Venison Parmesan – Fried Italian Awesomeness

Venison parmesan is surprisingly easy to make, and if you are looking to introduce someone to venison, this is a first impression they are sure to love.
Venison parmesan is surprisingly easy to make, and if you are looking to introduce someone to venison, this is a first impression they are sure to love.

While I come from a family of hunters, I didn’t start hunting till I was in my mid 20’s. My father passed away when I was young, and we had moved around the state as I was growing up, so I wasn’t geographically near my family that did hunt. I can recall stories of us eating venison from when I was a kid, but I don’t truly remember eating any venison meals.

So when I started hunting and got my first deer, learning how to process it and cook it was a bit of a trial by fire experience. I had this impression in my head that a venison meal was a VENISON meal: cook a hunk of deer up and eat it. Throw it on the grill, or throw it in the oven, nothing fancy, just some good ol’ cooked meat.

Now, I do truly like venison. But it turns out, just plain old cooked venison, well… isn’t that great. If you think about it though, what meat is? Can you throw a slab of pork or beef on the grill and just expect it to taste good? Odds are, you are going to treat your pork or beef as an ingredient in your meal. You’ll marinade it, tenderize it, process it, glaze it, bread it, etc, etc. And for good venison meals, you need to do the same thing – treat it as an ingredient in the bigger picture of the meal.

This may seem like common sense, but as I talk to people (especially non-hunters) about deer hunting and eating venison, they seem to have that same mis-conception I had when I started hunting. And that’s typically not a positive impression in their minds. So in the effort of furthering the cause of letting people know how good venison can be, here is a venison meal where the deer is the star of the show, but plays with a whole cast of characters that stop it from being a VENISON meal and make it a GREAT meal.

The Cut:

For our venison parm, we are going to go with a cut of loin. This is a quickly cooked meal, so you need something that is going to be tender without a lot processing or slow cooking. Use the tenderizing process I covered here, on a section of loin that is about 6 to 8 inches long and you will have enough meat for two big eaters, or four normal sized portions. When you pound them flat, make them a little thinner than normal because they will contract and thicken back up a little when they hit the hot oil. A half inch is good – but this is a fine line as the loin can start to shred as it get’s to that thickness – so this is a judgement call.

Learn how to pan fry venison loin and you may never want to grill it again.
Learn how to pan fry venison loin and you may never want to grill it again.

The Ingredients:

  • about a pound of venison loin
  • salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder to season
  • olive oil
  • vegetable oil (for frying)
  • 2 eggs
  • panko bread crumbs (other bread crumbs will do, but panko is particularly crunchy)
  • some kind of cheese to “parm” it with – mozzarella or provolone work well.
  • spaghetti sauce
  • pasta of your choice

The Process:

Take your tenderized slices of loin, pat them with olive oil, and generously season them on both sides with the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Get water going for your pasta, and get your sauce on the stove. The loins will take about 15 minutes to cook from start to finish.

Put about a quarter inch of vegetable oil in a pan and heat it over medium high heat. You will be quick frying the venison, then popping it in the oven, so you can do multiple batches if you need to – the venison will be heated again in the oven.

Whip the eggs into an egg bath in one bowl, and put about a cup of panko bread crumbs in another. When the oil is hot, dip the venison in the egg bath (thoroughly cover), then hit it in the panko, then toss it in the pan. Fry it just a couple minutes on each side – the oil should be hot enough that it gets nice and brown and crispy in about two minutes per side. Your pasta should be cooking by now.

Once you’ve fried the venison, place it on a baking sheet. If you are doing multiple batches, keep adding them to the baking sheet, but don’t put them in the oven yet. Once all the venison is fried, cover it with the cheese and put the baking sheet in the oven till the cheese get’s nice and bubbly – about 5 minutes.

Once the cheese is good, take the venison out of the oven and let is set for just a couple of minutes while you finish up with your pasta and sauce.

Serve the venison on a bed of pasta, and cover everything with sauce. Don’t forget to add a bit of grated parmesan on top.

Or for a twist, make some garlic bread instead of pasta, and make a venison garlic bread parm sandwich. Did you really think I wouldn’t mention a sandwich somewhere in here?

 

Venison Burgers – Skip the fat, use a binder

venison hamburger
A pan fried venison cheeseburger with salsa on an english muffin roll.

When you process a deer, you will always end up with some meat that is destined for the grinder. Making venison burger is an expectation for most families, some will even grind the whole deer before they freeze it, making it an easy meal ingredient when needed throughout the year.

I often struggle through some internal conflicts when I cook venison. Many venison recipes you see call for the addition of some kind of fat – usually ground pork, ground beef, or everyone’s favorite: bacon! Fat adds flavor and moisture. And fat helps hold your burger together. As a hunter though, having gone through the full process of of the hunt, the kill, the field dressing, and the butchering – I feel I owe the deer a bit of purity when I cook it. I’m not saying it’s logical, but anytime I cook venison, I strive to cook it on it’s own, and appreciate it as it is without mixing other meats in.

