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Category Archives: Processing wild game

Life Sucks When Your Vacuum Sealer Won’t!

I just bought a new vacuum sealer because, after three and a half years, my old one finally bit the dust. When processing lots of meat at home, it’s worth it to have a good, hard-working vacuum sealer.  When we first started packaging up our own meat, I used the Ziplock hand-vacuum system.  It’s nice to use since it doesn’t require electricity and I still use it for small jobs. smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 089

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As our processing jobs grew, so did our need for a more streamlined process in the form of an electric vacuum sealing system.  In addition, an electric vacuum sealer allowed us to cut our bags to order and use heavy duty plastic bags which hold up better in the freezer.

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I purchased a mid-priced Rival vacuum sealer. It certainly got the job done.  Even though it was awkward and frustrating to use, it still made the job easier and protected the meat from freezer burn. The process required the very difficult maneuver of sliding an open corner of the bag over a tiny vacuum mechanism. The bag had to be held in place with one hand while the lid was closed and then hard pressure from both hands was required to snap the lid shut before the vacuuming commenced and the sealing occurred.  Nine times out of ten, the weight of the contents would pull the bag away from the vacuum mechanism.  I usually ended up devising some sort of platform for the bag and its contents to kinda hold things in place. Even with the cursing and grumbling and need for three hands, it still allowed us to prepare our meat in all its forms for the freezer.

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However, after about 3 and a half years (four hunting seasons), it gave up the ghost.  It would no longer vacuum out all the air from the bags (which is the archenemy of frozen meat) or create a good heat seal.

Realizing that I was going to need a replacement, I looked at reviews online, for the model that I was replacing and to get some idea of what I should get to replace it.  If only I’d checked the reviews before I purchased the first one!  They were marginal at best and echoed the same issues I experienced with the same model.   I should’ve paid more from the start for a vacuum sealer that would get the job done over the long haul.

The FoodSaver V4400 is the one we decided on.  It cost about $140 from Amazon.  It does everything we need it to do… with much less effort.  It is fully automatic which means that all I have to do is place the bag into the slot (which is low enough to the counter that the weight of the contents isn’t an issue) and the machine senses the bag and begins the process, freeing up my hands. It also has a retractable hand-held vacuum.  It was designed to work with vacuum zipper bags, FoodSaver containers, canisters, and all other FoodSaver accessories including wine stoppers, jar sealers, and the Quick Marinator. It works great with the vacuum zipper bags.  I use it for cheese!  I haven’t tried the other applications yet.  The pull-out tray drawer that catches extra liquid is extremely easy to remove and is dishwasher-safe.

I’ve got to say I’m impressed so far.

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Let it be known that I’m not trying to sell this product.  What I AM trying to do is let everyone know how important it is to do your homework.  Don’t just run out and buy a product without thoroughly researching it.  Reviews are out there from other people who have had issues or kudos to share.

I’ve been thinking about getting a pressure canner and possibly a sausage stuffer.  I will definitely be checking out the reviews and let you know what I find.

 

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Hunters, Read This Before It’s Too Late!

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Okay, this isn’t actually an emergency.  But it IS one of those things that needs to be said early in the hunting season.  Read on.

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Hank Shaw, celebrated author of several outstanding wild game cookbooks and my go-to source for anything related to cooking wild game, foraging or fishing.  About a year ago, as I was leafing through my copy of Hank’s cookbook, Buck, Buck, Moose (available at Amazon, walmart.com, and Barnes & Noble) I stumbled upon several recipes that really piqued my interest.  Unfortunately, the recipes required venison shanks.  It never really dawned on me that I wouldn’t have the correct cut of meat needed to prepare the feast.  I’ve always been a huge proponent of using every inch of any animal that my Deerslayer harvests.  And yet I stood in front of an open freezer looking for a key ingredient that I didn’t have.

Thus the warning!  Don’t toss those shanks away.  If you know that a delicious meal can be had, why would you?

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These are the fore and hind shanks from one animal.  They provided 2 meals.

The recipe that I decided to try was Hank’s Braised Venison Shanks with Garlic.

You can find his recipe and directions here.

The recipe calls for the shanks to be browned on all sides (except the shin side) in a container large enough to hold them.  That was tricky.  The only thing I could find large enough to accommodate the shanks was my turkey roaster.  I have to admit that it didn’t work great because it doesn’t conduct heat like cast iron but it got the job done.

Because of the width of my turkey roaster, I doubled the ingredients needed for the braising liquid.  It turned out for the best because the braising liquid is then used to make a sauce that is superb!  There was sauce left over.  You’ll want to use it on leftovers, pasta, anything.

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Everything fits and it’s ready for the lid.

