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Help! I'm marrying a hunter...

And I was raised by a mostly-vegetarian mother and a chicken-and-beef-eating father. I'm a bit at a loss for what to do with venison and elk. Please, please, please, get me excited about wild game so I can stop hoping for a failed hunting season!

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  1. I'll talk to my sister - she also married a hunter, and was just learning to cook at the time. I think she has a couple of favorite cookbooks/recipes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      Thank you! I'd love cookbook recommendations...one more excuse to add to my already shamefully large collection.

    2. Fortune has smiled on you. Venison and elk especially, are very tasty provided you realize from the getgo that they aren't fat meats and it is easy to over cook them. There are some game cookbooks out there but it is more important as to how the meat is treated from the time it is killed until it gets to the table. DON'T HANG IT OUTSIDE! Cold age it under controlled conditions.
      http://www.wildgamerecipes.org/ might be of comfort to you.

      2 Replies
      1. re: houdini

        OH, you lucky, lucky girl! Ditto the advice on proper handling of your prizes. I have seen loads of great game recipes in a huge variety of cookbooks....browse through your library and pick a few recipes to try out. My hubby doesn't hunt anymore, but when he did, I often substituted venison or elk for beef with good results. My 78 year old MIL just bagged a big buck yesterday, and I am going to make sure we get some of that venison!

        1. re: kmr

          Thank you! Reading everyone's posts is making me much more enthusiastic about this - and less nervous about cooking something entirely foreign to me. I love Chowhound!

      2. I'm a vegetarian but my childhood was spent eating wild game - mostly elk. I stopped eating meat when "steak" became "cow". Elk or venison "steak" is SO much better!

        I was too young to really recall mom cooking with wild game. I don't think she used any game-specific recipes. Actually I am sure she didn't (still has the same, growing, collection of cookbooks).

        1. It should be fun to experiment with different cooking methods and things like that. Does his family have any traditions or favorites? (My rule is to never make anything that is my mother-in-law's specialty.) But maybe other family members have tips or suggestions.
          (PS: Lock up those guns in the house...)

          1. Awesome. Maybe he could shoot some small game (rabbit, upland birds, etc.) to ease you into it at first. The old Joy of Cooking had a lot of information about how to handle all types of game, not sure about the new edition. In my opinion, wild birds are amazingly tasty, and woodcock is about the best meat I've ever eaten. If he's just doing elk and venison, then it might be worth it to have it processed by a butcher.

            1 Reply
            1. re: charlesbois

              Thanks for the reminder about Joy of Cooking. I remember looking through my mom's copy as a kid and cracking up over the diagrams of how to skin racoons and other things I would never have thought could be food. I will have to look for this or talk my mom into sending me her copy.

            2. You can treat them just like beef or lamb, with a few little tips.

              Trim the fat/sinew very carefully. The thing that turns my wife off the most is a small piece of tendon that got past me. Secondly, it almost always (with the exception of a fresh -- and I mean fresh -- backstrap) tastes sweeter when marinated in a wine/vinegar based marinade. I typically will use half a bottle of red with about a half cup of apple cider vinegar, then add seasoning to taste. Believe it or not, the vinegar sweetens up the meat and removes any funkiness that may be lingering in the meat. Also, be careful you don't cook it for very long. Medium-rare is just about the perfect amount of cooking for venison or elk. Much more and you can easily turn a prime cut into dry leather. Gentle cooking gets rewarded.

              Finally, a trick I learned last year: if your husband does his own butchering, don't have him cut the tenderloin out of the ribs/spine. Instead, get a jigsaw or skill saw and cut the ribs off next to the spine and keep the meat on the bone, just like a prime rib. Then cook it like a prime rib and slice it into single portions after it's done. It makes a HUGE difference in how well the meat cooks. Something about having the bone in there keeps the temperatures down in the middle of the loin while the outside browns/carmelizes quite nicely. It's easier than trying to filet out the tenderloin and it cooks better.

              5 Replies
              1. re: captbob

                Great post! But I bet the latter half was way too much info for her.

                1. re: Quine

                  So, how would wild game do braised? If this would work, how long/what temperature would you recommend?

