The regular firearms deer-hunting season ended Saturday, and according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s online harvest-tracker, more than 24,000 hunters have filled their tags this year.
That means that families across the state have plenty of tasty venison — “deer meat,” if you prefer — to cook up in the coming months.
With that in mind, we asked BDN readers to share some of their favorite venison recipes with us, and they generously did just that. Now we’ll share some of their responses. Some readers opted for the ultrasimple, while others offered up full-blown meals that will take a bit more preparation. Each, we’re sure, is worth trying.
So if you’ve got a deer in the freezer and you’re looking to try something new, take a look at some of these suggestions. We bet you’ll be glad you did.
First, a couple of simple tips. Lynn Beck says her mom used to fry thinly sliced venison tenderloin in a cast iron pan with bacon fat, and then make a gravy with the drippings. A key ingredient: lots of black pepper. David Baker says it’s hard to beat the age-old standard: Cook up some deer meat in a cast iron frying pan with salt, pepper, butter and onion. A little barbecue sauce is optional.
For Jay Robinson of Woodville, his mom’s mincemeat sits atop the list. Here’s the recipe from his mom, Joyce Robinson, that he passed along:
Mom’s Mincemeat recipe
makes 6-8 quarts
2 cups of white sugar
4 cups of ground deer meat
9 (6 pounds) cups of apples
1½ cups of suet
2 packages of raisins
1 package of brown sugar
3 cups of liquid from the meat
½ tbsp. of salt
1½ cups of white vinegar
1 tbsp. of fresh ground cloves
1 tbsp. of nutmeg
2 tbsp. of cinnamon
1 tbsp. of allspice
Cook altogether in a crockpot on low for approximately 6 to 8 hours on low. Stir often, and then send me 1 quart of finished mincemeat to test for edibility.
Jay Robinson said the family tradition was to try to use the neck meat to make mincemeat, so that the prime cuts of the deer could be saved for other uses.
Pot roast sandwiches
Registered Maine Guide Deryn LaCombe, who works in Grand Lake Stream, sent a recipe he received from the late Frank Milicia, which he uses for shore lunches when guiding.
“I just call it venison pot roast sandwiches,” LaCombe said. “It requires that you have canned venison using the recipe from the Ball Blue Book for canning. Mine is on page 32 (1972 edition) for stew meat.”
The preparation is pretty straight forward, but not entirely visually appealing, he said.
“Over an open fire in my fry pan I saute an onion and green pepper cut into strips in a little oil until they’re softened,” he said. “I then add a jar of the canned venison. Disclaimer here — canned venison is not the most appetizing looking stuff you’ll ever come across. It is a greasy pinkish-gray and I usually and justifiably get some questionable side glances when I pull it out.”
He heats up the venison along with the onions and peppers and adds some salt and pepper.
“Next, add a packet of any brown gravy or pot roast seasoning mix and a little water, maybe half a cup,” he said. “Stir to coat the meat and allow it to thicken a bit, it won’t take long. Serve on buttered and toasted rolls.”
Hind quarter roast
Woody Higgins, a longtime member of the Penobscot County Conservation Association, said he and his hunting partners have a camp tradition.
“We save a complete hind quarter — a small one if possible. Roast with garlic and onion, and then use the leftover meat for venison chili,” he said.
The commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Judy Camuso, suggested venison empanadas.
“Cook some chopped potatoes, onion, garlic and add burger then add some raisins and feta and some spices and wrap in puff pastry,” Camuso said. “Delicious.”
Eric Day said one of his favorites is a version of a beef stew that he makes when he has some venison on hand. Cooking with coffee is a tip he learned from a friend’s wife. He said it’s a hearty stew that’s great on a cold Maine night.
Coffee Venison Stew
2 to 3 pounds of deer meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion diced
2 or 3 tbsp. minced garlic (more if desired)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pot brewed coffee
Beef broth (as needed)
3 or 4 large carrots
1 medium turnip
3 or 4 potatoes
Red pepper flakes optional
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
I salt and pepper the deer meat and dredge in flour.
In a large heavy bottomed pot, I add a few tablespoons of olive oil and brown the meat (I do this in a few batches and set aside).
I add another bit of olive oil, the onion and garlic and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, and then add the deer meat back to the pot, season with salt and pepper, bay leaves, rosemary and the red pepper (if desired).
I then brew a pot of coffee (I use Dunkin’ Donuts) and pour over the meat and onions enough to cover by an inch or two. Simmer for an hour and a half to two hours, checking occasionally to stir, and then add beef broth as needed to maintain enough broth for cooking all the veggies later.
Once the deer meat is nice and tender, I dice and add the turnip and carrots and simmer around 15 to 20 minutes. I then add my diced potatoes and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
At this point, I will thicken with a cornstarch slurry, and it’s ready to serve.
I usually make homemade biscuits and sometimes I will make rosemary garlic and cheese dumplings.
And, finally, retired chef Samm Osage passed along a mouthwatering recipe for a choice cut of meat.
Venison backstrap “roast”
2 venison backstraps
2 cloves garlic microplaned
12-15 juniper berries
2 large (3-4 small) crushed bay leaves
10 sprigs fresh thyme, no need to strip the leaves
freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup olive oil
½ tsp. salt
1 bottle red wine like cabernet/merlot
Put both venison straps together. Tie them together with kitchen twine. Make sure you tie them tightly together so they appear to be one piece of meat, so that they look like a tied loin roast/tenderloin when you are finished trussing.
In a glass bowl, combine the red wine, olive oil, garlic, juniper berries, bay leaves,
thyme, salt and black pepper. Whisk together.
Put in your tied “roast” and be sure to turn the roast over a few times so all areas of the meat have been immersed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Marinate up to three days. (save marinade).
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes before you are ready to roast.
Remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry with paper towel. Wrap the roast with bacon
all around, overlapping and keeping the ends on what will be the bottom of the roast. When it’s all wrapped secure ends with toothpicks or poultry pins. Put seam side down on rack in a roasting pan. (I don’t use a rack, but others might wish to.)
Roast for 40 minutes or until the internal temperature is 125 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees Fahrenheit depending on how well done you like your meat. Remove the roast and let it rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes. Before you slice, you might wish to remove the bacon — or not!
I love mushrooms, especially baby bellas, sauteed with this. Roasted shallots are also a great accompaniment.
The marinade can be strained and made into a sauce by reducing it to half and then adding a pat or two of butter.
Roasted sweet potatoes and green beans make this an exceptional meal, especially with a nice glass of cabernet, merlot or shiraz.
For those who do not like to drink wine with their dinner: For beers: porters, bocks and stouts
And even better — SCRUMPY’s hard cider! I served Scrumpy’s at my last restaurant (Simone’s at 59 Franklin St. in Ellsworth). It is a phenomenal hard cider that doesn’t taste like alcohol, but like cider. Adding to the fall flavors.
To the roasted sweet potatoes, if mashed, a light sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg. Also roasted brussel sprouts with chopped walnuts in a light butter sauce.