 


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The meat is on a cookie sheet ready to be basted with the sauce I prepared and glazed in the oven for some more time to optimize the roasted garlic flavor.

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The masterful photographs that accompany Mr. Shaw’s recipes are beyond compare.  When I tried to serve my shanks “on the bone”, they rolled off the plate and made a mess.  I cut the meat from the bones, which didn’t make as beautiful a presentation, but saved my tablecloth… and rug and clothing.

An outstanding dish…. loved by all.

Save the leftovers.  I have another recipe for them!

 

 

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Clean Eating and How Hunting Fits In

So, hunters, there is a new movement in the food world. Recently, many marketers are advertising their edibles as “CLEAN”.  Watch for it on commercials for restaurants, boxed make-at-home meals, and gourmet food for dogs. Clean eating and clean cooking are now “the new thing”.  The first time I heard it on a television commercial for a chain restaurant, I had to play it back because I thought I must’ve heard wrong. “Of course it should be clean”, I said to myself.20170605_154358.jpgThe Sanitary Tortilla Mfg. Co. in San Antonio, Texas took pride in its spotless working conditions as early as 1925, however. Was this the same thing?

Old folks like myself are scratching our heads and remembering a time when it was just kind of a given that food sold or prepared for human (or dog) consumption was “clean”, without extraneous hair, bugs, dirt, twigs, leaves, etc.  Surely, “the Clean Eating Movement” can’t be the same thing.  In my mind, “clean eating”  conjured up memories of my kids dropping a wet sucker on the ground… or Jello.  “Don’t put that back in your mouth!  It isn’t clean!” But when a marshmallow hit the pavement, how many parents looked around for witnesses and abided by the 5 second rule? “It builds the immunities”, we would say.

Clearly, I had to do a little research because apparently, “clean eating” has taken on a new meaning.  It now refers to eating healthy, natural, unprocessed foods; those that are as close to their natural form as possible. According to Fitness Magazine‘s description of clean eating, wild meat is preferable to pastured.

As it turns out, it is not really that new of a concept, at all.  My grandparents and great-grandparents lived by it.  It makes perfect sense. If you really think about it, hunters got the ball rolling on the “Clean Eating” movement a long, long time ago.

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Fresh nilgai shanks, locally and sustainably harvested, ready to become Osso Buco.

So, wild game is a perfect fit with the clean eating mindset.  It’s about as close to its natural form as it gets.  The meat has not been contaminated with added antibiotics, hormones, or dyes.  It goes from field to table, not by way of a processing plant that can sometimes be a source of contaminants that can cause serious illness. Many hunters even butcher their own meat, ensuring safe, sanitary packaging.

Without realizing it, hunters, we have been proponents of the “Clean Eating Movement” for years. We practically started it! We’ve been eating minimally processed food that we harvested ourselves, usually locally.  We take satisfaction in knowing that the meat we serve our families is the the best and healthiest meat on the planet which is what our families deserve.

… and nothing wasted!

What’s healthier than that?

 

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Axis Bacon-Wrapped Garlic Roast

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Get a bunch of hunters sittin’ around a fire and ask ’em what they think of axis deer meat.  I’m guessing  that the consensus, after a couple of contemplative sips of beer and a good deal of head-nodding, is that axis meat is top notch.  The flavor and texture are superlative. For several years, I’ve heard hunters say that they’d just as soon eat axis as any other variety of wild game, with the possible exception of elk.  I have to agree.

This is the beginning of my comparison between Axis and whitetail meat.   After a sip of beer, I’ll share my experience.

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This is a football roast from a small axis.  It is from the hindquarter. It’s larger than that of a whitetail.  Also, notice the thick layer of silverskin.  I discovered that it isn’t as tough or chewy as whitetail.  The roast has been placed on a roasting rack and placed over a small oven-proof pan to catch drippings.  I have to admit that this set-up is a little precarious and requires some coordination when it comes to placing the roast in the oven.  What can I say? I ride the ragged edge of disaster.  Use a roasting pan that is larger than the rack if you wish.  Problem solved.

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Notice the rich, mahogany color of the meat.  I cut the roast most of the way through, then filled the cavity with minced garlic and salt and pepper.

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I tied up the roast on the roasting rack.

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I covered the entire top of the roast with more minced garlic.   Yeah, it’s a lot.  A lot of fabulous!

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Take thick-sliced, maple bacon, cut each slice in half and lay across the top of the roast.  Place in a 350 degree oven.  Roast for about one hour.  

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I always throw a pan of root veggies in the oven at the same time as the roast.  I add sliced onions, carrots, potatoes, cubed sweet potatoes,  a drizzle of olive oil, plenty of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, all tossed together with my hands in a 9×13 baking dish.  Add about a cup of water or stock to the pan. This can go into the oven with the roast and will be ready at the same time!

