Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oh, Deer.

This summer, the Community Garden has received an onslaught of deer-related destruction.  From eating the tops off of sunflowers to browsing tomato tips to munching my beans, the deer have decided that the happy organic vegetables are much better tasting than the GMO wonders available across the street.

On one hand, I'm flattered.

On the other, it's really really irritating.

It seemed only fitting that I get a touch of humble revenge by canning up some venison I had lurking in the freezer.  Don't get me wrong, I like the deer.  But there are far, far too many of them around here and eating delicious bits of a humanely harvested one makes me a little gleefully happy.  Plus, I like having canned meat and such on the pantry shelves.  They are great for quick dinners on busy days.

The downside of eating wild game is that it tastes, well, gamey.  My solution?  Soak the raw meat in a solution of salt and water, 1 Tablespoon of salt per quart of water, for at least an hour before cooking.  Not only does the brine help tenderize tougher meat cuts, but it really helps to cut the gamey flavor.  (Remember: venison is hunted during the fall mating season.  If you get a buck, phew.  A doe is slightly less pungent.)

When canning meat, it is vitally important to have a pressure canner.  You can't do this in a water bath, and you really, really need to pay attention to the manufacturer directions.  Have your dial gauge tested annually, as well, to make sure you are really canning at the correct pressure.  Meat can spoil pretty quickly, so be careful, check your seals, and you'll be just fine.  Don't fart around though.  Go from the raw stage to the canned stage as quick as you can, to help minimize spoilage.

If I haven't terrified you with my above safety talk, let's chat about what I do with my venison beyond soaking it in some brine.  I prefer to do a hot pack method, where you partially cook the meat to the rare stage after cutting it into small chunks or thin strips.  I also really like to chop up some sweet peppers and onions, mix it with the meat, fill the jars with boiling beef broth, and then can it according to the guidelines for canning venison (11 pounds of pressure, 75 minutes for pints) that I found in my beloved copy of So Easy to Preserve.  That way, my final product is tender and flavorful, just needing a quick warm up in a pan where I've made a simple roux.  Such a lovely gravy to pour over mashed potatoes...yum.  Talk about a welcome weeknight supper!

Start to finish, we're talking about an hour of prep and then an hour and a bit for canning.  After that, here's what you get:
Jar upon jar of wonderful venison with homegrown veggies.  It's well worth the work, and a great way to use some locally obtained wild meat.

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