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Corned Nilgai

DSC_0311I was so excited when I read Hank Shaw’s post on Corned Venison!  I’m a huge fan of corned beef and a big fan of Hank Shaw, as well.  There are few things better than a corned beef sandwich on rye bread (except perhaps corned venison or corned nilgai) served up like a reuben with saurkraut and beer mustard.

Hank did a very thorough (and beautifully photographed) job of describing the process of making corned venison so I didn’t bother putting my own spin on it except that, this most recent time, I used half of a nilgai roast instead of venison and I threw in a deer heart just to see  how it would turn out. (Really well!)  I’ve prepared the recipe three times now.  The first two times, I used venison football roasts. The recipe turned out great.  Flavorful and tender.

The Instacure I ordered from Amazon Prime.  I followed Hank’s directions to a “t” except that I used brown sugar rather than white for the brine.  I just like brown sugar better as a general rule.  My biggest challenge came when I was looking for a container to place my meat in while it brined.  I settled on a plastic cylindrical container that 4 lbs. of potato salad came in. It sealed nicely and was just the right size for a 1/2 nilgai roast plus a deer heart (just cuz) and could be slid into the back of the fridge.  The same container (after it was thoroughly cleaned) was perfect for storing the cooked meat which needs to be kept in the cooking liquid so it doesn’t dry out.

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Nilgai is pretty dense, sinewy meat so I punctured it pretty liberally so that the brine could penetrate all the way through.  For the heart, I just cut off about the top ½ inch, rinsed it out well and tossed it into the brine with the other meat.

Our favorite way to eat the corned meat is on a sandwich which has been toasted, panini-style, with my George Foreman Grill. I find the best rye bread that is available in the Rio Grande Valley, slather it with beer mustard, a slice of swiss cheese, and some saurkraut.  I spray the outside of the sandwich with olive oil cooking spray and grill it on the ol’ George Foreman.  The same effect could be accomplished with an actual panini press or in a cast iron skillet.  The result is crisply toasted bread, melty cheese, and fabulous corned meat that I prepared myself for my Deerslayer Clan!

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Promise me that you’ll try it!

 
 

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Is Rib Meat Worth Saving?

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 008As most of my readers know, Deerslayer and I were blessed with a harvest of South Texas nilgai back in January.  Other than elk, it provided more meat than anything I’ve ever encountered.  With careful packaging (and three freezers) we were able to accommodate ALL of it.  I’ve always felt very strongly about using as much of a harvested animal as possible which is why we grind our own meat, cut our own steaks, roasts, and scrap that can be cooked all day until it falls apart into deliciousness that can be used in countless recipes.

Tim's Nilgui 1-18-14 018We’ve never bothered with venison rib meat, though.  So little meat, so much work.  With nilgai, however, it was a different matter.  Clearly, there was enough meat between the ribs that I didn’t want to waste it.  Fifteen pounds, to be exact.  Deerslayer was happy to cut the meat from the ribs so that I could package it up into three 5-lb. packages. The amount of connective tissue surrounding the muscle prevented it from being used for anything other than “cook-all-day” applications.

There is a distinct difference between venison and nilgai meat and the processing thereof.  Of course, quantity is the most obvious difference.  But we were surprised by the difference in the amount of connective tissue.  From skinning the critters to separating the muscle, nilgai is MUCH more difficult than venison because of the amount of fascia, silver skin, etc.  It just seems to adhere more than venison.  There was no pulling the skin from the muscle during field dressing.  It required cutting with a very sharp knife every inch of the way.  The preparation of backstrap has required more labor-intensive removal of fascia and silver skin, as well.  Don’t get me wrong!  The extra work involved has definitely been worth it!  The meat is delicious and worth every minute of extra labor required in prep time.

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I grabbed my labelled packages from freezer and set them out to thaw.

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Notice the large amount of silver skin on the meat.

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All fifteen pounds went into my turkey roaster, liberally seasoned with my go-to salt, pepper, garlic powder mix and into a 350 degree oven for about six hours, checking for liquid and turning the meat periodically.

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Tender, flavorful, gooey, pull-apart, melt-in-your-mouth heaven-on-earth!

 

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Cooking Nilgai vs. Venison

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I have to admit, the title is a little misleading.  It’s like determining the superiority of champagne with raspberries or strawberries. Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire (not in champagne, just dancing!).   Both are outstanding in their own right.  Don’t make me choose.  While I have come to discover that the meat harvested from nilgai and venison are both superior in my book, there are a few subtle differences.