So, what’s the solution? For my venison burgers, I use binders to hold them together and help keep moisture and flavor locked in as I cook them.

venison burger binders
Instead of adding fat to your ground venison, use a binder and pan fry for a perfect burger.

There are many ingredients that can serve as binders. Raw eggs are a top choice, but I don’t use them for burgers because I like them on the rarer side. I lean towards dry binders like dried eggs or dried milk. Dried milk is readily available in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Dried eggs can be a little trickier to find as not all grocery stores carry them.

With either milk or eggs, I use roughly a tablespoon of binder per half pound burger. Personally, I can’t taste a difference between the two, but as you can see from the pictures, they do cook a little differently. Dried egg seems to give a browner sear, where  dried milk sears a little darker.

As a general rule, I almost always pan fry my venison burgers as well. This adds a little bit of fat, but let’s you get a good sear on your burgers without losing moisture and flavor to the grill flames. Another reason to keep some cast iron skillets around..

Venison burgers sizzling in the pan.
Venison burgers sizzling in the pan.

The Cut:

Ok, we know we are using left over bits and pieces that were too small to save as anything else. Keep in mind though, better meat makes a better burger. When I butcher my deer, I like to keep two or three different bags going for my trim pieces. I fill them according to the quality of the cut the trim is coming from. That way I can use a high quality ground meat for burger, and save the lower quality (tougher, more connective tissue, etc.) for jerky.

Or sometimes my burger comes from a leftover chunk of a large roast that was too big for the recipe I’m cooking. When butchering, I try to freeze everything as a whole roast if I can. This does minimize my trim meat that ends up as burger, but it gives me more flexibility in the long run –  I can pull a roast out and grind it anytime if I need more burger.

So next time you go for a venison burger, try a low fat venison only version. Bacon should be a topper, not a filler. For some reason, my mind can justify that…

 

Corned Venison Hash with Dried Potatoes

There's always leftover corned beef. And breakfast is the most important meal of the day..
There’s always leftover corned beef. And breakfast is the most important meal of the day..

I know what your thinking: Is he REALLY going to tell us how to fry some potatoes and meat? Umm, well yes. Yes I am! Actually, this is more about sharing what can go wrong when making corned beef hash from corned venison. But of course I’ll be sharing an easy recipe too!

I’ve talked before about the leanness of venison. It makes it an excellent choice for your protein, but it also makes it very unforgiving to the chef. The best way I’ve found to cook my corned venison is to braise it, like I did here. Boiling it takes out too much of what little fat the deer had. I’ve found the crockpot can do the same unless your low setting is truly low enough. Granted, some of the issue may have been due to the chef, but either way, I’m hoping you’ll learn from my mistakes.

I’ve tried making hash from some of my over-done corned venison attempts. The thought being: hey, I removed too much fat and moisture, frying the hell out of it in butter and oil will fix that, right?

Wrong.

The result literally tasted like canned dog food. Don’t ask how I know what canned dog food tastes like, just know that I take a keen interest in what my dog eats. The point is, when certain foods are cooked wrong, you have to get resourceful to save them. I thought butter made everything better, but the hash couldn’t fix my mistake this time. My father-in-law was polite enough. “umm, yeah this tastes ok”. Luckily we only made enough for two small servings. The rest of the corned venison ended up in sandwich form, with lots of mustard and mayo. Is there anything a sandwich can’t fix?

So, here’s an easy recipe for your perfectly cooked left over venison corned beef.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of dried hash potatoes
  • 1 to 2 cups of chopped up corned venison
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Process:

Rehydrate the potatoes: place in a bowl and cover with boiling/near boiling water. Let them sit for about 30 minutes, and then drain. Or follow the directions on the box if different.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. The pan is hot enough when you drop a potato in and it sizzles nicely. Sauté the onion till it turns translucent. Add the potatoes, and fry till they start browning up, flipping/stirring every minute or so. Add the corned venison and butter. Sear everything till it’s nice and crispy. Serve with eggs of course – toast optional.

The Best Steak Sandwich – Venison Tenderloin

TenderLoinSandwich
Venison pepper, onion, and mushroom sandwich – a fast meal that works at camp or at home

Some people may think me a bit crazy. “Venison tenderloin?! In a sandwich?! What a waste!” Many hunters only ever have the tenderloin as a quick grilled roast, and I have nothing against that. What I will say is, making a sandwich with the best ingredients will give you a meal you will remember.

The tenderloin is usually one of the first cuts of of the deer to hit the table after the kill. Two main reasons for this: 1) they are naturally the most tender cuts, and 2) you have to cut them out right away or they will get tainted, or worse, wasted.