                  He doesn't do his own butchering, but the butcher he works with is great. If he gets something this year, I'll see if we can have the butcher leave the spine/ribs attached. Thanks for the suggestion!

                  1. re: kkbriggs

                    IMO, braising is the best use for venison. I make a lot of daube and "beef" burgandy in the winter. Only the loin (backstrap) gets cooked w/out marinade or moisture. Loin cut into medallions and seared cast iron is the way my hunter prefers it.

                    I have also given a larger piece of loin an herb crust and roasted, using a recipe for beef loin. As mentioned above, do NOT cook past medium rare.

                2. re: captbob

                  Just heard from my sister, who said she generally just follows recipes for beef when cooking venison.

                  1. re: captbob

                    I don't think I wouid leave the meat attached to the spine. With the (admittedly slim) chance of transferal of CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) I don't think it's worth the risk of exposing any meat to spinal fluids.

                    Plus, there's just almost no better piece of meat than the backstrap (with the exception of the tenderloins). It just peels away from the backbone as easy as you please.

                    I meant to reply to CaptBob above. Sorry.

                  2. My dad was a hunter. Growing up we had deer steaks, rabbit stews, and roast duck. We didnt' have a ton of cash so was also had our own garden. It was awesome to have stew made of rabbit meat, carrots onions and potatoes grown in our own garden. Noting beat deer steak on the bbq etiher! The best methods were always the simplest. I envy you :) Why not get in the spirit of things and start a veg garden..or even herbs and scallions? Also - think of how much money you'll save? Money he can use to buy you presents - I mean seedlings lol

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: eastcoastgirl_westcoastlife

                      My garden is started already. Well, actually, it's finished for the year (except for herbs), but I have carrots to last until at least this time next year!

                      I didn't realize rabbits could be hunted, but I do like rabbit...I think everything I've had has been farm-raised though. I'll have to ask about that.

                      This is great! You're all getting me so much more excited about this new cooking adventure. Thank you!!

                    2. Can I be your son? I'm a very nice boy, about thirty years old. I like barbeque and game meat and my wife likes the same thing.

                      In exchange, you get two young tots wearing striped shirts and eating the game meats!

                      1. Oh, you are very lucky indeed. You got game, sistah! Venison and elk are delicious meats, very lean, and very easy to cook. Venison steaks in a brandy, green peppercorn, cream sauce is one of my favourite in-house treats when I have to do a fancy-schmanzy dinner. Even if you like your meat medium or well done, do not do this to game! You will utterly destroy the meat's texture and flavour, and thereby dishonour the animal.

                        You don't mention game birds, but they shouldn't cause you concern either. During my student days, a roommate of mine and his father were hunters. Roommie and I had a deal: he brought me partridge, I'd cook them for us. Great arrangement.

                        If I have *one* piece of advice: Make absolutely certain, when trimming the meat, that you get the silver skin, all the silver skin. You should do that anyway, but I don't know a meat that is more easily ruined by residual silver skin than game meats.

                        I don't know whether it's still in print (publ.1988), but years ago my stepfather gave me Game: The art of preparation and cooking of game and fowl, by Klaus Wockinger. It has a long chapter on the butchering of cuts from various animals with very handy step-by-step photos, and the recipes cover everything from the obvious (moose, elk, partridge) to the less likely (mountain sheep, bear).

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: hungry_pangolin

                          I'll look for this book. Thanks.

                          Duck and pheasant are possibilities, depending on his work schedule. Deer and elk are definitely the priorities, but we got a duck dog last spring and if he ever grows out of his extreme immaturity (the dog, not the husband!), duck hunting might be more entertaining.

                          Thank you again to everyone for getting me excited about game. Keep the suggestions coming!

                          1. re: kkbriggs

                            What kind of "duck dog"? A Nova Scotia tolling retriever? If so, lucky you, again - they're a great breed.

