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Category Archives: Processing wild game

Faux-so Buco

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This picture was staged as a single serving.  Far from it! It served two with extra for leftovers.  The single glass of wine, not so much.

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!

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Also tried it with a shoulder!  Gorgeous!

Honestly, I felt the the whole shank, bone-in, made an impressive presentation in and of itself. 20191014_1147031024931814.jpg

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.

 

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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.

DSC_0079  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

Happy Father’s Day, Deerslayers!

 

 

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