If you live in the rural South, chances are high that you are 1) a deer hunter, 2)live next door to a deer hunter, or 3) know a deer hunter who gifts you with ground venison, deer roasts, and/or sausage. My brother killed an 8-point buck deep inside the Atchafalaya Basin last week during the “polar vortex” cold snap, and he was kind enough to share some of his 80+ pounds of ground venison….after he fed me the deer’s seasoned and seared tenderloin pictured at left. (What a nice brother, no? He’s clearly a better shot than I am, too.)
Most deer killed by Louisiana hunters probably ends up as Cajun spiced or Italian sausage, mixed with ground pork or beef to lighten the texture and add some fat. Deer sausage is ubiquitous in south Louisiana’s home freezers, and I find that a little of it goes a long way. The typical sausage seasonings are tasty enough, but venison (free range, with no added hormones, antibiotic residues, and humanely killed with one shot) surely deserves more than culinary pigeonholing as sausage, chili, or “spaghetti sauce”.
For recipe inspiration, I turned to forager extraordinare Hank Shaw’s blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Bingo! Shaw’s site overflows with recipes for red game. His recipe for venison Greek meatballs offered a completely different flavor profile than the usual ground deer treatments encountered ’round here. The recipe didn’t cut the venison with beef or pork, but instead used bulgur wheat. Lacking bulgur, I substituted bread crumbs to lighten the texture a bit. Oregano, plenty of garlic, onion, and a generous amout of nutmeg and black pepper took the meatballs’ flavor in an interesting direction, and the accompanying tomato sauce spiked with anchovies and cinnamon added layers of flavor. The venison’s deep, dark flavor became a supporting note in the dish–a part of the whole, rather than a dominating overtone.
If a hunter in your life hands you venison, try to break out of the sausage rut. I have more venison in the freezer, and I think it would make an excellent kibbe. Or a meat pie. Or maybe some tamales. Stay tuned…