Whether you procured your own deer, received a meaty gift from a hunter friend or purchased packaged venison from a butcher, there's always the possibility of it having a gamey taste. This is the unique earthy, mineral-like flavor and aroma that distinguishes wild game from milder-tasting commercial meats. Most people find a prominent gamey taste to be unpleasant; some enjoy a mild gaminess, while others can't stand it at all. Many of the reasons venison can taste gamey are to do with the way the deer was killed and processed, as well as the animal's diet, age, hormones and other factors beyond a cook's control. However, there are several ways to successfully get the gamey taste out of venison, even once it's ready to cook.
Trim the Fat
Venison is a lean red meat, but might still have noticeable pieces of fat attached to the cut. Most of the gamey taste and smell in deer meat is in the fat, so trim as much as you can away and discard it to reduce the gamey flavor. Also trim away any silver skin – the thin, silvery layer of connective tissue that might have been left on a cut of venison. This is usually removed by the butcher, but if the silver skin is still attached, take the time to carefully slice and pull it away. The silver skin is also very chewy when cooked, so it's a good idea to do this step even if you're not trying to get the gamey taste out of venison.
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Brine the Venison
Brining a cut of venison, meaning soaking it in a solution of salt, cold water and other seasonings, works wonders in getting rid of a strong gamey taste. It also tenderizes the meat and can make it more flavorful. This method should be familiar to anyone who brines a Thanksgiving turkey.
Dissolve 2 to 4 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water, and prepare enough brine to fully submerge your meat. Optional seasonings to add to the brine include peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic cloves, halved onions, celery and fresh or dried herbs. Submerge the meat in the brine, and store the container in the refrigerator for around 24 hours. Increase the brining time for larger cuts of venison, and reduce it for smaller ones. Rinse the brine off the meat and pat it dry with paper towels before cooking.
Marinate the Venison in Milk
Similar to brining, soaking cuts of venison in plain whole milk before cooking is a very effective way to avoid a gamey taste. You can use a freezer bag or any suitable container, stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Increase the marinating time for large cuts. A similar method uses buttermilk or plain yogurt to get the gamey taste out of venison. These ingredients also tenderize the meat, and can leave it with a noticeable tang. Pat the meat dry with paper towels before cooking it.
Choose a Flavorful Marinade
Any marinade of your choice should help to reduce the gamey taste of venison, although sometimes this is a result of masking the gamey flavors with stronger ones, rather than eliminating them. Any marinades you enjoy on other meats, whether store-bought or homemade, are suitable for venison, . Try red wine-based marinades, citrusy marinades, steak sauce, or fresh herbs and garlic with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Pick the Right Recipes
For those who don't enjoy even a mild gamey taste in venison, it's probably better to choose recipes that combine the meat with other flavorful ingredients and seasonings. Instead of serving venison like a steak with separate side dishes, choose dishes where the venison flavor takes a back seat. Examples include using ground venison to make a rich, tomato-based meat sauce for pasta, slow-braising it with wine and vegetables, using venison for chili, or a frying up a spicy taco filling. Also consider blending ground venison 50-50 with ground beef, pork or lamb for burgers and other dishes, so that its natural mild gamey taste is much less noticeable.