earlier, in anticipation for the month of March, and St. Patrick’s Day, I came across a corned venison recipe. I don’t eat corned meat very much throughout the year except when the month of March rolls around, yet I can’t get enough of the flavor and texture.
Seeing as I had a handful of roasts in the freezer I decided to give it a whirl. It takes five to seven days to brine the venison but it’s worth it, and there’s still time to get one ready for a St. Patrick’s Day meal along with the traditional carrots and cabbage as a side dish. I loved this recipe so much, that I tossed two more roasts in the fridge this week.
The recipe I found was posted by David Draper on the Field&Stream website. I followed it as closely as possible, with a few variations of my own, but it’s simple.
3-4 pound venison roast
1/2 cup Morton’s Tender Quick
1/2 cup canning salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 quarts water
3 tablespoons pickling spices
12 black peppercorns
6-10 garlic cloves
Bring the water to a boil and add the Tender Quick, canning salt and sugar. Once it’s dissolved completely you can transfer it to the fridge to cool, or I simply set it outside in the cold to cool a bit faster.
When the brine has cooled completely, place the roast in a nonreactive bowl and pour the liquid over it, while also adding pickling spices, garlic cloves and peppercorns. The roasts tend to float in the water, so I placed a small plate over the top to weight it down, and set it in the fridge for the next 5-7 days. Every other day, I took the roast out to turn it and swirl the spices around and put it back into the fridge.
After the 5-7 days were up, I rinsed the roast under water and placed it in a pot, covering the roast halfway up with fresh cold water, and simmered it on the stove in our coated cast-iron pot with the cover on for about three hours. I added the cabbage and carrots and a few potatoes in the final hour of cooking for the one-pot meal.