 

 

 

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A First! An Axis Buck!

I’ve seen axis deer for years on drives through the Texas Hill Country.  Usually, they’re behind  the high fences of hunting ranches.  Sometimes they’re dead on the side of the road, having escaped from one of those ranches and not having kept up with the rules of the road.

They’re beautiful animals originally from India, fully spotted with long, three-pronged antlers. They were brought here to be hunted as exotics.  Slightly larger than whitetails with beautiful spotted coats like a fawn, they were first brought to Texas in the 1930s to keep on game ranches.  Because they’re exotics, they can be hunted any time during the year, not just during hunting season.

Deerslayer and I had heard, through the years, that axis is a preferred game meat because of its mild “non-gamey” taste.  I’ve always said that game that is properly processed and prepared beautifully doesn’t taste gamey.  But my curiosity was certainly piqued regarding axis deer.

Even though Deerslayer has hunted since he was a kid, he’d never had an opportunity to bag one….. UNTIL NOW!  An opportunity presented itself for Deerslayer to harvest his first Axis.  We were both really excited.  The buck was a little larger than a whitetail.  The skin was gorgeous.  I asked Deerslayer to save it for me.

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Being the Deerslayer’s Wife, I was so excited to try out the meat. It had quite a reputation. And after all, this is what I do.  As I use the meat for all my favorite recipes, such as Venison Parmesan, Pecan Crusted Venison Steaks, Seared Tenderloins or Backstrap, Bacon-Wrapped Garlic Football Roast, and all the others, I’ll share with my readers my findings regarding any differences that I discover between the axis and whitetail.

The first night that we brought it home and processed it, I noticed the gorgeous deep, rich mahogany color of the meat, deeper in color than whitetail.  There was also more fat on it than what I was used to seeing on whitetail.  In the Deerslayer household, we don’t really care for fat  that some whitetail have.  It kinda coats the inside of your mouth and doesn’t seem to add good flavor to the meat.  For the sake of experimentation, we decided to grill the tenderloins of the axis, one trimmed of fat and the other with the fat left on.

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It was the consensus of the family that both tenderloins, seared to a glorious medium-rare were as good as, if not better than, whitetail.  The tenderloin that had the fat left intact was as flavorful as can be. There was no unpleasant after-taste or mouth-feel.  I’ll continue to compare and share.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Lovely and Delicate Wild Pork and Mushroom Quiche

DSC_0116When it comes to food and the important role that it plays in our lives,  it is not surprising that some foods seem to form connections in our minds with events and special times.  Bar-b-que and beer make most people think of outdoor get-togethers with family and friends, laughing and telling stories.  Mexican food and beer… same. Football and hot wings. Hotdogs and baseball. And for many,  quiche conjures up images of brunch… with mimosas… and ladies in hats.

No deer slayer in his right mind would be a part such a scenario. But throw some wild pork sausage into the mix, and his interest will be piqued. Suddenly quiche is transformed into a hearty and savory manly meat and egg pie. Perfect for a Father’s Day breakfast. It’s all in how you present it.

This recipe allowed me to use some of the 55 pounds of ground wild pork in my freezer.  My experimentation with wild pork pan sausage began with maple pan sausage.  Because I use my one-pound packages of ground pork for a number of recipes, I never know if I’ll want it for pan sausage, or to mix with venison for burgersmeatloaf, or lasagna, or some other new recipe.  With that in mind, I season up my wild pork sausage one pound at a time as needed depending on whether I’m in the mood for maple, traditional with sage, or Italian sausage.  That way, I’m never left with a freezer full of the wrong sausage for my recipe or mood.

I’ve had a great deal of luck with LEM brand:

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I photographed the Sweet Italian variety (which is great) but for this recipe, I actually used the “regular” flavor, with some added rubbed sage.

 

Wild Pork and Mushroom Quiche

(Manly Meat and Egg Pie)

This recipe has 3 steps; preparing the sausage, preparing the crust (or use a prepared crust), and preparing the filling.

The Sausage:

1 lb. coarsely ground wild pork (The quiche will only use about ½ of the cooked pork)

3 tsp. LEM brand sausage seasoning

1 tsp. dried sage

1 oz. water (about an 1/8 of a cup)

To start this recipe, I mixed up a batch of LEM brand traditional sausage seasoning with my ground wild pork. Although the instructions suggest 2 teaspoons from the seasoning packet, I found that 3 produced the intensity of flavor that I was looking for.

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In a small glass bowl, I mixed the seasoning, 1 tsp. of dried, rubbed sage, and about an eighth of a cup of water.

