A LEG UP ON VENISON BUTCHERY
BEFORE WE GET INTO IT
I want to make a quick note and stress the importance of preparing for a project like this. Pro-tip #1, get your knives sharpened. Whether you do it yourself or have a buddy who’s a knife sharpening legend, you’re going to want a sharp edge and a fine tip on your blade. You’ll be relying on its sharpness. You’re going to want long clean strokes as you glide your knife through different muscle groups. There’s nothing more discouraging than having to repeatedly readjust your knife, knowing there’s a long road ahead. Believe me, a sharp knife will make the work more enjoyable. It also makes you look like a pro when the bones come out clean and bare of meat.
A STORY ABOUT SHARING
Our friends at For4ged Candle Co. shared a couple of legs of venison from their successful winter hunt. A truly generous gift that we look to return in the form of culinary treats. We are going to be making 4 delicious venison-inspired recipes for our buddies.
With a background in culinary arts, I’ll be sharing how I approach whole animal butchery with a culinary eye. To do so, I began by figuring out what cuts of meat I would be able to find and how much of each would be available. Once I see the meat pile up, I’ll get my creative juices flowing and work at building those delicious recipes.
PREP TIME: 10 minutes / BUTCHER TIME: 1HR
COOK TIME + PREP TIME
PREP TIME: 10 MINS / BUTCHER TIME: 1 HR /CLEANING: 10 MINS
LARGE CUTTING BOARD
COUPLE KITCHEN TOWELS
4 LT CONTAINER FOR BONES
4 LT CONTAINER FOR MEAT
4 LT CONTAINER FOR WASTE
WHAT DID I GET INTO?
Butchering your own deer is truly gratifying. Your first go at it will pretty much look like a mess. Although, once you get in the habit of tossing over thirty-plus pounds of meat onto the kitchen counter, you’ll see the art behind it. Let me take you through my mind's process of butchering a few venison legs. I won't keep you long, but I want to share my experience with you.
These front legs easily weighed around thirty pounds each. Firstly, I look to inspect the condition of the meat and bones. Anything that looks like it might be on its way to being jerky is caused by prolonged exposure to the air. It's nothing to worry about. Trimming off these bits sums up the first part of the game. I gradually shaved off strips in uniform successions, gradually exposing the meat’s freshness and all the connective tissue. It's like tugging back on strips of thin leather and sliding your knife on the underside, remembering to always slice away from yourself. Even though the kill may have been well dressed in the field, I take my time with this process. Getting familiar with the animal's anatomy and removing any bits of hair are both regular parts of the process.
FAT IS GOLD
I have a special interest in the fat I find when butchering wild game. The first thing we learn in culinary school is that “fat is flavour.” Venison fat can carry its flavour in basically any recipe. That’s why I pay close attention to the fat found around the muscle groups. I’ll collect all the clean white venison fat I can find. Any blemished or bruised fat signals that I’m risking some unwanted flavours in my recipes. Poor fat quality is what people tend to identify as tasting “really gamey.” They aren’t wrong. Bruised fats can carry a lot of funk into your recipes. That’s the experience I try to avoid. So I’ll take my time and be particular when cleaning up the fat.
DAMN THEM SHOULDER BLADES
I’m a stickler when it comes to leaving no meat behind. I catch myself filleting the meat off the animal’s shoulder blades like I was filleting a fish. However, I shouldn't spend too much time here. There are better things to be doing. Also, it's probably the part that annoys me the most when butchering quadrupedal animals. They're awful. Those bones can be really frustrating. I’ll score the meat across the animal's joints and section off the upper part of the legs. I’ll shift my attention to one section of the leg by portioning this shoulder’s muscle group. This makes things less burdensome. Once I get the shoulder meat off the blade, I can then make a move into the first joint.
“It's a really annoying bone to work with.’’
MAKE FRIENDS WITH RATIOS
I’ll be grinding the shoulder muscles, “biceps'' and all that delicious fat. This blend will be worked into a variety of fun sausage-like recipes. You can always bump up your sausage recipe with pork shoulder and fat. I use dark turkey meat in my recipes. Why? Just because I like the challenge. One is not any better than the other. They both deliver the same end result. Look to use a 40/60 or 30/70 game meat to turkey meat [pork] ratio. You can cut down on the turkey if you have pork fat. 10% fat is as high as I’ll go if I use additional fat in my recipes.
WHAT THE SHANK
Shanks; they don’t look useful most of the time. They are held together by a variety of elastic-like tissues. You’re going to want to cook this section of the leg for a while. One to two hours depending on how "Fork tender" you enjoy eating your meat. Every time I come around to the shanks, I rotate their purpose and cook them in the following different ways. One, I’ll saw them into uniform pucks like an “osso buco”. Two, I’ll braise it on the bone. Or three, I strip and dice the meat for a future stew. This is a quick decision for me. I don’t waste time on the shanks if I don’t have to. Today I took the time slicing and dicing the shank meat separately for a pie recipe. Think beef bourguignon stuffed in a flaky puff pastry pocket. I’ll show you this in another recipe. In keeping all the bones separate, I’ll have more bones for my bone broths.
SLICE AND GRIND
My yield was weighing heavy in grindable meats. It’s a shoulder cut after all. They aren’t decorated with many grilling cuts. As you can see in this photo, I did end up with a fair amount of venison fat on this one leg. The sausage recipes we played with are going to benefit greatly from this fatty surprise.
I’ll pause here to offer up a quick observation. At this point, if anything, make sure you slice your grinding-meats into strips. Make them a whisper smaller than your grinder’s feeding path. Not all grinders are the same. You’ll thank yourself if you do this pre-slicing now. Regardless, if you're going to be grinding now or later, it's super irritating having to stop the grinding process to recut a piece of meat. Alternatively, if you happen to have missed one piece, grab some kitchen shears instead of reaching for a cutting board.
Depending on your expertise, this job can be a big one. There’s no reason to do what I did and make 4 recipes immediately after butchering 60 pounds of meat and bone. Keep the fun going and save some for future recipes. Vacuum pack your ground meat into half-pound bags. Freeze shanks for a day when you're at the cabin. It's such a nice treat for everyone to have a feed of venison. Be adventurous with your cooking.