It's that time of year - deer hunting season! Some may already have a deer in the freezer, and others are looking to have the same by the end of the season.
Many of us depend on venison as a primary protein source or, at least, as a nice change from proteins we may eat throughout the rest of the year. Venison is actually a healthy protein option, as it is a lean meat. Ground venison is comparable in fat content to 95-percent lean ground beef. It is a good source of iron and zinc, nutrients that are sometimes in marginal supply in the American diet.
Venison can be substituted for any red meat in your favorite recipes. For oven roasting, use a temperature no lower than 325?F. Ground meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160?F. Steaks and roasts that have been processed and handled safely can be cooked medium rare - 145?F - or medium - 160?F. Using an instant-read thermometer is the only way to know the internal temperature of the meat.
Place the thermometer in the thickest portion of the meat and avoid holding it against a bone or the pan. When the thermometer reads 5 degrees below the target temperature, you can remove the meat from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. It will continue to cook to the target temperature. If food is mishandled at any point in the process from field to table, bacteria in the meat can produce toxins that cause food-borne illnesses. These toxins are not destroyed by cooking.
Because venison is low in fat, it will dry out if overcooked. For this reason, moist heat methods, such as a slow cooker, give the most desirable product. Dry-heat roasting can be used on cuts that are naturally tender, such as top round, sirloin and rump roasts, if the deer is very young. However you choose to cook your venison, do not salt the meat before cooking - it will draw out the natural juices.
If the venison has a strong "gamey" flavor that is objectionable, try trimming all visible fat from the meat or soaking the meat in salted water, milk, buttermilk, or vinegar to remove blood from the flesh. Using marinades or strong flavors such as soy sauce when cooking also may help reduce a strong flavor.
Here's one of my favorite venison recipes. It is easy, tender and very tasty!
Venison for Tacos
DIRECTIONS: Mix half the taco seasoning with the flour and cayenne pepper to taste and coat the meat with the mixture. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the roast in the oil and brown well on all sides. Place the meat in a slow cooker with the water, and cook on a low setting for eight hours or on a high setting for five hours. When meat is done, shred with a fork and season to taste.
If you are looking to preserve your venison, it can be done by freezing, curing, canning or drying. Freeze meat using freezer paper or plastic resealable freezer bags, and use within eight months for best quality.
When canning venison, a pressure canner must be used. Venison is a low-acid food, as it does not have enough natural acids to stop the growth of very dangerous bacteria and toxins; therefore, a boiling water bath is not an acceptable method of processing. For example, chunks of venison properly prepared are considered safe only after being processed in a pressure canner at 12 pounds (dial gauge) or 15 pounds (weighted gauge) of pressure for 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts.
To make sure your dial gauge pressure canner is reading accurately, have it checked annually at the WVU Extension office.
For more information on preparing or preserving venison, or to have your dial gauge canner checked, contact the WVU Randolph or Barbour County extension services at 304-636-2455 or 304-457-3254, respectively.
If you would like more extensive information on venison safety, including proper field dressing and processing, attend an interactive Venison 101 training at the Heart and Hand Market in Philippi from 6 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 12. The class is free, but pre-registration is required. Call the WVU Barbour County Extension office for more details or to register at 304-457-3254.
- Hannah Fincham is the WVU Families and Health Extension Agent in Barbour and Randolph counties. She can be reached via email at Hannah.Fincham@mail.wvu.edu, or by telephone at 304-636-2455 or 304-457-3254.