I have to admit that I’ve sometimes imagined what it would be like to have my own cooking show. I doubt that it would be on the Food Network since I don’t have that kind of “presence”. But then, where? Food Network is just not my style nor am I theirs. My niche is pretty small. I just happen to be very happily married to a hunter, a deer hunter to be exact (and a duck, dove, pheasant, wild pig, elk, and nilgai hunter). Obviously, my show would be on a hunting or outdoor network. They seem to be a bit more forgiving if you don’t have a professional-grade kitchen and/or a dazzling smile. I have neither. I wear a grungy red denim “cooking shirt” that catches all the splashes and splatters!
I usually snap out of it when I remind myself that, while cooking in my own modest kitchen with a stove that doesn’t work worth a damn, I spend too much time scraping every last bit of batter out of a bowl so as not to waste any. Or cutting the tiniest scraps of meat away from the silverskin because, you guessed it, I don’t want any to go to waste. Never in my vast experience of watching countless hours of culinary shows have I seen the sparkling banter seize while the last teaspoon of gravy is carefully rescued from the pot. It’s in my blood to save what can be saved, use what can be used, and serve what can be served. I’m guessing that if you have embraced the “hunt to eat” lifestyle, then you, too, want to use every possible bit.
I feel like this is where I can help. This is my niche. I know that you don’t want to waste any of the valuable meat that you harvested yourself …. which seems all the more important these days!
There’s nothing more disappointing that finding a great wild game recipe that calls for an odd bit of meat that you disposed of or ground into hamburger. That’s why I’m here. Now. This is the time, before deer hunting season is in full swing, to know that you should save the shanks, heart, liver, and any tough or sinewy bits that many hunters leave behind.
The shanks and shoulders, can be used to prepare Hank Shaw’s amazing Braised Venison Shanks with Garlic that is so tender that it falls off the bone. Truly! I prepared the recipe and added photos and comments here. These same cuts of meat can also be used for Faux-so Buco, another dish that is nice enough to serve to company.
Hearts and livers are both wonderful when breaded, fried and served with onions and cream gravy. They can also be used in the cajun specialty, boudin (recipe to come soon). Or an elegant country terrine (also on the way).
Save all these bits! Toss them in Ziplock bags, remove all the air, label and date them, and stick them in the freezer. When you do find a great recipe that calls for one of the less mainstream deer parts, you will be ready!
My point is this. Before deer season is over, you’ll have all sorts of cool bits of venison in your freezer which will add diversity and excitement to your meal planning. So when you grab your morning cup of coffee and find some fabulous recipes from the likes of pros like Hank Shaw, Conor Bofin, and Steven Rinella or just a friend like the Deerslayer’s Wife you’ll have everything you need to try something new.
Well, it’s Labor Day weekend in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. That means that the Deerslayer (Doveslayer) family has come from far and wide to hunt whitewing doves. It’s an annual event that has taken place for as many years as I’ve been a part of the family. As you all know, the gathering of family is as important as the actual hunt. The younger generation that, as kids, used to play around, gut and pluck birds, and get some lessons in shooting, have become the next generation of hunters and are adults now. It’s hard to believe. I have pictures that show tiny little hands plucking and gutting birds back in the day.
This year it looked like the Labor Day hunt would be washed out. It’s not unusual to get heavy rain around this time of year and inches of rain that had already fallen with more on the way could’ve made it impossible for the hunters to walk through the fields. Strong winds might’ve sent the birds out of the area all together.
Patience paid off, however. Even though it was a muddy mess, the hunt took place. There would be birds to put in the freezer.
Processing the birds takes some care but is definitely worth the effort. First, it’s worth plucking the birds rather than peeling off the skin. In the moment, after a hard and muddy day of hunting, peeling seems like the easiest way to go. The skin, however, provides a protective layer that prevents freezer burn and results in moister meat when cooked. You won’t regret it.
