Bear (Bacon) With Me

Time for a big, 2+ week catch-all.

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Wild Comfort Food: Venison Meatloaf.

We ground our venison last Fall. But we never got around to cutting it with ground pork like we normally do. Since we also haven’t bought a sausage stuffer that’s worth a damn, I’m not sure we’ll ever get around to it. This is sounding a lot less like a problem, though. Plain ground venison is pretty versatile.

I came home from work around 7, and had this thawed pound of deer meat. I ground up a packet I’d separated of really fatty bacon ends, and then mixed the venison, an egg, some Ritz crackers, and some seasoning in my (new!) Kitchenaid. Then I formed it into a round and baked it in a foil-lined pan.

Freshly ground bacon fat and ground venison

Freshly ground bacon fat and ground venison

Kitchenaid made short work of it all.

Kitchenaid made short work of it all.

GE

Pre-baking

Pre-baking

Hot from the oven.

Hot from the oven. After I dropped a potato on it, of course.

It came out extremely well. I don’t know what that kid in A Christmas Story was complaining about- meatloaf is delicious. My mom would be proud.

The Happy Home Butcher, or I Can Explain Why There is a Laundry Basket Full of Meat on my Porch.

After shoveling the light, fluffy snow from Sunday off the driveway, sidewalk, back patio, and path to the garage on Monday afternoon, I was ready to sit down with a piping hot coffee- it was only about 10 degrees out. Preferably a sugar-laden something. But it was not to be. The venison from our two deer was exposed to the air. The cooler it was in was too full, and even in the cold, it was drying out. I had to butcher it.

Chest-o-meat.

Chest-o-meat.

So, I drag that thing around the house and in the front door (an added on doggie door panel makes our back door too narrow). I then set to prepping my kitchen and surfaces. I wiped everything down with some Soft Scrub containing bleach, got containers ready, labelled them, set out paper towels to absorb blood, and sharpened my knives.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Two chef's knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

Two chef’s knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

For the next 7 hours or so, I was elbow deep in meat. As a rule, I tend to separate everything into individual muscles or muscle groups. So, I de-bone the hind quarter above the shank, and cut out the big muscles there. That gives me the “football roast” (the deer’s quad), and then two other muscles (one very large, which I cut into steaks, and a small one I cook whole). The back straps from these deer got pretty mangled, so rather than the nice, neat medallion steaks like I’d prefer, they’re long, thin portions this year. I kept and cleaned up the ribs, and even on the younger deer there’s quite a lot of meat there, so those will be grilled come summer, I think. I really wish I had a clean bandsaw. It would have been nice to zip those in half down the middle to make the bones shorter on each cut.

I also saved half of the larger deer’s belly (brisket?), and a part of the smaller doe’s belly as well. They aren’t quite thick enough to cook like beef brisket, but they are quite fatty. Since Matt and I conferred and nixed the idea of venison ham until we buy a dedicated smoker (really worried about temp control in our grill/smoker), I decided I might try to salt these and smoke them into deer bacon. Bacon is smoked at a higher temp for a shorter time than a ham is, so there’s much less chance for error (and botulism!). I think bacon + maybe smoking some sausages will give me some good practice to work up to doing a ham some day. Plus, if I mess these up, the most we ever did with the thin, usually-mangled-from-the-gutting-process belly was to toss into the sausage pile or feed it to our dogs.

Last, but definitely not least, came the shoulders. The shoulder meat is pretty tough, given that deer spend their lives walking around constantly. Two years ago I tried grilling up a whole shoulder over low heat. It turned out OK, but there is a lot of connective tissue in there. Plus, this year I found Hank Shaw’s recipe for venison barbacoa. So, I demuscled the shoulders, too. The part I’m going to slow cook into barbacoa and shredded venison is the portion between the shoulder blade and elbow, which if my memory of anatomy serves, is the deer’s latissimus dorsi. The meat on the lower part of the front leg was sliced out to be jerky or sausage meat.

Here comes the part that was really exciting (for me). Once we got the deer home, we picked up a vacuum sealer.

I didn't think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

I didn’t think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

So. Once everything was butchered out, I didn’t have to mess with the hassle from years prior. I used to double-wrap everything in plastic wrap, and then foil, then label either the foil or a piece of masking tape on the foil with the cut and the date. And let me tell you, this thing works like a dream. Plus, it was pretty fun to watch it suck all the air out of each parcel. It’s also really easy to use a Sharpie and label each item, and you can tell what’s in there at a glance through the clear plastic.

So, by the time I got done with packaging and clean up last night, it was after ten. And already below zero outside. Our forecast low for the night was -15 before the windchill was applied. On top of that, our chest freezer is a mess. I need to reorganize it, and Matt has a bunch of taxidermy to-dos hanging around in there. It’s also in an odd, dark bonus space in our house, accessed only by a door from the outside. I didn’t want to mess with it in the dark and the cold. Plus, the air temperature was colder than my little freezer could hope to be.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage met, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage meat, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

So that’s how I got a laundry basket full of meat on my front porch. It worked better than a flash freezer. It was solid within an hour, and this morning everything looked a good, fresh frozen.

As far as everything in that cooler goes: we haven’t purchased a vertical stuffer yet. It’s on the list for Friday. We’ll grind and mix the sausage and cure the jerky all in one day. With the considerable amount of tallow we have, I might attempt to render it. Matt wants to make candles (why? I don’t know), but his buddy’s fiance will be eating sausage from his deer, and she keeps Kosher. So, when we grind his deer, we won’t be able to cut it with pork like we normally do. She’s being pretty understanding of us using the equipment we have, and I just want to try not to put anything not-Kosher directly into her food. I might be pulling to grind up some of the tallow to cut their sausage with. We’ll also have to find non-hog casings.

My plan for our sausage is a couple summer sausage logs maybe, and then some breakfast links and bratwurst, or a kielbasa style sausage to smoke as a nod to Matt’s very Polish heritage. Or some bangers for my Irish ancestors. Anyhow, all that will be done Friday.