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Love song to venison

May 16, 2011

When I first moved to Montana I had never eaten wild game. No one hunted where I grew up (Portland), or if they did they were in the minority. I considered hunting cruel and strange, although I can’t remember why I felt that way. “Bambi” terrified and bored me growing up, so I wasn’t anti-hunting out of a childhood brainwashing. I had a brief stint as a vegetarian after watching “Diet for a New America” in a science class, but my vegetarianism was related to factory farming and the negative health effects (claimed by the movie) of meat. My vegetarian days were also the first time I experienced turning down food at a social gathering (canned minestrone instead of a wonderful roast at Christmas) and having to defend my food choices. Looking back now I see lots of problems with my choice, but in the end I went back to omnivorey because I didn’t really like being a vegetarian.

Then I moved to Montana. My friends and I sometimes joke that Montana is where vegetarians go to become meat eaters. There is a very strong meat, hunting, and fishing culture here. Some of the dorms on my campus have gun lockers, and the bars usually have a hunting channel on one of the TVs. I remember a girl telling me during my first week of classes that her family hunted as a form of subsistence – they couldn’t afford to buy meat and her father hunted to provide. Go to any BBQ or potluck in town and there is sure to be at least one dish with the main ingredient hunted (or angled) by someone there. Mr. B started hunting several years ago and I have never had a problem with it. Montana’s long history of predator eradication has left the state with excessively large ungulate populations. Deer are especially problematic and their high numbers have serious ecological and health consequences. Some cities in Montana started bringing in sharp-shooters to reduce permanent in-town deer populations that cause traffic accidents. Gardens and farms need fencing to keep deer from eating all the crops to nothing.

Mr. B and I only meat two to three times a week and his coworkers consider us vegetarians. Partly we do this because I feel better eating less meat, but we also do it to make our meat last. Between one deer,  one pig (we buy a pig from our local Farm-to-Market pork every fall), and the occasional trout we can go a year without buying any meat. We do sometimes buy meat or fish, but I do my best to use what we have in the freezer. Before I had venison people warned me that it would taste gamey or strong, but I have always found it to be deliciously flavorful and rich. There are some beef dishes that venison doesn’t perform well in (low and slow are not the best), for the majority of cooking the two can be swapped without issue. The key is to remember that venison is a very lean meat and long cooking will intensify its flavor. We mix beef fat into our ground venison and I cook steaks or other tender cuts with butter. We most commonly use our stash for hamburgers, steaks, vension stew, meatballs, meatloaf (along with some pork), and kebabs.

Here is a recipe that I converted to venison (from pork actually), and has become a much-requested dish in our house. I was going to take a finished product picture, but we took these to BBQ last night and they were finished before I had the chance. This recipe is out of “The River Cottage Meat Book” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame. Both the book and the TV show are worth checking out.

Indonesian Venison Kebabs

Serves 4

Adapted from the Stir-fried Indonesian Pork in “The River Cottage Meat Book”


1 pound venison (or other lean meat)

1 egg sized piece of ginger

1 – 3 fresh red chilies or 1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes

2 garlic cloves, chopped (the original calls for crushed)

1/4 small onion, chopped (the original calls for grated)

2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed

2 tbsp. dark soy sauce

1 tbsp. brown sugar

Juice of 1/2 lime

1. Cut the meat into cubes of roughly the same size (~ 1/2 to 1 inch).

2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let meat marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours.

3. Remove meat from marinade. Sometimes I pat the meat dry and try to get all the marinade ingredients off, and sometimes I just skewer it. I think it turns out good either way.

4. Skewer meat. If your meat cubes are a variety of sizes try to group similar-sized pieces on skewers. Make sure you also leaves some room between each piece of meat, as well as room to grab the skewer at one end.

5. Grill or cook in a skillet over high heat until meat is done. Warning: venison is best eaten medium-rare or less cooked. If you cook it more than this you will get a tough and rubbery kebab. We usually cook these for a few minutes on each side but leave the inside rare. Venison and beef have the same cooking temperatures, so 120 for rare and 130 for medium rare (if you want to use a thermometer on a kebab). The amount of time these take to coo will be dependent on the size of your meat cubes and how warm your grill is. Just cut one open if you aren’t sure.

Mr. B claims this would be on his list of final meals along with peanut sauce, couscous, and a Moroccan sweet potato salad.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom Jones permalink
    May 16, 2011 12:21 pm

    Mr. B is so lucky to have an accomplished chef around to fill his tummy, and you are lucky to have the hunter man to fill the freezer!

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