This is purely optional but we absolutely love the giblets (hearts, livers, and gizzards) and always set them aside to save in a plastic zipper top bag. They are always thrown into a batch of Special Occasion Whitewing with Gravy as a special treat.
Packaging and Freezing Birds
After many years of packaging and freezing birds, Deerslayer (doveslayer) and I have come up with a method that not only protects the birds from freezer burn, but also allows them to be stored and stacked in the freezer to make the best use of space.
Rubbermaid makes a 6×10 container that will hold 12 birds and giblets. I like this size because it fits nicely in the freezer and because 2-3 birds per person is just about right for our family. The plastic bag of giblets is rolled and nestled along one side, among the birds. The next larger size of container, 9×13, will hold about 18 birds.
First, place the birds in the container and freeze for several hours. Then, add enough water to fill the container up about an inch. The reason for this is that the birds will float if too much water is added at once. Return the container to the freezer. After water has frozen, top off with enough water to cover birds and return to freezer.
After the birds are covered with ice, place lid on them, label the package with the number of birds and the date. The containers can then be stacked.
When you’re ready to cook up a batch of birds, either Special Occasion Whitewing Doves with Gravy, or Dove Breast Crostini, or Dove Ravioli in Browned Butter, or whatever your favorite recipe is, simply allow the container of birds to thaw in the sink until all the ice is completely melted, pouring off water as it melts. Pat the birds dry before browning.
Be pleased knowing that your priceless whitewing will be preserved for your special occasions.
Among those of us who have embraced the hunting lifestyle, there seem to be two different camps or schools of thought regarding how to bring to the table the meat that has been harvested. There are those who rely solely on their tried-and-true, time-tested recipes often handed down through generations. The problem with this way of thinking is that, as great as these dishes are, they lose their appeal when prepared too often. It’s tragic when a family rolls their eyes and says, “Not again” when presented a beautiful platter of chicken fried venison backstrap, for example.
The other camp, in which I like to consider myself, likes to think outside the box, be more creative when deciding how to prepare wild game for the family. The pioneers (and my heroes) in this field include the likes of Hank Shaw, Steven Rinella, and Conor Bofin. While a willingness to experiment opens up a world of culinary possibilities, it comes with its dangers, too.
And so my cautionary tale begins….
One year the Deerslayer household was gifted with a wild turkey that was going to be the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving table. It was going to be a meal like no other, spectacular. It would be talked about for years to come. You see, I had an idea! I would use the tenderizing qualities of fresh pineapple in a brine that would result in a flavorful, moist and tender bird since wild turkey can be tricky to prepare. Those of you who know much more than I about the qualities of pineapple are seeing where this is going, but bear with me here.
I was soooo sure of my plan that I photographed each and every step so that I could share this brilliant vision with everyone.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the pineapple would dissolve the skin of the turkey! What I pulled out of the oven resembled some kind of zombie creature almost too hideous to cast eyes upon. Yet stare, I did. Thanksgiving would be ruined! Luckily, we had green beans, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Strangely enough, the beast smelled amazing. It wasn’t yet cooked all the way through when I discovered the catastrophe.
This is the part in the story where Deerslayer saved the day like a superhero donning a camo cape. Before I knew what was happening, he had removed the legs, thighs, and wings from the carcass, poured the fat from the roasting pan into a skillet and proceeded to confit those bits, cooking them in their own fat so that the result was delicious meat that we were able to serve with all the fixings to our small gathering.
Before we sat down, the two breast halves were cut from the bone, placed in two sous vide bags with some of the juices from the roasting pan, and set to cook in a water bath of 150° fahrenheit for about an hour and a half. This meat would be ready for sandwiches and pot pie for the next couple of days.
Later that evening, the carcass was placed in a pot large enough to hold it with frozen veggies saved for stock and enough water to cover it. We put it on to simmer after we finished the dishes.