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I poured the mixture into the ground pork and worked it in with my hands until the seasonings were fully incorporated into the meat.

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Then I cooked up the newly prepared sausage in a skillet and set aside.

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Next, I prepared the crust using a recipe I got from The Lard Cookbook:

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Preparing the crust:

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1¼ cups all-purpose unbleached flour plus more for dusting

 1 tsp. salt

½ cup cold and coursely chopped lard

3 tablespoons ice cold water

For the crust, combine the flour and salt in a bowl.  Using a pastry blender, two butter knives, or your fingers, cut in the lard until the mixture is a very fine crumble, about the size of peas. Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture and combine just until the mixture sticks together..Form the dough into a ball and press into a disc.  Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes*.

*While the dough is chilling, prepare your filling

Prepare a work surface by sprinkling with flour, and roll out into a disc that will fit your pie plate. I always lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough as I roll it out. It gives me more control and allows me to lift the dough more easily into the dish and press it into place without tearing the crust.

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Trim excess from around the edges and place in the fridge until you are ready to add filling.

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Preparing the filling:

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  • a glug of olive oil ( about 1 tbsp.)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • seasoned salt, a scant amount to taste (I use Tommy’s Salt & Pepper mix)
  • about ½ lb. prepared, crumbled, and cooked wild pork sausage
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup half & half
  • 1 cup grated cheese    (Any good gratable cheese will do, according to your preference)

Heat olive oil and butter in a cast iron skillet.  Add chopped onion and mushrooms and a sprinkling of seasoned salt.  Use sparingly since the sausage is quite flavorful. Stir ingredients around until onions are almost caramelized.

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Spread onion and mushroom mixture over the  bottom of the prepared crust.

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This photo is actually from a previous cooking session.  The sausage is under the mushroom/onion mixture which is why the quiche is soooo full.

Sprinkle cooked sausage over that.  There will be sausage left over.  That’s okay!  Use any extra in breakfast burritos!

 

Combine eggs, half & half, and grated cheese. Beat with a fork.

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Pour over other ingredients until full.

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Place quiche on a cookie sheet and put in a 350° oven for 25-35 minutes or until set and browned on top.

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Happy Father’s Day, Deerslayers!

 

 

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Cheaters’ Wild Pork Ribs

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There are days when just getting out of bed seems like a major achievement.  As I stagger to the kitchen whimpering for a cup of coffee,  a pile of bills waits for me on the table.  I wade through waist-deep laundry to get to the the freezer room (yes, we have a freezer room! My husband is the Deerslayer, remember.) to decide what to fix for dinner.  I stare, bleary-eyed, at the contents,  waiting for something to jump out at me, something so easy to prepare that I can whip it up in no time and still come out looking like a Homemaker Extraordinaire.   Do you have days like that, too?

Quite by accident, I stumbled upon something that fills the bill, if you will.  A couple of years ago, Deerslayer had a great year hunting wild pigs.  There was plenty of very welcome wild pork to fill our freezers.  We ground a whole bunch of it, and had several roasts and tenderloins.  I was a happy camper.  Deerslayer asked if he should keep the ribs.  Keep in mind that wild pork ribs aren’t the same size as the ones you get at the market, much smaller.  But, what the hell, said I!  So we packaged up quite a mess of ribs, as well.

I’d been wondering for a while if I could cook the ribs in the oven like I did in my post from March 22, 2013, freeze them, label them, and toss them on the pit just long enough to impart the smoky goodness at the last minute. I decided to give it a shot.

I seasoned the pork ribs very liberally with Tommy’s Salt & Pepper mix, tossed them in my covered roasting pan with a can of Dr. Pepper poured over, and braised them for approximately a couple of hours at 350 degrees, turning occasionally, until the meat just about fell off the bone.

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I was able to pull the bones right out of the ribs.  The slabs stayed intact, however. Sorry for the bad lighting.  The meat wasn’t quite that grey.

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Then I packaged up the fully-cooked meat, labeled it, and tossed it in the freezer.

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When I was ready for a speedy, great dinner, I thawed out the meat, started some charcoal in the BBQ pit and worked on my side dishes (red bell peppers to grill, some garlic to roast, and some cole slaw).

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I put the ribs on the grill just long enough to heat them through, and slathered them with my favorite BBQ sauce.  I tossed some red bell peppers on as well after I removed the seeds, opened up the peppers to lie flat, rubbed them with olive oil, and added some Salt & Pepper mix .

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Meanwhile, back in the kitchen,  I took a slew of garlic cloves (pre-peeled from Sam’s Club), tossed ’em in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil, and allowed them to roast until lightly browned and soft. Pretty damned tasty!  Most of them were eaten right out of the skillet before I could even get a picture!

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