As whitetail season nears an end, some tips on the art of cooking venison

OUTDOORS

December 06, 1992|By GARY DIAMOND

Maryland's regular firearms season for whitetail deer closes next weekend, and despite the one-week extension, Harford County's harvest totals likely will exceed last year's figures by only a small margin.

"We checked in approximately 130 deer opening day and the vast majority were pretty good-sized bucks," said taxidermist Bob Brown at FTS Taxidermy.

Brown said during the two-week season he will hear hundreds of deer-hunting stories, most relating to the big buck that got away.

Brown said some hunters claim to have seen the same 12-pointer for two decades, a tale that usually causes managers for the Department of Natural Resources to chuckle.

"Most of the whitetails harvested in Harford County range from 6 months to 3 years of age," said DNR's Director of Wildlife Management Josh Sandt. "We rarely see deer over 4 years old and 5-year-olds are extremely rare."

It's these older deer that hunters often say are not fit to eat, claiming the meat's tough. In reality, there's little or no difference in the taste or texture of venison, regardless of the animal's age.

The secret to good-tasting wild game depends mainly on how it's prepared.

You should not prepare deer meat by using recipes intended for beef. Let's face it, you wouldn't fry prime rib like you would a pork chop.

Venison is totally different from domestic meat available at your local supermarket. It's extremely low in fat content, has little or no cholesterol and never was injected with drugs or chemicals to accelerate growth. Unless properly prepared, venison is dry, strong tasting and tough.

Venison, like all forms of wild game, should be cured or aged before butchering, packaging and freezing. This is done by first washing the entire carcass with cold water and hanging it in a walk-in refrigerator box for seven to 10 days. The temperature should be between 33 and 35 degrees -- no higher.

Once aged, the deer can then be cut into steaks, chops, cutlets and roasts.

Venison steaks should not be defrosted prior to cooking. The secret to tender, juicy venison steaks is quite simple -- don't overcook them. Steaks are best prepared on a blazing hot bed of charcoal or on a pre-heated gas grill.

Merely remove them from the freezer, dip in a teriyaki glaze, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and place them on the grill. It usually only takes a few minutes of intense heat to sear the meat on both sides.

When both sides are browned, remove the steaks immediately. Because the steak wasn't defrosted, only a thin, outer layer is well done, while inside, natural juices steamed the meat, cooking it to medium rare.

Rump, eye, round and neck roasts are usually dry, tough and gamey tasting when baked on a rack in the oven. However, the same cuts of meat can be transformed into a gourmet's delight when pot-roasted in a 220-degree oven for six to eight hours.

The secret to success is the addition of a few ingredients you'll find at any grocery store. Unlike steaks, roasts should be slowly defrosted in the refrigerator prior to cooking.

Brown the meat in an iron skillet sprayed with a vegetable oil. Then place it in a medium-size baking pan, adding just enough water to cover the meat. Add one pack dry onion soup mix, six medium onions cut in half and two cups of red wine.

Place a lid on the pan and bake for approximately one hour per pound. Check the meat frequently and when it begins to get tender, increase the temperature to 300 degrees, add sliced carrots and diced potatoes, replace the lid and cook for another 45 minutes. Remove the meat and vegetables from the pan and you'll find the remaining juices make an excellent base for making superb gravy.

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