We finished our miraculously delicious meal. What was destined to be a failed Thanksgiving ended up as one of the best ever because the disaster was averted and we looked forward to delectable sandwiches and pot pie during the coming days. In the end, it WAS a meal like no other and we HAVE talked about it in awe since then. And probably will for years to come
What’s the take-away from this narrative? The willingness to be creative and to try new things is what makes life fun. But be prepared to have a plan B or at least a sense of humor about the whole thing. And maybe not for a Thanksgiving dinner.
P.S. I am thankful for my wonderful husband who is quick on the draw in an emergency and for my two amazing daughters who have a sense of humor.
Halloween is over and Thanksgiving is almost here. I know I’m not the only person around who still has several decorative pumpkins artistically placed around my home and, yes, even at the hunting ranch. I do this every year. They represent my favorite time of year, autumn. And they seem to last FOREVER!
After they have served their aesthetic purpose, I roast the flesh, package it up, and freeze it to use in my best loved pumpkin recipes. This gorgeous soup is one of my favorites. It is elegant, rich and hearty without being heavy, and EASY . I have made up batches, poured them into mason jars for transport, and taken them to the hunting camp. It would also just as easily be an elegant first course for any Thanksgiving dinner.
Elegant Pumpkin Soup
1/2 onion, chopped 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 carrots, chopped 2 tsp. brown sugar
2 stalks celery, chopped 1 1/2 tsp. salt
olive oil 1/4 tsp. black pepper
32 oz. chicken stock 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked pumpkin 1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt salted roasted pepitas*
*pepitas are shelled pumpkin seeds
In a large soup pot, saute onion, carrots, celery in olive oil until tender. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes until veggies are tender. Add pumpkin and spices. Puree with immersion blender. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Add whipping cream if you want extra richness. Stir in. Complement with stirred sour cream or greek yogurt thinned with a bit of milk so that it can be drizzled artistically (and stirred in more smoothly). Sprinkle with salted pepitas.
I’m always looking for new wild game recipes and methods for cooking the meat that fills my freezers, particularly at this time of year when I’m trying to finish up last year’s harvest. Sometimes I stumble upon a fabulous recipe that’s just exactly what I’m looking for, just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. More often than not, though, I have to adapt a promising recipe to fit my needs, skill set, grocery list, and/or level of motivation and/or stamina. I’m guessing that most of you do the same thing. That’s why you’re reading this post.
Most recently, I’ve been enamored of the sous vide cooking method because of the way it can be used for preparing all cuts of venison, elk, and nilgai from tender pieces that require a precise 131 degrees fahrenheit for a perfectly medium rare presentation to tougher cuts that must be cooked for a long time to allow the tough sinew to break down into tender, gelatinous, USABLE meat.
I came across a number of recipes for tougher cuts that required 24-48 hour cooking times using the immersion method (sous vide) but I was reluctant to try them. I have to admit that I was skeptical. Would the longer cooking time actually be a time saver if I had to check in on it periodically? Would it produce the “fall off the bone” result that I was looking for?
I relied on David Draper’s Venison Osso Buco for guidance regarding the 24 hour sous vide cook time, adapted it to suit my level of expertise (none) and difficulty. The recipe called for shanks, cross-cut into one-inch sections (the picture looked like 2-3 inch chunks, but never mind that). I had lots of shanks in the freezer. However, I wanted a recipe that allowed me to use whole shanks without having to cut them into rounds. So, technically, what I intended to make wasn’t osso buco since “osso buco” translates to “bone with a hole” or marrow bone which is acquired by the cross-cut shank. In an attempt to make the recipe a bit easier to put together, I wanted to see if it would work with whole shanks. A single shank with sauce on a bed of pasta would serve at least two people. While an authentic osso buco with cross-cut shanks creates a stunning presentation, ease of preparation certainly has its place in the wild game culinary realm.