Tim's Nilgui 001I’ve absolutely enjoyed experimenting with all my favorite venison recipes, applying them to our newly acquired exoitc meat.  The first application that I tried was seared tenderloin.  Deerslayer (a.k.a. Nilgaislayer) brought the most impressive tenderloin that I’ve ever seen back to our hunting camper.  It was huge.  Therein lies the first difference between the nilgai and venison; the size.  Venison tenderloin is barely a delectable morsel for two.  Clearly, the nilgai tenderloin feeds several.  In order to serve it at its best (rare to medium rare) I sliced down the length of the muscle and then cut it into lengths that would fit into my skillet which enabled me to get a good sear on all sides.

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I’ve also used some of the hindquarter muscle to prepare chicken-fried steaks and pecan-crusted steaks.  Both turned out beautifully, with no adjustments necessary to the recipe or cooking time.  When the muscle is pounded out rather thin, the cooking time (frying time) will not be affected.  

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We ground our first batch of nilgai this past week.   I say “first batch” because we only ground up about 50 pounds and still have quite a bit of “scraps to grind” left in the freezer. The amount of fat in the meat appears to be the same with venison and nilgai both (almost none)!  My family prefers it that way.  Others may wish to add in some pork or beef.  We’re just purists, I guess.  We enjoy allowing the flavor of the meat to shine through.  In previous years, however, we’ve stretched our venison by adding wild pork that we had in abundance.  The meat was good, while fattier, but the complexity of flavor was nice.  I’d do it again if necessary.  Given the choice, though, I’d save the pork to grind by itself for pan sausage.

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I’ll be posting photos and our procedure for grinding meat  later.

As I continue to use the nilgai meat, the differences I’ve noticed are few, but noteworthy.  I noticed right away that the smell of the uncooked meat differs slightly from  that of venison.  Don’t be put off by it.  The connective tissue, silver skin, or fascia adheres to the muscle much more than with venison.  The removal of these layers and bits is definitely more time-consuming.  Lastly, when cooking whole-muscle recipes, like backstrap, tenderloin, or a roast, it’s important to realize that the muscle is denser than venison, which will, in fact, affect cooking time.  More time will be needed in the oven at a lower temperature (say 300°).  How much time will depend on the size of the meat.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to use the nilgai and document my progress.  I’d appreciate any input from my hunting friends who may have experiences to share.

 

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Adventures in Nilgai Cooking

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550 pounds of nilgai to fill the freezer and for me to experiment with!

 

I have to say that I was almost as excited as Deerslayer when I found out that he’d gotten his first nilgai. We’d driven around the ranch looking for a blue bull for quite some time.  It was decided that night around the campfire that it must have been the rut since several males were seen in one day.  Usually, they’re very elusive but not on Deerslayer’s day of glory.  He got his at 7:00 in the morning.  I saw one as I drove onto the ranch around 10:30, and spotted another near the camp around 2:30 in the afternoon. Everyone made a mental note.  I  enjoy experimenting with wild game and everything I’ve heard about this meat has been extremely positive.  I hadn’t really thought about how the size of the muscle would influence how I would prepare it.

 

 

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Trimmed backstrap

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Untrimmed backstrap

The backstrap is pictured on a cutting board that measures 32 inches. It was a refreshing surprise to discover that a prized cut of meat like backstrap, one that, if referring to venison, is set aside for a couple of special meals. will provide several delectable meals for 4 to 6 people.  I felt like Jack (of beanstalk fame) in the giant’s castle. Everything was so much bigger than I was used to.  Suddenly, I had at my disposal two to three times the best cuts of meat.   The heart was enormous!  Deerslayer is holding it in this picture.  It will be prepared just as I would a deer heart.

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After packaging up all the meat, I was eager to try my first batch of “cook all day”  nilgai.  Just the “tendony” shank meat and neck meat filled my roasting pan so I started with that.  I was pleased to discover that it cooked up just like venison or wild pork. The meat was some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  It was a glorious mahogany color with a rich, full flavor.  I was sold.

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Rich, mahogany-colored  meat. Lean and flavorful. Ready to be used in Carne Guisada, Stews, Soups, Pot Pies. BBQ sandwiches.

Next, I think I’ll be taking full advantage of the extra-large, hind-quarter muscle to make some jerky. I’ll keep you posted.  Then we’ll grind up our meat for the year.  Once again, I’ll share the process.

 

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