The reason they can be ruined is because of location. They are located inside the abdominal cavity, and and are directly exposed to the elements (and anything that might happen during dressing) once you field dress the deer. I normally remove the tenderloins during field dressing, or immediately once I get the deer back to camp to minimize exposure. The tenderloins aren’t very big to begin with, I don’t want any of it to go to waste!

Now, I’m posting this under “recipes”, but as it’s a sandwich, this is really just a general process. I like sandwiches. No, you don’t understand. I REALLY like sandwiches. So, my general goal is to make every sandwich I eat the best sandwich ever. At the same time, it is just a sandwich, so unless you turn the meat to leather, or commit some other sandwich atrocity, you really can’t go wrong…

TenderLoinFlat
Flattened venison tenderloin – turn a roast into a steak for usage options.

To start, take the tenderloins and flatten them out with my tenderizing method. You may ask yourself “why are we tenderizing a tender cut of meat?”. My response, in usual fashion is, two reasons: 1) I’ve had tough tenderloin, even when cooked rare, and 2) the resulting flattened steak cooks more uniformly.

When tenderizing the tenderloin, I normally don’t slice it in half as I did on the loin example in my other post. Because they are so much smaller than the loin, there’s no need to. Just flatten them right out as is – I like to get them to about three quarters of an inch to an inch.

Once flattened, coat with olive oil and a generous coating of salt and pepper on both sides. Then let them sit in the fridge – sometimes I’ll do this for just  15 minutes, sometimes I’ll let them sit there all day. If you have a tough old buck, letting it sit longer will make it more tender.

Once dinner time (yes, I eat sandwiches for dinner) comes around, get your cast iron skillets out, and start prepping any other ingredients you will be stuffing between your bread. This time around, I went with some peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Once they are cooked, THEN you get your skillet ready for the tenderloins. They only take a few minutes to cook, so I always prep everything else first – you don’t want the venison to get cold waiting for the onions to caramelize.

Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet big enough to hold the two flattened steaks. Put it on medium high heat. Once the oil is HOT (if it’s smoking it’s too hot), throw the steaks in. Cook them for just two to three minutes per side – if your pan is hot enough, they will have a nice sear on the outside, but still be rare to medium rare in the middle. Pull them off and let them set for about five minutes. Take this time to get the rest of your fixings ready.

Since you have some nice flat steaks, you have some options on how to serve them in the sandwich. You could leave the steaks whole. More often, what I’ll do is slice the steaks into half inch strips (across the grain), and then add them to the sandwich.

In a nutshell, flatten the tenderloins, season them, then cook them fast and hot. This could be done from start to finish in less than ten minutes. The loins can easily be substituted here as well – I wouldn’t normally use other cuts besides loins/tenderloins because they’ll be tougher.

And most importantly, always remember: EVERYTHING is better in a sandwich.

Pan Fried Venison Liver and Onions

liver3
Venison Liver and Onions: 3 ingredients + 1 pan = 10 minute meal

If you know about the origins of Venison Thursday, this particular meal is not one you want to start with. UNLESS.. (there’s always a caveat to most things in life now, isn’t there?) Unless your meal guests like liver.

I believe in harvesting as much from my deer as humanly possible. While there are a few parts I haven’t quite worked up to (kidneys, testicles – hey, people eat them in other animals..), liver and heart are some mainstays that you are really missing out on if you haven’t tried them.

I like venison liver over beef liver. So, as I mentioned, if your dinner guest likes beef liver, this meal should be a slam dunk. I think part of it for me is the size. Because it’s naturally much smaller than beef liver, while you still get a nice livery flavor, I think it has better texture. Or it could be all in my head. Either way, here’s how to prepare it.

In the field:

When harvesting the liver from the gut pile, clean it up as best you can. Cut off any arteries and such connected to it, wipe it down if you have something to wipe it down with, and get it in a plastic bag to keep it clean. ALWAYS keep a few gallon size zip lock bags in your field dressing kit for just such an occasion. The end result should look like a nice purplely slab, with two main lobes, and usually a little smaller flap where the lobes join.

Back at camp/home:

I don’t usually have the liver as a “camp meal”, because I like to do a little prep on it. First, rinse it off with clean cold water. Then pop it back in its (rinsed out) zip lock, and fill it with clean cold water. Let it sit in there a while (hour is good), then change the water. What we are doing is getting the blood out of it. The more blood you get out, the less metallic it will taste. Once you’ve done a few short soaks like that, mix a salt water solution in the same zip lock, or a bowl. There is no magic recipe that I’ve found, just make sure there is a good salt concentration, and that all the salt is dissolved in the water. Soak it in the solution overnight. This will really draw the blood out.

liver1
Cooking venison liver and onions in a cast iron pan.

The next day, rinse it in some clean cold water again. NOW we are ready to cook it, or prepare it for the freezer.