I followed Mr. Draper’s recipe for the sauce, adding a bit of oregano, thyme, and salt to taste. I prepared the recipe twice, the first time with two smaller shanks and the second with one larger one, tweaking my method along the way. The smaller shanks and sauce were divided and fit easily into 1 gallon zip bags which I attached to the side of the pot with clothespins after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit. My second attempt used a larger shank was too long for a one gallon zip bag. I had to use a vacuum bag custom-cut to the length I needed for my shank plus the sauce. Rather than heat-sealing the vacuum bag, I pushed most of the air out of it, folded over the end, and taped it closed using packing tape. I attached the bag to the side of the pot with plastic clips, once again after the water had reached 176 degrees fahrenheit.
Using the immersion method for such a long period of time presented a problem with evaporation. During my first attempt, the water level dropped several times, causing the machine to turn off. Luckily I caught it before the water temperature had dropped so much that cooking stopped. I tried to balance the lid atop the pot, using a potholder to tip the lid so that collected water was redirected back into the pot. I still needed to check the water level and add water two times. For my second try, foil was placed over the pot with the center of the foil slightly punched down to redirect condensation back into the pot. I still had to add water a couple of times.
A great thing about using the sous vide method is that it’s incredibly forgiving. I knew that the meat wouldn’t be overcooked, dry, or tasteless. The long cook times for tougher cuts to fall off the bone are approximate, even within a few hours. I began the shanks the evening before I was to serve them. Because I was new to the long overnight cook time, I was apprehensive so the “ease of preparation” aspect didn’t pan out. I think I will become more comfortable with practice. The result was wonderful, though. The meat fell off the bone!
Honestly, I felt the the whole shank, bone-in, made an impressive presentation in and of itself.
Over all, I would recommend the sous vide for shank and other cook-all-day cuts of venison, elk, nilgai, etc. There are specially made sous vide containers on the market that have lids that fit around the device preventing evaporation. They are available online and at restaurant supply stores. I will probably be picking one up. This method enabled me to prepare a recipe that I would otherwise have overlooked until much cooler weather had I required a long cook time in the oven.
Go for it. Save those shanks this season. Let me know how it goes.
The Deerslayer family recently converged at the ranch to celebrate two birthdays, Deerslayer’s and one daughter’s who drove in from college. Don’t forget that it’s been hotter than stink in Texas and the thought of heating up the cabin by baking a cake didn’t appeal to me one bit. I love my family dearly but no one wanted birthday cake if it meant that our one room camphouse/sleeping quarters would become too warm to, well, sleep in.
I solved the problem by baking my cake at home before we headed up to the hunting camp. I cooled the two layers of the chocolate cake, wrapped them in cling wrap, and froze them.
I packed the ingredients that I needed to assemble the cake on location: blackberry filling (aka blackberry jam), prepared (store-bought!) dark chocolate icing, sliced almonds (not shown above) and a cake carrier to be used to cart the left-over cake back to college with my Junior Deerslayer.
The frozen layers of cake were packed in our Yeti 65 cooler with the other foods that I cooked ahead of time and froze for the trip to cut back on on-site cooking time. Because everything that went into the cooler was already frozen, it was easier to keep everything that way for the 8 hour trip. I chose the Yeti 65 because it’s just the right size to hold frozen evening meals for 4 people for several days. The frozen foods plus frozen cake leave just enough room for a 10 lb. bag of ice.
Good meals, good cake, cool camp house. Priceless!
If you have any tips on transporting yummy desserts for hungry hunters, please share.
It’s already been established in my last post that it’s hot as hell in the Texas Hill Country (as usual)! It doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of work that’s got to be done to get ready for the upcoming hunting seasons. Staying cool when there’s so much to do is a top priority. I don’t need to tell any of you that you need to stay hydrated, wear light colors, and use plenty of sunscreen. We take our Yeti Roadster cooler in the truck to carry cold drinks and some chilled fruit when we’re working on feeder pens and hunting blinds.
Of course, everyone will also need to eat and they will want to eat well after all the hard work they’ve done. Nobody, however, wants the stove or oven to heat up the camper, cabin, or ranch house no matter how delectable the meal. That’s why the meals should be carefully planned so that the indoors stay as cool as possible. Using the stove heats up the quarters less than using the oven. If you must use the stove, be sure to take hot skillets or pots outside after they’ve been used so they don’t continue to radiate heat. An even better alternative is to set up an outdoor propane stove, like the Camp Chef, Browning, or Coleman, so that all the heat stays outside.
