Clayton: Time to reap the harvest from hunts
Deer seasons in Texas (with a few exceptions) are coming to a close. Of course, deer hunting will continue on TPWD managed ranches where the state sets harvest limits. On these ranches hunting is allowed with all legal means from the beginning of bow season through February and deer are tagged with special tags provided by TPWD rather than the tags on one’s hunting license.
Of course, we have feral hogs to hunt year-round and there is no better time than after the close of deer season to hunt them. The weather is cold, making care of the meat much easier and after eating corn intended for deer around corn feeders across the state, many wild porkers are corn fattened. Chances are pretty good if you’re a deer hunter, you have plenty of fresh meat in your freezer. If your freezer is empty, there are plenty of wild hog hunting opportunities available.
I used to process all my big game animals and still do on occasion but seems the past few years, I have to catch up on my writing and have radio shows to put together after a few days of hunting, so I often have the meat processed by a really good processor. I have the processor grind some of the less tender cuts and later make my own sausage at home. I’ve always enjoyed eating venison and wild pork but with the price of meat today, more and more folks are realizing what they have been missing. Properly handled game meat is some of the healthiest food available and can also be some of the tastiest if prepared properly.
The trick to great-tasting venison is to remove all fat, which gives the meat a gamey taste and all the connective tissue which is stringy and tough. Wild hogs have more fat, but not nearly as much as their domestic counterparts. Fat from wild hogs adds to the flavor and there is usually very little excess fat to remove.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to prepare meat from deer and hogs I harvest. I hope you will give them a try soon.
Deerburger is very useful and most processors add about 20% fat to lean, ground venison. I have served deerburgers to guests that asked if the meat was Wagyu beef. Before we ate, I would tell them I had some really good burger for our hamburgers and asked them to identify it. I would advise anyone to devote at least a portion of their game animals to burger because of the versatility of ground meat. Burger can be used for making everything from meat loaf to spaghetti and because of the low fat content, its taste and texture rivals the most costly of "store bought" ground meat.
Sausage: I absolutely love sausage of all types, as do most of my family and friends. You can easily turn your ground meat into breakfast sausage simply by mixing country sausage seasonings, making patties and frying them. I use spicy breakfast sausage to make meatballs used in my camp cabbage rolls. Rather than the conventional cabbage rolls with leaves wrapped around the meat and secured with string, my cabbage rolls are much easier to prepare.
I use spicy breakfast sausage (pork or venison) and mix in raw jasmine rice and make meat balls about the diameter of a quarter. Into a Dutch kettle, I layer chopped cabbage and meat balls and cover with a large can of spicy V8 juice. I also sprinkle a little extra raw rice between the layers. It takes about 40 minutes of slow simmering with a lid over the pot to thoroughly cook the meatballs. Served with a pan of cornbread on a cold winter evening, this is an easy and tasty version of a dish that usually takes hours to prepare.
Sausage balls are a favorite around camp and I have a quick-and-easy Dutch kettle recipe that is always well received as a snack that sometimes morphs into the main course. I mix 2 cups of Bisquick with a small package of shredded cheese, add 2 eggs and some chopped green onion. Next, I mix and form balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and place in my #10 Dutch Kettle.
With about 15 coals on top and seven underneath the kettle, the sausage balls are ready in about 30 minutes. Cooking with coals is an inexact process with lots influences such as heat generated by the coals from various woods, ambient air temperature, etc. etc. I usually mix enough to this for two cookings; I’ve found the first batch usually disappears quickly.
While I enjoy fully cooked smoked link sausage, I also like to have some raw Bratwurst on hand for cooking over coals. The traditional method of cooking brats is to simmer the raw links in beer with an onion chopped in for about 30 minutes and then allow the links to cook in the beer and take on the flavor. Then, a few minutes on hot coals makes them crispy and ready for a quality bun and a bit of hot mustard.
I reserve the backstraps and upper cuts of ham for steaks. Rather than actually cutting the meat into steaks, I like to freeze chunks of steak and cut them to the desired thickness when they are defrosted. The meat stays fresh for a long time frozen in this method, especially when sealed with a vacuum sealer. The ham steaks I tenderize and usually turn into chicken fried steak or smother them with mushroom gravy and serve with hot rice. Since venison is seldom aged before processing, I try to season my steaks and allow them to marinate 3 or 4 days in the fridge.
One of my favorite steak dinners, with either pork or venison backstrap, is three-quarter inch steaks marinated several days and cooked in a cast iron skillet with butter infused with fresh garlic and jalapeno. I always reserve a bit of the natural gravy to spoon over the steaks just before serving.
Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org