Successful deer hunt yields meals from the field

I’m not sure I would be as enthused about deer hunting as I have always been if I didn’t enjoy eating venison. Without a doubt, a nice supply of meat is one of the best benefits of a successful deer hunt. In fact, there is often much work to be done after you pull the trigger to take care of that bounty.

Although I have skinned and butchered my own deer, I no longer have the facilities or the time to do so anymore. I now gladly pay a processor to do that for me. Once the deer is cut up, however, much work remains to prep and wrap all that the meat for the freezer.

I meticulously trim every bit of fat from each cut of meat. This takes some extra time, but it is worth every minute in terms of taste. Unlike beef fat, which adds flavor to the meat, venison fat tends to be bitter and can impart much of the “gamey” taste that some folks find objectionable. Freezing deer meat with fat still attached seems to make that taste even stronger.

When I’m finished, I’ll have a large pile of completely lean pieces of meat ready for freezing. That used to mean wrapping dozens of packages of meat in freezer paper, which was a chore that entailed cutting many sheets of paper, then carefully folding them around each portion of meat, taping the whole thing shut and marking the contents of the package.

I almost bought one of those portable vacuum sealers for packing my deer meat. Not only do those appliances do the job faster, but they also do it better by removing all air trapped in the package, thereby virtually eliminating the possibility of freezer burn. But most models cost from $99 to $300, a cost I found hard to justify for something I would only use a few times a year. Several years ago,

I found a wonderful little device at the grocery store that does a perfect job of vacuum sealing food, and it cost less than $4. Ziploc offers a simple plastic pump that quickly and easily removes the air from and seals the food inside a specially designed plastic freezer bags. Simply put the meat or other food inside the bag and zip it closed. Lay the bag flat and place the pump over the special valve in a corner of the bag. Make a few strokes with the pump to remove excess air from the bag, and you’re done.

I’ve used this little gadget to package all my game and fish since the day I discovered it. Not only is it economical, it also does a perfect job in just a few seconds. The Ziploc vacuum bags are available in quart and gallon sizes, and you can find them and the pump with the other food storage products in most grocery stores.

Of course, all the work of packaging and freezing the venison supply is ultimately to ensure many great meals throughout the coming months. My favorite venison dish is a pepper steak recipe I came up with several years ago that is also quick and easy to prepare. The main ingredient, of course, is either deer steak or sliced back strap.

Next, you’ll need half a medium red onion, half a green bell pepper and about four ounces of baby portabella mushrooms for each portion. Slice the vegetables thickly and set them aside, keeping the mushrooms separate from the onions and peppers.

Coat the bottom of a large skillet with a little olive oil, add the onions and peppers and saut the mixture over medium heat. I prefer my vegetables on the crisp side rather than overcooked and limp, so just after they start to soften up, I add the mushrooms and pour in about a quarter of a cup of red wine.

Then cover the pan and allow the mixture to simmer another minute or two, stirring occasionally, until done. As an alternative to cooking the veggies with wine, I sometimes season them with some Morton Season All, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, or garlic salt, so feel free to use whatever blend of spices you might prefer.

Whenever possible, I prefer to cook the steak on the grill, but this time of year, that isn’t always a feasible option. If I’m cooking the steak inside on the stove, I’ll sometimes marinate the meat for a few hours in Worcestershire sauce or some other prepared marinade.

Regardless of whether you’re cooking your venison on the grill or in a pan, however, the important thing to remember is not to overcook it, preferably somewhere around medium-rare to medium. I long ago learned the hard way that cooking venison “for just another minute” can make the difference between meat that is juicy and flavorful or tough and tasteless.

Serve the steak smothered with the onions, peppers and mushrooms and any other sides you prefer. Add a glass of cabernet sauvignon or shiraz, and I’m ready to enjoy one of the biggest benefits of deer hunting.