When planning for breakfast, always make arrangements to have the accoutrements for coffee! There are several ways to prepare coffee for the hunting camp. See them here. Milk or cream, raw or white sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Recently, since it’s just Deerslayer and myself heading out to work, we’ve been going pretty light for the morning meal; cereal, fruit, breakfast muffins, and of course milk, juice, and coffee. A heavy meal in the morning before working in the hot sun can lower one’s productivity.
Everyone is usually ready to come in for lunch early because of the heat and I’ve been serving sandwiches (BLTs, ruebens, sliced turkey or venison), cold watermelon, and some chips or soup. I will usually cook up bacon ahead of time and bring it with me. Reheating it for sandwiches requires much less time at the stove than cooking it as needed. Don’t forget to take the skillet or griddle outside as soon as you’re finished with it if your aren’t cooking outside!
For dinner, I’ve come to rely on my sous vide cooker pretty heavily. Check here for more info about how it works. I can actually set it up before we head out to work in the afternoon. I use it for chicken and venison, preparing more than we need for our meal. The leftovers can be used the next day for tacos, tostadas (sometimes called chalupas), or hearty sandwiches. My next post will include instructions for using the sous vide to get several meals with leftovers.
The key is in the planning. I plan my menus out before we get to the ranch. That enables me to have what I need for my recipes (which are pretty simple) and make a grocery list.
Like most hunting ranches, ours is out in the middle of nowhere. A trip to the grocer would be more than an hour. Nothing is worse than planning and looking forward to wonderful Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches (BLTs) only to discover that there’s NO “L”!
As all the deer slayers and their wives know, this time of year can be brutal. But the reward will be great. Stay tuned for some recipes and prep tips.
Please share any tips of your own and your thoughts.
It’s still the hottest part of the summer in the Texas Hill Country. However, there’s plenty for hunters to do in the sweltering heat. The feeders have to be filled. The overgrown roads need to be cleared. In many cases, hunting camp trailers, cabins and ranch houses need to be cleaned up and prepared for the upcoming season. This particular season, we have the additional work of righting three of our blinds and removing dozens of downed trees after a big storm that blew through a few weeks ago.
It’s my job to bring enough food and cold beverages to keep my deerslayer up and running to get the job done. I like to start with food from our fridge at home, using produce and perishables that would, um, perish if we left them at home. My favorite cooler for packing food is the Yeti 105. It’s large capacity (21.8 gallons) and tall interior (14 usable inches when closed) make it perfect for most of the chilled food that I need to take. It is tall enough to hold a gallon of milk (or juice) with room above it for the wire rack that comes with it.
I discovered that a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowe’s fits perfectly in one side of the cooler. When fitted with a kitchen trash bag, I can fill the bucket with produce, cheese, lunch meat, etc., anything that needs to be chilled but that I don’t want to become waterlogged as the ice melts. Heaviest or less delicate items like cabbage or blocks of cheese can go on the bottom. Easily bruised produce and other delicate things can rest up top.
Once the cooler is full, pack ice around milk, other beverages, and between the bucket and the walls of the cooler but not into it. The items in the cooler should stay chilled for a number of hours. Extra ice can be added as needed.
As much as I LOVE our Yeti coolers, one of the only issues that I have with them is that they are HEAVY. Even empty, they weigh quite a bit. A solution that I found for moving them around the house easily for packing is to set them on small moving dollies that we purchased from Harbor Freight. The dollies allow me to roll the coolers freely around the kitchen and out to the truck for loading. I purchased two extra ones to keep in our hunting cabin. I can use the coolers when I need them and push them conveniently out of the way when I don’t.
Fix good meals, work efficiently, get stuff done! Hunting season will be here before we know it! Embrace the Hunters’ Lifestyle!
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