Blamed for an epidemic of heart disease. Cited as a catalyst for the decimation of rainforests in Central and South America. Now implicated as an accessory to global warming and climate change.
It’s controversial and expensive. Some might even call it an immoral indulgence.
But not all red meat is trucked thousands of miles from methane-producing, corn-sucking feed lots to be sold under cellophane in the grocery store. Red meat can be natural, exotic and healthy both for the heart and the planet.
I’m talking about wild, locally harvested venison.
Although I grew up in the backwoods of Appalachia, I had my first taste of venison as a college student in the early 1990s, when a young man from West Virginia brought a delicious stew to an end-of-semester party.
I tried it thinking it was regular old potato-onion-carrot-beef stew. One bite, though, and I knew that silky, dark-flavored meat could not have come from a cow.
What accounts for my stunning lack of training in game cookery?
Most of the men in my family sucked at hunting. Well, that and my mother and grandmother “cooked” mostly out of boxes and cans from the grocery store.
Oh, yes, the men tromped into the woods wearing those weird, battery operated, heated hunting socks and carrying Remington 30-30s.
It’s just that very few of them could hit a stationary target at 10 feet, much less a white-tailed deer moving through a South west Virginia forest.
There was one exception, however. I did once have a brother-in-law who loved to hunt with a bow and arrow. Sadly for me, most of his kills ended up, not in the freezer, but stuffed and mounted.
Enter my friend and venison supplier, Lee.
Lee loves to eat deer meat and fills his own freezer once a year. But unlike the unfortunate men in my family, Lee and his son, Justin, can actually line up a target and bring down big strapping bucks. They fell so many of them, in fact, that they have to search for people to take some of the meat.
I make sure I’m on the list.
For a thrifty $45 in butchering fees, I get several months’ worth of red meat. Dozens of packages of venison burger, steaks and tenderloins now lying in repose in my freezer were, until November, an impressive 17-point buck roaming the woods near Charlottesville, Va. (Don’t feel bad for him. He probably made nightly forays into neighbourhood, where he ate all the landscaping and garden vegetables he could find.)
Cooking venison can be tricky, though. Deer meat, like buffalo and other game, lacks the marbling of fat present in beef. That fat slows cooking and bastes beef, making it possible to roast, grill or fry it at high temperatures without added moisture.
Cook game that way, however, and your jaw muscles will seize up before dinner’s over.
Deep knowledge on this subject came to me by harsh experience with my first buffalo sirloin roast. But you can profit from my errors. If you’re new to cooking very lean meat, start with the crock pot. Long, slow cooking in broth and wine will yield tender, delectable results every time.
Oh, and one last thing: all that talk about venison being “gamey” and requiring complicated voodoo rituals involving onions, white vinegar and chanting under a full moon – well, that’s just hooey.