                            As to your question about braising, game works very well, again, making sure that trim *all* silver skin. Premium cuts like top sirloin roast, steaks, tenderloin, should be reserved for suitable preparation, but the tougher cuts like shoulder, or outside round can braised with a mirepoix, wine, and stock - low and slow - like a pot roast, say 2 hours (or more, depending on the toughness) for a 3 lb cut. Trimings for stew from the butchering process are also good. The only thing is that you will normally need to use either some beef fat or bacon in the stew because the meat is so lean. I find that juniper berries are a nice addition to venison stew.

                            1. re: hungry_pangolin

                              If you do get duck - I just made a very tasty dish last night from Julia Child's The Way to Cook - I'll post as soon as I download the photos - you process leg meat, sauteed onions, a dab of cream, thyme, allspice, salt and pepper in a food processor, then form into pear shaped patties (you'll see the difficulty I had with that! - should have chilled the mixture first) and then sautee. They were delicious. I also sauteed duck breasts, so we had duck "two ways" last night.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                Mmm. My mouth is watering. Would love the recipe.

                                1. re: gramercyfoodie

                                  Just saw this - I'll post it on the COM thread and put a link here. In the meantime - here's a link to the post with photos.


                              2. re: hungry_pangolin

                                He's a Chesapeake Bay retriever. He got to go out pheasant hunting last weekend, but was more interested in sniffing out the territory than in the hunting. But, he's still young, so hopefully there are ducks and upland birds in my future!

                                MMRuth's recipe made me order a copy of TWTC and so I'm really hoping for some duck in my not so distant future.

                          2. My best friends Grandmother use to make burgers using a 50/50 mix of venison and beef. They were fantastic and appealed to a lot of people that think venison is too gamey.

                            1. I have had amazing goulash made with elk meat....

                              I don't have much experience preparing large game, but if your husband gets into upland game bird hunting (pheasant, quail, partridge), I'm your girl.

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: Megiac

                                So, last weekend was the first attempt at upland birding. Not a successful trip this time, but he really enjoyed it and I'd imagine there will be more excursions over the next couple of months. So, I'd love suggestions!

                                1. re: Megiac

                                  So, there's a pheasant on it's way to me right now. What do I do??? I am planning to check Joy of Cooking next, but thought I'd see if you have any suggestions.

                                  1. re: kkbriggs

                                    Edna Lewis writes about pheasant in " The Taste of Country Cooking". She talks about aging it and then cooking it in a covered casserole.

                                  2. re: Megiac

                                    megiac -
                                    would love to get your thoughts on game birds for the thanksgiving meal - feeding 5 (incl 2 teenagers & 1 unadventurous adult) and want to do something different than turkey or a capon. can you give me ideas on the taste differences of guinea hen, pheasant and partridge? thinking of a basic roast, and don't want to serve up anything TOO lean or gamey... thoughts? thanks so much!

                                    1. re: jdubboston

                                      Game birds are pretty lean, but you can compensate with the judicious application of bacon. Partridge is probably your best bet, especially if it has been farmed. I have found that serving a stewed fruit compote, or stuffing with fruit (pear is my fave), or a similar strategy, provides a balance against any gaminess to which the unadventurous might object.

                                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                        Do you think this applies to Cornish Game Hen as well? Planning on making them for Thanksgiving - for the first time. Thanks!

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Cornish hen is actually pretty rich, so it's not really necessary, although, I do like to put mild pancetta between the flesh and the skin over the breast. I find that the best cornish hen is not stuffed. I rub the bird inside and out with a broken garlic clove, rosemary, salt, pepper, put pancetta over the breast beneath the skin, slice of lemon the cavity, drizzle a bit of olive on the skin, and roast. Happy Thanksgiving!

                                          1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                            Thanks - I wasn't planning on stuffing it, so that's good to know. My plan is to use a JC recipe that includes serving them on canapes with a chicken (cornish game hen?!) liver/foie gras pate.

                                            Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              I'm having trouble visualising this canape thing. Are you breaking the birds down into bite-sized morsels? I always serve them as main course.

                                              1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                Ah - sorry - canape in the traditional JC MAFC sense - a piece of bread - largish in this case - fried in clarified butter, spread with this liver/foie gras mixture (has seasonings, alcohol, etc.), then place the bird on top - as a main course.

