I did not grow up eating deer meat. Beef, yes. Chicken, yes. Salmon and sole, yes. But deer meat, no. So when I moved to Pemberton and began sharing my fridge with a hunter, I was in for a change in dietary habits.
While it was not something I can say I enjoyed eating at first, over the years I have learned that deer meat can be just fine. I would like to add that I am grateful for the deer, and the deer meat. Deer eat leaves in the forest, and that is a healthy, natural diet that is passed on to us in the form of healthy, natural, and lean meat. I also like the fact that we know where our meat comes from.
Some Recipes Work for Deer Meat. Others Do Not:
My advice to any readers who either have just taken up hunting, or are living with people who hunt, is that some recipes complement deer and others do nothing for it. For instance, do not create a delightful, light, refreshing marinara sauce with Lillooet tomatoes and fresh basil, and expect that it will taste great mixed with a pound of ground deer meat. It will not. (I do not call it venison – that’s chef talk. Deer meat it is.)
Stew Meat and Ground Meat are Your Friends:
No matter how much a hunter tries to tell you that “deer roast is amazing”, do not believe him or her. A pork roast? Sign me up. A beef roast? Pass the Dijon. A deer roast? I have [expletive] tried and tried for over a decade and not once has one turned out well. Do not let that hunter persuade you into deer steaks either. In my culinary opinion, another waste of time.
In short, your entire deer should be turned into either ground or stew meat, with all due respect for the animal.
Recipes That Have Worked for Me:
My best recipes for deer meat are used over and over again, and they are best suited for fall, winter and early spring. By late spring we are pretty much done with deer meat, but it can still be used in warmer weather for my taco fiesta recipe which follows.
My favourite recipe that truly complements deer meat (or disguises it – depending on your point of view) is Shelley Adams’ Whitewater Cooks at Home recipe for Curried Lamb & Lentil Soup. It is delicious, full of flavour, freezes and reheats beautifully, and anyone I have served this to loves it (including many people who do not eat wild game). Deer stew meat is substituted for the lamb.
Honourable mentions go to Shelley’s recipe for Beef, Leek and Pot Barley Soup (swap out the beef for deer stew meat) from the same book, and her Whitewater Cooks Chilli from her first cookbook. I have still not found the ideal pasta sauce recipe but the one I use is the Best of Bridge cookbook series Best of the Best for their lasagna recipe – the sauce can be used over any pasta. It is really only good on a fall or winter chilly night as it is quite heavy – and the flavours may be a bit dated for today’s palates. But a heavy pasta meal can be very satisfying and comforting on a dark, cold, winter night so it works for me sometimes.
Mexican Taco Fiesta with Pemberton-Area Deer Meat (Serves 6):
Here is a recipe I just came up with recently that is delicious, kid-friendly, and appealing to the palate year-round. I choose to serve the tacos without cheese or sour cream, but it’s a personal choice. I also make a cooked salsa with canned tomatoes, making this recipe a practical choice in winter months when fresh tomatoes are expensive and not flavourful.
1 lb. ground deer meat
3 tbs. home mixed taco seasoning
1 12-count package of authentic corn tortillas
10 romaine lettuce leaves, shredded
1 recipe cooked tomato salsa (recipe follows)
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups finely chopped cilantro
2 cups cooked corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
Choice of hot sauce for garnish
Cook your deer meat in a very large cast iron fry pan or a heavy-bottomed large saucepan until no longer pink.
When fully cooked, add 2 cups water and 3 tbs. of taco seasoning.
Add cooked black beans, cilantro and corn and simmer until the liquid is boiled down (but not so much that your meat mixture is dry).
Warm tortillas in oven for 15 minutes at 180F
Chop up lettuce into small shreds.
Assemble tacos with meat mixture, salsa and lettuce over a tortilla, at the table. No need to roll up (corn tortillas will fall apart easily). Cut up and eat with knife and fork.
1 litre of canned, diced Lillooet tomatoes
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
Sauté onions til very well cooked or caramelised. Add cilantro, tomatoes and salt and pepper. Simmer until most of the liquid is boiled down.
Combine the salsa, the deer meat mixture, and shredded lettuce and sauté over medium heat until hot. Makes a great lunch next day!