When we first moved to this house in the country, with over two acres of grassy lawn, we did not have a lawn mower, or much money to buy one. I sprung for a push mower, and my husband and I would take turns mowing the steep lawn by hand. Our neighbors, whom we had not even met, felt genuine concern for us. One neighbor actually came over and just mowed the lawn himself with his riding mower. Another actually gave us an old riding mower that just needed a $30 part to run. Many people had warned us about moving to this small town with a local reputation for wild behavior, but the people we found were warm, welcoming, generous, and had a deep appreciation of nature.
Our next-door neighbor doesn’t get much sun, so we let him keep a garden on our property – the bare lawn wasn’t doing anyone any particular good. So, we exchange vegetables when we have extra, and this fall, he came up our driveway to hand deliver a large plastic bag of fresh deer meat. Now, I have eaten venison before, but never cooked or packaged it myself. I was very thankful, and, privately, a little overwhelmed.
My husband and I cut everything up into manageable pieces and stuck everything into the freezer to deal with later. Yesterday, I decided it was later and took out half of the tenderloin to do, well, something with.
As you know, I have been rereading bits of Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living over the last few days, so I decided to see what she had to say on the matter. It turns out that was a great deal. She has a whole section on butchering and cooking wild game.
I chose a rustic-looking recipe called Wild Roast with Dressing. I was pleased to see that it is made in a Dutch oven, and I had just gotten a heavy, handsome cast iron Dutch oven for Christmas. This was perfect! I adjusted the recipe to use just one pound of tenderloin, and I decided to use my spicy, hearty Scratch Squash-Oatmeal Bread to make the bread crumbs for the dressing.
Before I could even begin, there was the issue of the silverskin. Already removed by the butcher when you buy meat from the store, the tenderloin of animals has this insanely tough, smooth membrane called a silverskin that you need to remove before cooking; it is too tough to eat and will curl the meat if left on while cooking. (Or so I read.) Anyway, I have seen it removed on cooking shows, so I knew I needed to get under it with a sharp knife and peel it off. But I just couldn’t do it. I had to call in the husband for reinforcement. He did a great job as you can see below.
First, the recipe calls for browning the meat in bacon fat. Yes, I have an ample supply of bacon fat at hand. Every time I make bacon (which isn’t that often, I just don’t use the fat often), I pour the drippings into a glass jar I keep in the bottom of the fridge. (I warm the glass under the tap so the glass doesn’t shatter when I pour in the hot grease.) Although I don’t use it for much, it can be used as the shortening in a bread recipe or in place of butter to cook meat, vegetables, or potatoes. It adds a lot of flavor. (Even the dog got in on this bacon-y action. I trimmed some small bits of meat from the removed silverskin and fried them up for the wolfly little cattle dog you see there. Bacon-fried deer doggie treats. Yum. They lasted maybe half a second.)
Then, you move the roast to the Dutch oven and bake at 300° for about an hour per pound. Meanwhile, I got to work on my dressing. I used 1 pound of Scratch Squash-Oatmeal Bread, about ¾ of a loaf, sliced it, and crumbled the slices. I spread the crumbled bread onto a baking tray, seasoned with coarsely ground pepper and sea salt, and put it in the oven on the rack below the roast. When it was dry and crispy, I pulled it out, ground it into crumb-sized bits in my food processor, and then mixed in ¾ cup of onion, 1 ½ teaspoons of sage, and 2 eggs as directed by Carla’s recipe. I then added milk to moisten the mix, probably about 2-3 tablespoons.
Speaking of eggs, I save all of my egg shells. Yes, all, and that’s quite a bit. (By the way, they are saying that eggs are safer than previously thought – the cholesterol in eggs does not become the cholesterol in your arteries, so it is safe to eat one or two eggs per day.) I keep a washed milk carton with the top cut off in my pantry. When that gets full, I dump the shells into a large tin in the garage. When I plant my garden, I put a half cup of crushed egg shells beneath each tomato and pepper seedling to help prevent blossom end rot. (You still need to provide even moisture, but I have never had blossom end rot using the shells.) I also crush the shells and spread them around plants that tend to be bothered by cut worms, cabbage worms, snails, or other soft-bodied pests. (Not to be gross, but the sharp shells pierce them as they approach.) So these egg shells, too, go in the carton, goo and all.
Back to the roast. After the hour was up, I spooned the dressing around and over the roast and stuck it all back in for another hour. By then, we were nearly mad to eat it; the smell had been taunting us all afternoon! The dressing was meaty, flavorful, and hearty – it actually reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing, only better. The venison, despite being a lean meat, was fairly moist and tender and very flavorful. All in all, a triumphant first attempt at cooking venison! I still have quite a bit of venison left, so you’ll hear more from this meat yet.
Venison Roast with Squash-Oatmeal and Onion Dressing
(Adapted from Carla Emery’s “Wild Roast with Dressing” from The Encyclopedia of Country Living)
3 T. bacon fat; 1 lb. of venison tenderloin (for 2 servings); 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided; 1 teaspoon salt, divided; 1 lb. of Scratch Squash-Oatmeal Bread (3/4 loaf); ¾ c. chopped onion; 1 ½ t. sage; 2 eggs; 3 T. milk
Rub ¼ teaspoon of pepper and ¼ teaspoon of salt on either side of the loin. Brown the loin in bacon grease and place in Dutch oven. Bake at 300° for 1 hour (per pound).
Meanwhile, slice and crumble bread and spread on baking sheet. Season with remaining ½ teaspoon of pepper and salt. Bake with the roast for about 45 minutes. Remove and grind in food processor until you have coarse crumbs. Move to a bowl and mix in onion, sage, egg. Slowly add milk and stir until evenly moist.
Remove Dutch oven from oven after one hour and spoon bread dressing around and over roast. Return to the 300° oven for another hour (more if over 3 lb. roast). After cooking, let meat rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.