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  Ah, bon! Now I get it. Sounds delightful.

                                      2. re: jdubboston

                                        Pheasant is great. We just had our first one two nights ago and although I overcooked it, it was still really tasty. I stuffed the cavity with thyme and garlic, wrapped the body in a couple strips of bacon, then braised in orange juice. Unfortunately, I braised it too long - the recipe I used said five hours at 250, which I thought was a lot, so I checked it after 90 minutes and it was already way past done. But, it was still really tasty. However, for five, you'd want at least three pheasants, I think, and probably would be fine with four. They are a lot meatier than I'd expected, but not a big bird at all. Once it was cleaned and ready to cook, it couldn't have weighed two pounds.

                                    2. I had a smoked elk roast for Thanksgiving once. We weren't hunters, but had family and friends who were, and were given venison every year. My experience is that it can dry out more easily than beef (lower fat) so a little more care needs to be taken with it. I made a venison stroganoff most recently that was exceptionally good. If I had some ground venison, I would love to try to make meatballs with a tangy cherry sauce.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: WCchopper

                                        I love stroganoff! Did you use a beef recipe and just substitute for venison, or do you have a particular recipe you would use?

                                        1. re: kkbriggs

                                          Just the normal beef recipe I use.

                                      2. Your'e really lucky.

                                        Just one rule (in your favor): The hunter(s) is(are) responsible for all shot and slug removal, skinning, hanging, sectioning, butchering, curing, plucking, gutting, bleeding, gland removal, hide stretching and curing, leather making, and fur care.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          Oh, yes. Definitely. If I didn't shoot it, I'm not touching it until it comes back from the butcher wrapped in butcher paper! And since I don't plan on shooting, I think I'm safe. Thanks for backing me up on this one :)

                                        2. Epicurious has some good venison recipes -- and it's great in chili.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: dinner belle

                                            Thanks - I'd not thought to check there, but now that you mention it, I know I've seen some venison recipes in Gourmet over the past couple of years.

                                          2. Learn to make terrines!!! There's a good basic recipe in one of the Julia Child cookbooks - The Way to Cook maybe?
                                            Once you conquer the basic recipe, you can substitute game for some of the meat. Deer liver for chicken liver. Strips of game laid into the basic meat mix to create a mosaic look when it's sliced. Wild boar works for the pork if you add fat since boar is generally leaner than domestic pork. A single game bird or two can make a very elegant small terrine using most of the flesh in the forcemeat and strips of the breast laid into the mix. Wild duck or goose makes terrific country terrines.
                                            Better than anything you're likely to find at the expensive gourmet shops.

                                            And don't forget confit! Cook those duck and goose legs down in some fat for a real treat. Make sure your hunters don't "breast" the fowl in the field. You want those legs!

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              I just ordered TWTC, thanks to your suggestion and MMRuth's above. Thanks!

                                              1. re: kkbriggs

                                                BTW - my sister keeps forgetting to give me the name of the hunting cook book she has. I have a beautiful book by Charlie Trotter called Meat and Game - I've cooked rabbit from it but not much else - the recipes are incredibly labor intensive. However, inspirational photos and lots of good ideas for flavor pairings.


                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  Thanks for recommending this book. I got it from the library this weekend. It is gorgeous, and I love a cookbook that uses truffles or foie gras in nearly every recipe! I marked a few recipes to copy and attempt someday, but most of the recipes are pretty intense. It was fun to browse, though!

                                                  1. re: kkbriggs

                                                    I made the "Rabbit Loin with English Pea Risotto, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Their Puree, and Globe Basil" for my husband one year for his birthday. But, by about 4pm, somehow (after also baking a cake), all I had was some basil oil, the puree, chicken stock and a rabbit saddle! So we went out for Chinese food and I finished it up for lunch the next day. It was delicious, but as I mentioned - better for inspiration than for actual cooking!!

