Venison is one of the healthiest of red meats, with lots of flavor and very low levels of saturated fat compared to domestic beef. Farmed venison is slightly better marbled and definitely milder and more tender than wild-caught, but in either case it's a lean and flavorful meat. Unfortunately, its leanness means that venison is often dry when cooked. You can avoid this complication by carefully matching your cooking method to the cut of venison.
Things You'll Need
- Bacon or pork fat
- Beef broth, red wine or other flavorful liquid
- Slow cooker
- Beef fat
Grill or broil small, tender cuts, such as the loin or rib portions. Like a steak cut from grass-fed beef, they'll need slightly lower temperatures than a normal steak to compensate for the lack of fat.
Roast larger pieces of loin or rib at temperatures 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than you'd use for a corresponding beef roast. The rib section is reasonably well marbled and can be roasted as is. The loin is leaner, and tying a thin sheet of bacon or pork fat to its top -- a technique called "barding" -- will help protect it from drying out in the oven.
Braise larger, tougher cuts in your oven or on the stovetop, in a mixture of beef broth and red wine or some other flavorful liquid. Long, slow cooking gently breaks down the dense muscle tissues, while the stringy connective tissues dissolve into moist, mouth-filling natural gelatin. This can be the best method for cooking tough, strong-tasting wild-caught venison.
Slow-cook smaller portions of tough leg or shoulder venison in your countertop slow cooker. Steam trapped in the cooker keeps the air moist, as it does when you braise in the oven, and limits the amount of moisture lost to evaporation.
Mix a portion of minced beef fat into ground venison before cooking it, or ask your butcher to do it for you if you're having a whole deer processed. With a small amount of added fat, the venison will cook like lean ground beef. For sausage-making, add up to 30 percent pork fat by weight to give your sausages the correct juicy texture.
Tips & Warnings
- Classic French cookery uses a specialized "larding needle" to moisten venison. If you can find one, cut pieces of pork fat into strips shaped like a french fry, but as long as your roast. Thread one through the needle's eye, and insert it through the roast from one side to the other. Repeat for the remaining strips, then trim the ends flush with your roast. This helps keep the venison moist and tender, and lends it an interesting visual appearance.
- The USDA's food safety and inspection service recommends cooking all venison to an internal temperature of 160 F, to ensure food safety. Many cooks and diners prefer to eat their venison at a lesser degree of done-ness, keeping it tender and juicy. Like cooking eggs with soft yolks, they feel the culinary reward outweighs the risk. Elderly and very young diners, and those with compromised immune systems, should avoid underdone game. Wild-caught game can cause trichinosis, and should always be cooked to the higher temperature recommended by the USDA.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Game from Farm to Table
- Nassau Foods: Preparing the Perfect Venison
- Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images