With fresh meat available every day at the nearest supermarket, game animals such as deer and elk are no longer an important food source for most Americans. Even so, game is still appreciated by many for its flavor and leanness. Most venison is now produced on game farms under controlled conditions, making it more tender and better flavored than wild-caught game. Wild-caught animals vary widely in tenderness and "gaminess," and cooks have many techniques to minimize any undesirable flavors. Soaking elk or deer meat in milk is one common method, but there are many others.
Wine-Based Marinade for Elk or Other Game
Most European countries have a tradition of marinating game in red wine, which moderates the gaminess and also provides a degree of tenderizing. A traditional red wine marinade consists of a half-gallon of red wine combined with one cup of red wine vinegar, onions, garlic, finely diced carrots, parsley stems, thyme, bay, sage and black peppercorns. The venison is marinated for up to two days and then either roasted or slow-cooked in the marinade.
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Beer-Based Marinade for Elk or Other Game
Beer-based marinades are less traditional, but are also very effective in minimizing the gaminess of wild meats. Recipes for beer marinades cover a wider range of ingredients because they do not share a common cultural heritage in the way wine marinades do. Dark beers and strong flavors go well with venison, and most marinades will use one or both. Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic and Dijon mustard are all commonly used in beer marinades. Others use chili peppers and brighter flavors, such as lime juice and cilantro, with a lighter beer.
Brining for Elk or Other Game
Quick brining, or flavor brining, is a technique adopted by many chefs and home cooks to impart flavor and moisture to meats. To make a basic brine for elk, dissolve 1/2 cup of kosher salt and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar in a quart of water. Add other flavorings such as cracked black peppercorns, mustard seeds, sage, cloves, garlic and powdered onion as desired. Place the meat to be brined in a heavy plastic bag or food-safe container, and cover with the brine. Soak steaks or flat cuts for two to four hours, roasts for up to eight hours, then cook as you normally would.
Dry Seasoning Rubs
Another common way to compensate for gaminess in elk or other meat is to use a dry rub, usually a day before cooking. Combine a commercial spice rub with a small amount each of kosher salt and sugar, or create your own rub with spices and herbs including black pepper, Szechuan peppercorns, juniper berries, thyme, rosemary, garlic, cumin or coriander. Rub the meat well with the spices and salt, and refrigerate for two to 12 hours, depending on the thickness of the meat. Cook as you normally would. Dry rubs are usually rinsed off before cooking, but not always.