                                                    I did also make the Dairyless Celery Root Soup with Chicken Livers, Roasted Tiny Granny Smith Apples and Thyme - it was wonderful

                                            2. For some background on the topic, I suggest you get a copy of "The Whole Beast: From Nose to Tail Eating," by Fergus Henderson. It's a very interesting read, with recipes (however, I feel silly recommending it now, because I just checked the appendix and apparantly Henderson doesn't address Elk or Deer. He does talk a lot about wild game birds. Hmpfh!).

                                              That, in addition to the book that I picked up at a used book store years ago (in the event of Armageddon), called "Butchering, Processing and Preservation of Meat," by Frank G. Ashbrook. While I've never actually butchered an animal, this book has actually come in handy with random questions (getting feathers off a bird) and strange cuts of meat one sometimes can get in the Los Angeles area from ethnic markets. Anyhow, reading it was fascinating in a grisly way, and not unenlightening.

                                              Your plight has made me, for one, very curious. I wish you luck on your challenge, and really hope you will post back with results!!

                                              Edited to add that the Ferguson book DOES have recipes for Venison. Silly me, I checked deer and elk but not the meat in question.

                                              1. While perusing my bookshelves, I found that I have a spiral bound book called "Cooking Alabama's Wild Game" which I have no recollection of acquiring. (Hmmm, now where did that......?) Anyway, it was produced by the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service at Auburn University and has information on care, cooking technique, and recipes for more wild game than I care to know about.Even game substitutions are covered. So either this book or your own state extension service may have all of the info you want or need on this subject.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: WCchopper

                                                  I think your suggestion is good for basic info about storage, butchering, etc., but I'm not sure I would get my venison recipes from a hunting specific source. While the book you have might be marvelous, I've seen a lot of scary recipes in hunting pubs over the years. Have you ever watched people cook on a hunting show? It ain't pretty. I think a person should take hunting advice from hunters, but cooking advice from cooks.

                                                  I grew up thinking venison was disgusting because of the offerings I had tasted from various friends' dads. I never realized how great it could be until I cooked it myself. I think I used a recipe for lamb.

                                                  1. re: danna

                                                    Not a hunting book, the source is the food science department of Auburn University. It is simply Alabama game- specific, not like a hunting club fundraiser cookbook. I have gotten a lot of helpful information from Extension Services about canning, food preservation, gardening, and plants. I would say that this book would be very helpful to a game cooking neophite.

                                                    1. re: danna

                                                      Yeah, I have to agree with you here! I don't actively watch hunting shows, but sometimes when he's watching and I happen to walk by, I always have to stop and watch the terrifying food they're preparing. I don't know why you'd be motivated to hunt if hunters were the only ones cooking up your trophies! However, the extension cookbook sounds promising as a source of information, although living in Washington I think I'll look for one a little more local than Alabama's Wild Game. I love excuses to acquire more cookbooks!

                                                  2. I was once in the house of an avid hunter/outdoorsman and just as I had gotten over my surprise at the many (many, many, MANY) prizes stuffed and hung all over the house, I noticed a cookbook in the kitchen authored by Ted Nugent. It's called "Kill it, then Grill it".

                                                    1. Your butcher probably has some great sausage recipes or someplace he sends the meat to have sausage made. Because of the lean wild meat pork fat is usually added. I love venison salami.

                                                      1. I grew up eating game meat - moose and caribou mostly - and prefer it beef. So I learned to hunt and married a hunter to shoot the things I didn't - bird hunting is not my forte. There is no real difference in cooking game except that it has a lower fat content so you need to watch your moisture - I like my meat medium rare to rare and that keeps game from drying out. I cook big game just like I do beef, venison with the exception of the backstrap-I prefer to cook with more moisture or make into sausage, bear, goat and sheep I prefer in a stew or chili, pheasants with moisture - think fricassee, duck and goose definately need extra moisture too - my personal favorite is goose in cherry sauce.

                                                        Have fun!

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: AlaskaChick

                                                          I have a question... OK, 2:
                                                          I have a bag/several bags of various cuts of venison that have been in the freezer for about 10-ish months. The meat was sent to me by a friend in PA. Her husband had bagged a 13-pointer and had it butchered.

                                                          How long should a deer be hung before it's butchered?