Cooking:

Slice the liver into strips, somewhere between a quarter inch to a half inch. You’ll get an idea of your own preference once you’ve cooked some up. At this point, I’ll package up strips into serving sized portions and freeze them, keeping out only what I need for my current meal.

Get your cast iron skillet out, and slice up an onion. In the pictures here, I used a half of an onion and four strips – perfect lunch size portion for me.

Heat the skillet up, throw some butter in, and cook the onion till it turns translucent. Make a little room, and pop the liver slices in. They don’t need much time, a few minutes per side.

liver2This is the hard part. I like to pull them off the heat while they are still just a little pink when you cut one – they will continue to cook once you take them off the heat. If you wait too long, they will get leathery.

They should have a nice brown sear on them otherwise. Plate everything up, and I like to let them set for just a few minutes, where they continue to cook. After a few minutes, if done right, the redness goes away, and you have perfectly cooked liver and onions.

This takes some practice (or maybe it just took ME some practice). But once you get the hang of it, you have a simple 3 ingredient meal that takes about 10 minutes to make.

Cooking with Cast Iron Pans

castiron1
Cast Iron Pans: the original no-stick pan

Cooking on cast iron brings to mind nostalgic images of cowboys cooking over an open fire, stars shining, someone strumming a few guitar chords as the day winds to an end…

Ok, hold on. I never ONCE saw anyone try to clean one of those pans in those old westerns I saw as a kid!

And that’s where I believe a lot of people nowadays hesitate when it comes to buying or using cast iron. Well, hesitate no more! If you are reading this, you are likely a hunter. And if you are a hunter, you NEED to have some cast iron in your kitchen arsenal! If not, you should start out with at least a skillet, or better yet, a set of skillets. When do you ever just fry one thing at a time? Having two or three pans will help to keep dinner prep moving along.

Why cast iron you ask? I’ll answer your question with another question: how long do those crappy “no-stick” pans last you? And I don’t even want to think about what makes them no-stick. Magic? That would probably be safer going through your system. Cast iron cookware has been around a long time, and for good reason. When it’s properly taken care of, it’s easy to use, easy to care for, and will likely save you money if you have been replacing scratched pans every few years.

Once you have a good cast iron pan, you need to season it. Most new ones that you buy today come pre-seasoned. If not, it will have instructions on it how to season it. This is usually as easy as scrubbing real good, drying, applying a thin coat of vegetable oil, and putting in the oven on low (325ish is good) for an hour. Piece of cake.

Pan fried venison liver and onions
One pan meal: liver and onions

The more you use it, the better it will be. The initial seasoning is a good start, but be prepared for things to stick the first time you use it, especially if you go light on the oil/butter. This is actually one of the reasons cast iron is great to cook venison with: venison is lean. By needing to use a little extra “fat” for cooking, it will keep that steak from drying out and turning to leather. In my opinion, a pan fried venison steak beats a grilled venison steak every time. When you grill, the moisture and little bit of fat in the steak just cooks out. In a pan it stays there. But I digress, back to the pans..

Once you’ve used your pan, clean up is as easy as running under hot water and wiping out with a paper towel. Maybe that’s why the old westerns never showed that: paper towels hadn’t been invented yet. If something is cooked in pretty good, you have a few options to deal with it. You can throw some water in the pan and boil it for a bit to soften things up. I recommend also having a metal spatula to  use with your cast iron pans. Use it to scrape gunk off before washing, or if you have to use the boil method, it helps to scrape as it simmers as well. These methods will clean your pans 99% of the time.

Simply using hot water and a paper towel will clean your well seasoned cast iron 99% of the time.
Simply using hot water and a paper towel will clean your well seasoned cast iron 99% of the time.

When water alone doesn’t cut it, have no fear, all is not lost. All you need is some coarse salt. I always have some kosher salt handy for my brining, so dry out the pan a little, pour in a tablespoon or two of salt, and now scrub it with a paper towel. You’re basically doing a slow sand blasting. I have yet to have something so charred in this wouldn’t take care of it. Once the charred spots are set, go back to the hot water scrub/rinse, then dry it off.

This process may seem a bit tedious, but even if it comes to the salt method, I find it’s much faster to clean cast iron than if I had charred a “no-stick” or stainless steel pan.

Now that your pan is clean and dry, pop it back on the stove and crank the heat up for a minute to get the pan hot. Take another paper towel (damn, I REALLY want to know how those cowboys managed!), and wipe a light layer of vegetable oil or shortening (I use shortening myself) over the entire surface. Let it cool, and you are good to go for your next meal!

Once you start cooking with cast iron, you’ll find that you use it more and more. And the more you use it, the better seasoned it gets, and the easier clean up becomes. Then all you need to do is find a good home to donate those crappy old pans you never use anymore to..