Saturday, November 14, 2009

Venison is IN

If you ask my daddy what his favorite day of the year is, you would expect him to answer with Christmas Day, his birthday, his anniversary, or the first day of vacation. While those days, and others spent with his family, are important to Daddy, his FAVORITE day of each year is "the third Saturday in November." Many of you will know immediately that that date is the beginning of deer hunting season (rifle/shotgun) in Virginia, and every die-hard hunter looks forward to that day each year. This year, it happens to be the 2nd Saturday because the actual rule, as stated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries reads "the Saturday prior to the 3rd Monday in November." So, deer hunting season is in full swing here in Virginia.
Now, what does the first day of hunting season have to do with my cooking blog?? Well, I have been eating deer since I was knee-high to a duck, and if there is one thing I do know how to cook, it's deer meat. Many people think deer meat is gamey. That is true if the meat is not handled properly. I can't stress this enough. The hunter really has to know what she/he is doing when field dressing, skinning, processing, butchering, and soaking the meat. Deer meat, often called venison, is actually a tasty, low-fat, naturally hormone & preservative free source of protein that is abundant in The Old Dominion. I don't like gamey- or wild-tasting venison...I don't know of anyone who does. If you know a hunter and you trust that she/he processes the deer meat safely, try cooking with venison. I cook with venison in many recipes, as I often substitute deer meat for beef. The fresh meat should not smell yucky; it should just smell like meat. If it has a funky smell, it will taste funky; so don't bother cooking it. From properly processed deer meat, I make maple-glazed meatballs, barbecue, pot roast, venison stew, venison veggie soup, spaghetti sauce, and my new favorite is my sister's jagerschnitzel.
You want an inexpensive meat for your family? Venison is your answer. Each year, Daddy kills a doe and has the meat ground (except the choice loin, which is sliced or kept whole). The cost of processing the meat this way is approximately $60. The average deer will produce around 35 pounds of meat. That's $1.71 per pound. Venison is quite economical, plus deer meat is a healthy choice for those looking to cut fat in their diets and still eat meat.
Find a friend who hunts or contact a local hunt club, and see if you could purchase venison for your family this winter. Hunters for the Hungry is an organization that provides venison to hungry families throughout Virginia. Visit their website to learn more about this Virginia charity, and to see a list of deer processors in Virginia. Any hunter will be happy to guide you in finding a nearby processing facility if you want a deer ground or processed into stew meat, roasts, and steaks. Especially when it is ground, venison is a versatile meat that you can use as a substitution for costly ground round.
When I went away to college, the home-cooked meal I craved was Fried Venison. My mother would thinly slice the tenderloin, dust each cutlet in flour, salt and pepper, and fry them in vegetable oil. Then, she'd make an onion gravy and mashed potatoes, too. This meal says "home" to me because my Daddy is never happier than when he has spent his whole day hunting. Coming in from the cold to this home-cooked meal, he regales us with all the hunting stories of the day. He spares no detail as he tells us of the big, old buck who outsmarted him again. Good luck this season, Daddy!
Here's the recipe for Jagerschnitzel, which is German for escalope. It's very similar to my childhood favorite, but I've made it a little healthier by using peanut oil (and less of it) and I added mushrooms to the gravy to make it heartier. And, yes, this recipe works well with pork, chicken, or veal, too!

Venison Jagerschnitzel...simply put, this is a venison cutlet with mushroom gravy

1/3 c. chicken breader (I use House Autry)
1/4 t. coarsely ground pepper
1/2 t. seasoned salt
4 (4-oz.) venison loin steaks, pounded to 1/4-in. thickness
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. dry unseasoned wheat bread crumbs
3 T. peanut oil (or vegetable)

For Gravy:
1 T. butter
1/4 c. finely chopped sweet onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. beef or venison stock
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. seasoned salt

1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 T. fresh chopped parsley

In a shallow dish, combine chicken breader and next 2 ingredients. Place eggs in a second shallow dish and bread crumbs in a third shallow dish; arrange three dishes in order. Dredge venison steaks in chicken breader mixture to coat. Dip steaks in eggs; then dredge in bread crumbs. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1-2 T. oil over medium heat; cook steaks 4-6 minutes or until browned, turning steaks once and adding oil as necessary. Remove steaks to serving plate and keep warm with tented foil. To make gravy, melt butter in skillet; add onions and cook until transparent. Add mushrooms and wine, stirring to scrape bits off bottom of pan. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In 4-cup measure, combine stock and 1/4 c. flour. Gradually stir stock mixture into skillet. Cook 8-10 minutes or until gravy is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/4 t. seasoned salt. (adding salt before now will make mushrooms tough.) Serve mushroom gravy over venison cutlets and smashed potatoes. Top with fresh chopped parsley and fresh lemon wedges for squeezing.

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