                                                          I ask this because it seemed as one day the deer was killed and very soon afterward she sent me the meat. It had been frozen but when the package arrived the bag was very bloody. Not knowing exactly what to do I threw it in the freezer. Upon relating this to her, she said it happens to her all the time and she has always cooked it without incident.

                                                          Should I cook the meat?

                                                          1. re: Gio

                                                            My husband hangs his 2-3 days. Sometimes there is some blood in the packages when I open them, not copious amounts though.

                                                            1. re: Gio

                                                              As I understand it, the hanging is in large part to enhance the flavor of the venison. I don't think there is any food safety reason not to cook it. James Beard's American Cookery has an interesting (and amusing) section on venison and the proper amount of time to age it. The entire chapter on game is worth reading.

                                                              1. re: WCchopper

                                                                Thank you for your answers, danna and WCchopper. I appreciate it. Good to know my worries are over!

                                                          2. The River Cottage Meat Book has a whole section on game, I've only skimmed the game section so far. But I have two venison tenderloins in the freezer, so I was going to check it out in more detail this weekend. I'll let you know how big the section is. Otherwise it's a completely fantastic book, so I think it's worth getting for any kind of meat prep.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: pigtowner

                                                              THANK YOU for recommending this book. I'd never encountered it, and I love it. I checked it out from the library this weekend, and now have three copies on their way to me from Amazon (this is the PERFECT gift for a couple of my friends - so you made my xmas shopping easier too!)

                                                            2. The LL Bean Cookbook has some game recipes.

                                                              Second the recommendation for Joy of Cooking.

                                                              1. Hi there, another wife of a hunter here. We like to pan fry venison with onions, yum, for a really quick, simple supper. I've tried to cook it a few times in the crockpot, but you need to be careful because venison is so lean that it dries up quickly. I've put extra water in the pot, tried cooking it at the lowest setting possible, but I've never been really happy with the way it comes out in the crockpot.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Kat

                                                                  That's what I'm doing tonight...onions and a few peppers picked before the frost, and seared-in-butter loin medallions of this year's kill.

                                                                  Actually, it's this year's second kill. It pains me to say this, but the first kill of the year had to be thrown away. After careful butchering, I cooked up the tenderloin a couple of weeks ago, and it was inedible. Very, very tough, with a weird texture I don't know how to describe. And an unpleasant flavor. (the cat wouldn't even eat any) My husband says he has a vague memory of killing deer at this particular location (not his normal hunting property) and it being bad years ago. He's vowed never to hunt there again, but I'm wondering what in the world could be the issue? Bad genes? Some sort of weird forage? Toxic waste? I've been an onmivore all my life and am not squeamish about the killing, but wasting the meat seems so tragic.

                                                                2. My father (now 81) does an annual venison dinner at a local pub. It just happened to be last Sunday afternoon. He has been doing this for probably the last 20 years. He takes the venison roasts and marinades them in bottled Italian dressing for 2 days. (Of course you could make your own vinegar/oil based marinade). Then he cooks it like a pot roast, in a slow oven for 2 or 3 hours, with potatoes, onions, carrots and parsnips. Use scrubbed baby potatoes and a few bags of "baby" carrots and the only pealing you need to do is the parsnips. You can use coursely chopped white onions or even frozen pearl onions.

                                                                  Once the meat is tender, he removes the meat and veggies to a foil pan and thickens the "gravy" with flour and water. Adding more water or canned stock (beef, chicken or veggie) until it reaches the right consistancy.

                                                                  This event has become such a hit that it now takes my father 2 or 3 days to prepare, and is an annual "event" for many of the people in our town.

                                                                  1. I spent 20 years in Alaska --- 12 of them without running water (long, long story both tedious and exciting). We mostly ate wild game. I cooked it quickly, I cooked it with wine, I stewed it for a long time and eventually discovered that the tougher pieces can be made into the most fabulous brauts and hotdogs in the world. You know only good things went into it.

                                                                    The marinade with vinegar is a great idea. Bet a little balsamic in there would be very interesting.

                                                                    Our weim would have been a fabulous hunting dog if she hadn't discovered the joys of being a princess first. She does princess well.