Venison recipes perfect for holidays

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Venison Chili (David Rainer)

David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

When that Thanksgiving turkey has been reduced to a discarded carcass, it’s time to break out those wild game and fish recipes to enjoy the feast Alabama’s outdoors offers.

With Alabama’s white-tailed deer season in full swing, it’s probably time to clean out last year’s harvest to make room for fresh venison.

Waxing nostalgic, our family probably ate about as much venison as beef when I was growing up, and this next dish was one of the favorites.

Venison Lasagna

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground venison
  • 1 can/jar prepared spaghetti sauce (or make it with Lawry’s Spaghetti Sauce Mix, which is what my mom did)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 8 lasagna noodles, cooked, divided
  • 1 cup cottage cheese, divided
  • 3 cups mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Brown meat (if no fat was added to the ground venison, you’ll need about ¼ cup of oil in the skillet to prevent sticking) and drain. Add spaghetti sauce and Italian seasoning and cook 5 minutes. My Italian buddies would scoff at using a prepared spaghetti sauce, so, by all means, make your own if you have the time. We particularly liked the taste of Lawry’s growing up, but use whatever you like.

Layer 4 strips of the cooked lasagna noodles on bottom of rectangular Pyrex baking dish. Spoon on half of the meat sauce mixture and spread evenly. Spread ½ cup of cottage cheese for the next layer, followed by 1½ cups of mozzarella. Add another layer of the ingredients, and then top by sprinkling with the parmesan cheese.

Bake in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Serves 6-8.

My go-to venison recipe that has been served to groups of a half-dozen to more than 30 also involves ground venison. To make enough for 30, you need a BIG pot.

Venison Chili

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 2 large green bell peppers, chopped (optional, my girls don’t like green bell peppers)
  • 4 pounds ground venison
  • 3-4 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 4 16-ounce cans of kidney beans
  • 1-3 dashes of cayenne pepper
  • 1-3 dashes of garlic salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. liquid crab boil (Don’t scoff until you’ve tried it—adds some pizzazz that consumers can’t identify)

Heat oil in a large stock pot with heavy bottom, and add garlic, onions and peppers. Cook until tender. Add venison and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, salt, kidney beans, cayenne pepper and garlic salt. Mix together and then add bay leaves. Bring to boil and then simmer for 2-3 hours. Serves 10-12.

Another standard around the Rainer household involved tenderized venison.

Smothered Country-Fried Venison Steaks

  • 2 pounds cubed venison steaks (1/2- to 3/4-inch cuts)
  • Milk (whole or 2%)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • Seasoned salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup bacon grease or oil (olive or vegetable), depending on how healthy you’re eating
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup coffee
  • 1 cup extra-long-grain rice

If the venison steaks haven’t been run through a cuber/tenderizer several times, then pound each piece with a meat mallet. Soak venison steaks in cold water for several hours, changing the water several times to soak out the blood. Drain steaks well, dip in milk (whole or 2 %) and dredge in 1 cup flour with seasoned salt and pepper already mixed in. Brown in oil in large skillet. (You can stop right there and enjoy, or you can go ahead and make the gravy.) Take remaining cup of flour and add to skillet, stirring constantly until desired color is achieved, and then add water and coffee (mixed) to desired thickness. Put steaks in Crock-Pot, pour gravy over the top and simmer on low.

While the venison is simmering, turn to the rice. When the rice is done, the venison will be ready. Spoon the venison and gravy over rice. Serves 6-8.

One of the many things that COVID-19 has taken from those who love to eat wild game is the opportunity to participate in one of the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s (AWF) Wild Game Cook-Offs. Some of the best food I’ve ever tasted has been at these events.

If I were ever to appear on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” in a wild game category, I would highlight the dish that Beth Strickland prepared as part of the Middle Bay Boat Company team during the AWF Gulf Coast Cook-Off. This dish takes a little effort but is well worth it.

Stuffed Tenderloin with Whiskey Beurre Blanc

Venison tenderloin (backstrap)

Marinade:

  • 1 cup Italian dressing
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. minced onion
  • 1 tsp. garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

Stuffing:

  • 1 asparagus bundle, trimmed
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • Steak dry rub seasoning of your choice
  • 6 ounces feta cheese
  • Package of sliced prosciutto
  • Bamboo skewers

Sauce:

  • 8 tbsp. butter
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic
  • 1 cup Jim Beam Whiskey
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Dash of salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • Flour (optional)

Mix all marinade ingredients together and pour on the tenderloin (backstrap) in a large Ziploc bag. Refrigerate the tenderloin for 2-3 hours.

After the tenderloin is marinated, start preparing the stuffing. Trim the asparagus. Slice the red bell pepper into thin strips. Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add asparagus and cook for 8-10 minutes until slightly tender. Remove the asparagus and add the bell pepper to the same melted butter. Cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes until the bell pepper is slightly tender.

Prep the tenderloin by butterflying lengthwise; be sure not to cut all the way through the meat. Cut the tenderloin into 3- to 4-inch sections. Depending on the size, this should yield 5-8 pieces. Dust each section with the steak seasoning. Use a Jaccard meat tenderizer to make the meat more pliable for stuffing. Place a spoonful of feta, 3 stalks of asparagus and 3-4 strips of red bell pepper in each section. Wrap the meat so that the feta is secure and the asparagus sticks out each end. Wrap in 2-3 slices of prosciutto, and secure with skewers.

In a clean pan, prepare the sauce by caramelizing onions and garlic in butter on medium-high heat. Turn the heat down. Add the whiskey and allow it to simmer a few minutes until the alcohol evaporates. Then add the beef broth and continue to simmer a few minutes while whisking. Continue to whisk while adding in the cream. Dash with salt and pepper, and let the sauce simmer and bubble on low, continuing to whisk gradually, while grilling the meat. If sauce is too runny add a little flour to thicken.

Heat your grill to a medium heat. Grill each side 5-10 minutes, until the prosciutto is slightly crisp. Remove and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove skewers, cut in half and drizzle sauce on top to serve.

Of course, none of the venison dishes will be worth eating if the deer is not properly cared for after harvesting. The best way to ensure top-quality venison is prompt action in the field, whether the deer ends up at home or at the professional processor.

Obviously, the sooner the deer can be cleaned and gutted, the better. After you skin the deer, remove the area around the wound with bloodshot flesh. Rinse the carcass down and remove any hair or debris.

Then it’s time to get the deer cooled down as quickly as possible, but it’s not as simple as throwing the quartered deer on top of a bag of ice. To get the deer cooled down properly, put a layer of ice on the bottom of the ice chest, followed by the deer meat, followed by another layer of ice. Keep the ice chest drain open to let the water flow out.

Aging venison helps the flavor and helps to tenderize the meat when done correctly. Seven days is about the maximum time for deer to age. If you’ve got a walk-in cooler where you can hang the deer, that is the best option. However, a well-iced cooler will work, just remember to keep the venison completely covered in ice the whole time. If the meat gets exposed to the air and warms to above 40 degrees, bacteria starts to grow.

Take care of your deer and enjoy the fruits of your harvest.