An old Abenaki legend tells of the proper way to honor a killed deer so that a hunter and his family can live. It is important to thank the deer profusely, then bury his heart on the patch of land where he died. That way, a new deer can spring forth from the same area in the new season.
I did this once and no new deer sprang up. Still, I do see deer all the time walking right over that spot.
Contrary to popular belief, the word venison does not only apply to deer meat. It also describes other large game such as elk, moose, caribou and antelope. Whatever the source, it is a wonderful game meat. The first time I had venison, I enjoyed the unique, strong taste immensely. The next time I ate it, I found the meat too gamey with a powerful earthy, tangy flavor.
Fortunately, certain steps can help minimize the sometimes-intense taste. It’s most important to follow proper field-dressing procedure and clean the animal immediately after the kill. Then store the meat in a cool area for at least 36 hours before cooking. (Naturally, the locale and diet of the animal will influence its taste as well.)
I also recommend marinating the meat for two reasons: to tenderize it and to stabilize the flavor. Adding herbs, wine or vinegar provides the acidity required to tenderize the flesh. Native people have used maple syrup as a marinade for centuries. Venison is also lean and muscular, so some cooks add a little ground pork or bacon to soften the texture and taste.
From midwinter on, many hunters have to use up what is in the freezer to create room for the next season’s hunt. While the best steaks, roasts and tenderloins are generally used up first, the odd cuts and ground meat can be made into such delicious meals as meatballs, meatloaf, ragout or chili.
1 pound of venison tenderloin, cut in ¼-inch rounds
1 cup dry white wine plus 2 or 3 tablespoons blackberry brandy
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 stick of butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons blackberry jam or jelly
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the cut medallions in a thick freezer-type plastic bag with the wine, brandy and garlic. Let marinate for 3 to 4 hours. Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan slowly over low heat and add the venison rounds (not including the marinade) to the hot butter. Sauté for about five minutes until the meat is brown on each side. Remove the meat and set aside. Add marinade to the butter and slowly whisk in the flour. Then whisk in the blackberry jam or jelly. Heat well and serve as a sauce over the medallions.
This recipe for venison stew is a great way to use those odd cuts left over in the freezer. If you have other cuts in there as well, like beef, bison or pork (lamb is not recommended), they would be most welcome in this Crock-Pot dinner.
2 pounds of assorted venison cuts
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 one-pound can of tomatoes in sauce
¼ cup dark brown sugar (or maple sugar)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cups chopped carrots
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, shopped
1½ teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
Cut the meat into the smallest possible pieces, leaving bone on some if desired (the marrow in the bone adds flavor). Brown the meat in vegetable oil heated in a skillet, then transfer it to a Crock-Pot. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and mix to blend. Pour the mixed ingredients over the meat in the Crock-Pot and stir to blend. Simmer on low for eight to 10 hours.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.