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Tag 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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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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Packaging and Labeling Venison Meat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, we’ve made a dent in filling the freezer for the next year.  We were almost down to just plain empty, except for the whitewing the Doveslayer  (a.k.a. Deerslayer, depending on the time of year) brought home during the season in September.  I actually enjoy getting to a point where we’ve eaten what’s there.  Nothing is left to hide in the dark recesses of the freezer to morph into a bag of something unrecognizable which is ultimately thrown away. 

While many hunters choose to take their animals to a professional meat processor, I’ve discovered, over the years, that home processing allows much more of the meat to be used in many ways I’d never thought possible.  So many friends and hunting buddies are only interested in backstrap and tenderloins, not realizing that there is a muscle in the hind quarter that can be seared to perfection or thrown on the grill just like those other prized cuts.  Additionally, another muscle found in a hind-quarter works beautifully for any fried or breaded steaks like Venison Marsala, Venison Parmesan, Pecan-Crusted Venison Steaks with Mustard Sauce, and of course,  Chicken Fried Venison Steaks.  Don’t forget the small football-shaped muscle that becomes a bacon-wrapped, garlic roast!   Without the “cook-all-day” neck meat, shanks, and other scraps, there wouldn’t be meat for tamales, Guinness and venison stew, carne guisada, or venison barley soup.

smoked pork shank, rum cake, tamales, dance, christmas 093Carefully vacuum-packaging and labeling your meat is probably the most important thing a conscientious hunter (or hunter’s helper) can do to ensure that no part of the harvested meat is wasted.  Vacuum-packaging removes air that causes freezer burn.

There are many excellent vacuum-packaging systems.  We own one of them.  However, that said, over the past few years, we’ve chosen to use the Ziploc vacuum bags and the manually-operated vacuum pump, which comes apart so that all pieces can be sterilized.

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The manual pump vacuum rests on the circle which seals after all air has been removed.

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The bags are available in gallon- and quart-size and are available at the grocer.  I like the uniform sizes that fit easily into my freezer baskets (which I purchased to keep the meat organized).

At the end of a venison-processing day, I end up with the following labeled packages:

Backstrap (2 or more meal-sized packages)

Tenderloins (usually one package)

Hind quarter to sear

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Meat to grind (one or two gallon-sized bags) This meat can also be used as cook-all-day venison and includes neck meat, shanks, meat from around the ribs, and scraps.  We use at least sixty pounds of ground meat in a year.  It is usually divided into three categories: venison, ½ venison- 1/2 pork, and plain pork for pan sausage

Cook-All-Day (see above)

Venison Roast

Football Roast

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Football roast, located on the hind quarter

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Football roast separated from hind quarter

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muscle for steaks on the hind quarter
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muscle for steaks separated from hind quarter

Heart (Usually, this is eaten, sliced and fried, out at the hunting camp.)

The muscles of the hind quarter can be carefully separated by gently tearing the membrane with the fingers and following up with a sharp knife.

There is an artery that runs the length of the femur that can be seen at the ball joint.

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  Bucks will have a gland next to this artery, just above the knee, that will need to be removed so as not to affect the taste of the meat.

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Careful planning, packaging, and creative cooking will allow anyone to fill their freezer(s) with fresh, lean, antibiotic-free and artificial hormone-free meat for themselves and their families.

 
 

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If I Could Save Time in a Bottle…

the first thing that I’d like to do … is buy several cases and hide them under my bed!

This little hint has turned into a real time saver.  Every so often, I slow-cook up a roasting pan full of venison and/or wild pork (Check out how to do it in my entry, “Come and Take It”).  About a week ago, I cooked up about 10 pounds of wild pork.  I divided it into one-pound portions, bagged it up, and froze it.

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 Zip-lock has a product that sucks the air out of the special bags. (The glass of wine is optional but present in most of my kitchen ventures.)

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Most of my recipes use about a pound of meat.

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This little gadget is so much faster than pulling out the vacuum-sealer.  The special bags are available in two sizes.  I always stock up right before hunting season.  As I cook up meat later in the year, however, I also use these bags for packaging up portions of cooked meat for recipes such as Wild Pork and Guinness Stew, Enchiladas with Creamy Poblano Sauce, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Venison Pot Pie, and many others. It’s so easy to thaw out a bag of meat in a bowl of water while I grab the other ingredients.  Hope this saves you some time, too.

 

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