Like a Boss!

Ownership does not constitute competency. We have all heard it, it doesn’t matter if it is playing a guitar or proficiency with firearms. It doesn’t matter how many you own, if you are not well-practiced and disciplined in your drive for success, you are nothing more than a collector. We talk guns all the time, if im not shooting for sport or hunting, chances are pretty good that I’m flapping my gums, or pounding away at the keyboard about boom sticks and smoke poles. Whether those surrounding me want to hear about them or not. But not this week, no Sir, were going to talk about the really important stuff. Cookin’ and Eatin’!

It still amazes me that for all the people who hunt and fish, (somewhere around 250,000 hunting licences, and nearly half a million fishing licences are sold annually in Idaho alone.) how few of those people know how to cook a meal with the animals they harvest. Anybody can open up a pack of deer burger, smash it between their grubby mits and burn the snot out of it on a barbecue, that’s not what im talking about. I am speaking about crafting home cooked delicious meals with delectable protein that you have harvested, cared for, and prepared correctly. Some hear the word “venison” and instantly turn their nose up, stating that “deer meat is gross”. Well I’ll be damned, I must have always been cooking it wrong, because mine has always been super tasty. Lets break a few things down, and burst some bubbles before we even get into cooking with game and fish. First of all “venison” isn’t deer meat, “venison” is technically speaking any meat that is harvested by a hunter ( Its originates from the latin word venari, which means to hunt or pursue) typically though the term refers to any animal from the Cervidae (deer), Leporidae (hares), Suidae (wild pigs) family’s as well as some of the goats that are traditionally hunted. So pretty much all the things that we hunt with the exception of bears and cats are venison. Secondly, deer meat isn’t gross. Sure, some has more of a distinct flavor than others, but that really has more to do with the care and the handling of the meat than anything else in my opinion. In previous blogs I have given a few recipes for tasty dishes, and a few pointers for insuring that your hard-earned protein is treated with the greatest respect (if you don’t remember, you can go back and read them all again and click the like button, we can always use the positive feedback) But for now I would like to focus more on the cooking aspect wild game.

Red meat: You knew I was going to go here first huh? Why? Because it is the most sought after protein that hunters pursue. That being said, it is also the protein that is most obviously “abused” by hunters who believe that venison is “gamey”. Often times after a successful harvest, a hunter will take the cleaned carcass and drop it directly off at a butcher to have it processed. Just because you have a professional do your knife work for you does not guarantee that you will have better meat, the flavor and tenderness of your animal has as much to do with your post shot practice, than it does with someone’s ability to cut muscle groups apart. I know of more than a few hunters who will have their whole deer turned into jerky and burger, and I guess if that’s all you like to eat that’s fine, but at the same time there is limitless potential with the animal that you have laid before you. Venison is more moist, higher in protein, lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than grass-fed beef or pork. But it can be used in all the same dishes as either. Use your imagination, and learn to make meals that you look forward to preparing and presenting to your loved ones. I personally make quite a few brats out of my deer meat, because I love a good sausage (yes I can hear you giggling) and I own a combination grinder and sausage stuffer. Even at that, I don’t just season them the same and throw them into a bun (I do that also, but im not limited to it). My last batch of sausage consisted of standard brats, jalapeno cheese smokies, and sweet onion teriyaki sausages. Tasty as they were on their own, they also lended themselves well to being added to pasta dishes, stuffings and gumbos, just the same way that I would with any other store-bought sausages, but mine were better, and I never heard once that they were gamey. If you are not big on venison sloppy joes, tacos, meatloaf, stuffed bell peppers and burgers (and you consider yourself a hunter and an American?) then don’t get your animals ground up. Use those same low-fat cuts of meat that you would usually grind, and turn them into something that you like. I personally love a good Reuben sandwich, That sweet and salty corned beef or pastrami, the deli rye, the kraut, and a swiss cheese and coarse ground mustard… I’m drooling on my keyboard just thinking about it, and you can make your own pastrami with venison, and its pretty simple.

Venison pastrami:

Prep process:

  • 3 pounds of venison meat (leg meat works very well, it tends to have less connective tissue and is pretty lean)
  • To make your brine use 2 tablespoons of pink salt #1, a cup of kosher salt, 3/4 cups of brown sugar (or 3/4 cups regular sugar and a table-spoon and a half of molasses), and about 3 tablespoons of pickling spice (if you want to make your own, just add together 2 tablespoons mustard seed, 1 tablespoon whole allspice, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1 bay leaf, crumbled and 1 cinnamon stick (2 inches). Just mix it all together and put it into an airtight container. It will yield about 1/3 cup, so you will have plenty to use on future pickling projects.
  • In a stock pot add all brine ingredients to a gallon of water and stir frequently over medium heat until all sugar and salt is completely dissolved. Place brine into a non-reactive pot or crock (let’s be honest though, if you own a crock you probably have no reason to be reading my pastrami recipe) let the brine cool to room temperature (this is an important step because you don’t want the meat to try to boil when it enters the hot liquid, it will give a weird consistency to the outer crust of the meat)
  • Add the meat to the container, making sure that it is completely submerged in the liquid. Cover it tightly (or seal it with as little air as possible in a ziplock bag) and place it into your refrigerator to cure for 5 days.
  • Once the cure process is over, remove meat from the fridge and rinse it thoroughly. Move it to a pan and let it sit for an hour to completely dry. At this point you should cut a small piece off the roast and fry it quickly to check for salt content. If it is too salty just soak it in water for an hour or two. then move onto the cooking process.

Cooking process:

  • Seasoning a pastrami roast varies a lot depending on your personal tastes. A good base rub consists of 2 tablespoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon paprika and 1 tablespoon mustard seed. I personally like a lot more pepper, and I also like to use the 3 pepper medley with white, red and black pepper.
  • cover your roast with your rub, making sure to cover all surfaces.
  • At this point you need to fire up the smoker and get it up to 225 degrees. The internal temperature of your roast will need to register 145-150 degrees before the smoke process can be considered done, so plan accordingly with enough soaked wood chips, and briquettes.
  • Once you have reached desired temperature, remove the roast from the smoker, and place it into a roasting pan with a wire rack that suspends the meat off of the bottom. Add an inch or two of water (or stock) to the bottom of the pan making sure that the meat does not make contact with the liquid. Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into an oven that has been preheated to 275 degree. Steam your pastrami for an hour to an hour and a half, or until it reaches your level of tenderness.
  • Let cool for at least 15 minutes and slice for sandwiches. if you have a meat slicer this task is much, much easier. You can also reserve half of your roast to make hash for breakfast… but that’s a whole different recipe all together.

If you are like me, you probably already have a barbecue, a smoker, a crock pot, an oven and who knows what else that you can use to cook with.  But, how many of you are truly proficient in the use of all of them? I know I sure as hell am not, but I’m trying to get there. I know that it is sometimes hard to work up the gumption to attempt new cooking styles (or even new recipes for that matter), but with hunting season upon us, we have the opportunity to do a little experimenting with our menus. Step out of the norm and you may be surprised at what you have crafted with the amazing protein that you have procured. Turn the cries of “Not deer burger again” to cheers of “can you please make that dinner every night?” With a little practice and some patience you can be feeding your family amazing healthy meals, that they will rave for years about, and commanding the kitchen… Like a Boss!

-Grant Willoughby 9/15/2017-

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