With a couple of big deer in the freezer, my thoughts have turned to what to do with the meat. So far we have really enjoyed roast loin, plenty of curry and casseroles, lasagne and chilli and so on. Our investment in an electric mincer has been excellent, and it will make sausages as well.
The aim of this is to give some ideas of how the carcass can be used efficiently and imaginatively. Before I start, a note on hanging. I have two carcasses cut up at the moment, one a red stag who was hung for four days in a chiller at below the requisite 7 degrees, and one a fallow that was hung overnight in a cool garage. Iâ€™m very happy with both, although those who prefer a proper venison flavour will want to hang it longer. For us, hung like this, it is comparable to beef but leaner and tastier.
In basic terms, when butchering a deer, there is the haunch or buttock, the loins or saddle (and including the breast), and the shoulder (including the neck). As with all animals used for meat, the rear quarters are the most tender, and the forends generally tougher.
Often a deer carcass is butchered in quite an agricultural manner, but I have taken the time to discover how it can be done properly. I have found it not only rewarding, as the meat can be used for most appropriate uses, but also not terribly difficult or time consuming.
The process to separate the carcass into these composite parts involves lying it down on a clean worktop, and working on one side at a time. Remove the haunch by cutting along the spine from the tail, following the spine round up to where front of the thigh joins the belly. This will expose the ball joint, and by severing tendons it will come away without the aid of a saw. The feather steaks can then be removed from inside the body cavity, using fingers to break the membrane.
The shoulder can now be removed. This is really straightforward, again cutting along the spine and the rib, exposing the joint and severing the tendons. The neck can also be filleted at this point.
Next the belly/breast is separated from the ribs by running a filleting knife along the ribs. This is again followed down to the spine and along. A cut is then made cleanly along the back bone from the top of the carcass, and the loin and the breast can be removed together. These are then trimmed, separating the delicious, tender loin from the breast.
The haunch in a beef carcass is usually broken down into 7 muscle groups. It is perfectly possible to do this with a venison haunch, and I found worthwhile doing with a mid sized fallow buck. If dealing with a roe or muntjack, it may be that the most appropriate option is to leave the haunch entire and either bone and roll the joint or simply leave whole.
I wonâ€™t go into the process of splitting the haunch, there are proper butcher tutorials on the â€˜net for that purpose. Having split the haunch, either individual roasting joints can be used and treated to very light cooking and served pink, remaining tender and without too much sinew, or steaks can be cut.
I have been experimenting with the steaks. We are now eating biltong that I have cured in a box made by my South African friend Dougie. I havenâ€™t got the cure right just yet, with this batch a little salty where the meat is thinner.
To make biltong, the process is simple. Best steak joints are taken and cut into strips along the grain. These should be say 2 cm across and as long as they come. Into a bowl with a mix of salt, sugar and vinegar, with various spices to taste, such as chilli flakes and crushed coriander seeds.
Once cured for a while, theÂ strips are hung up to dry. Dougieâ€™s biltong box is a simple set up that relies on a light bulb to create convection of air. After 3 days the biltong seems to be dry enough, and next time wonâ€™t be salted so hard! http://dougiewhite.wordpress.com/
I shall be enjoying these with an excellent American Pale Ale I have just brewed and bottled, although I fear that what is left of the summer might not throw up enough warm weather to appreciate it fully!
The loin is the prize for me. Roasted like a beef fillet, it is just incredible and worthy of a place at a kingâ€™s table. It makes good sirloin steaks as well across part of its length, but unless itâ€™s a big red these can be a bit too small. Any trimmings will go into the trimming pile for mincing.
The shoulder and breast is an important part of the deer for me. Whilst the shoulder can be jointed and slow cooked, I like to have a good amount of mince available for every day cooking. It becomes more versatile when treated as such.
We bone and mince up all the shoulder as well as the breast. The breast on these two bucks/stags has been quite fatty, so the mince is split into lean and fatty. The fatty mince goes into sausages, which taste really good without the addition of beef or pork fat. We seasoned them with paprika, some chilli flakes, plenty of salt and pepper, maybe some juniper berries and so on. This makes really delicious winter sausages to go with mash and jus.
If you have a reasonably friendly local butcher, they may mince and make sausages out of meat you take them for a small charge. In the past, I have been charged between nothing and Â£1/kilo to mince and sausage venison.
The whole process may seem a little daunting, but I can honestly say that once you have started it will all make sense. The worst that could happen is you end up mincing a lot of it….and at current venison prices thatâ€™s really not the end of the world!
Check out this fantastic video on cooking Roe, Muntjac and Fallow Venison Chops by Mike Robinson and produced by BASC: