Unlike their farmed kin, wild deer lead unpredictable lives with widely varying diets. That means their meat can range from tender and veal-like to strong and gamey, which poses a problem for venison-loving cooks. Although a hint of gaminess is a welcome reminder that you're eating wild-caught meat, anything more than that quickly becomes a fault. Fortunately, there are several well-proven techniques to reduce or mask the musky gaminess of wild venison.
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With domestic meats such as beef or pork, seams of fat or connective tissue aren't necessarily a flaw in the meat. Both break down as the meat cooks, lending flavor, richness and juiciness to the finished meal. With venison the situation is rather different, because much of the undesirably gamey flavor is concentrated in precisely those tissues. Before cooking your venison, use a sharp knife to trim away any surface fat or large seams of fat between the muscles. If the cut has any observable connective tissue or "silverskin" -- the thin, silvery sheath that encloses some muscles -- trim those away, too.
Soaking meats in a concentrated salt solution is a centuries-old preservation method, used to prepare hams and corned beef, among other cuts. If you reduce the percentage of salt, and soak your venison for just hours instead of days, the brine will draw out a portion of the natural juices from your venison. The meat absorbs some of the brine as well, seasoning the meat deeply and diluting its gamey flavor. Brining has the added advantage of helping meat stay moist when cooked, a significant benefit with lean, easily overcooked venison.
Classic European venison cookery calls for strongly flavored marinades to tame the wild-caught flavor. Traditional mixtures include ingredients such as red wine and red wine vinegar, garlic, onions and strong, woodsy-tasting herbs such as rosemary and juniper berries. These are all potent flavors in their own right, and counter the meat's gamey flavor by meeting it head-on and overpowering it. American hunters and cooks often marinate their venison in milk or buttermilk, which -- like a brine -- leaches away some of the meat's own strong flavor. Food scientists have noted that possibly because of naturally occurring enzymes, dairy products also tenderize the sometimes-tough meat more effectively than traditional acidic marinades.
When a gamey flavor persists despite your best efforts, flavoring the dish generously is the final weapon in your arsenal. The deep, complex flavors of good curry or chili powders can provide a potent foil to the gaminess of your meat, with earthy and pungent notes that conceal the venison's muskiness. Earthy, smoky spices such as cumin, paprika and chipotle are especially good at this. Long, slow cooking in a flavorful sauce will usually subdue the meat's gaminess to a tolerable or even an enjoyable level. If the spiciness of curry or chili doesn't appeal to you, a rich tomato sauce or mushroom sauce has a similar effect without the heat.