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Unwrapping the Rich Flavors of Venison: A Culinary Venture

The mention of “venison” might immediately bring one to start thinking of whitetail deer meat, when in reality, it is a name given to the meat obtained from any mammal belonging to the deer family. Members of this family include elk and moose, and even squirrels, sort of. If you are a hunter, particularly a big-game hunter, it might be easier to ask what isn’t venison rather than what is.

The term “venison” was first used in the 14th century and comes from the Latin “venari,” to hunt. Originally, it referred to the meat of the game in general. Today, however, venison refers specifically to the edible flesh of members of the deer family, of which there are 43 species worldwide, ranging from the large Alaskan moose to the tiny South American pudu.

The majority of venison eaten in America today is harvested from wild game, such as whitetail deer, mule deer, caribou, moose, and elk. Indeed, more wild venison is eaten by U.S. citizens than by residents of any other nation on earth, 315 million pounds per year. It is against U.S. law to sell wild game meat. This was decided by Congress in the early 1900s to ensure that wild game would not be overhunted to the point of extinction.

Any venison that you meet in restaurants or grocery stores in the U.S. likely has come from a deer farm, either domestic or imported from countries like New Zealand, which is a big venison exporter. In Belgium, however, or England, Scotland, parts of Canada, and Germany, for example, it is legal for hunters and gamekeepers to sell deer and other game meat to the public.

Described by many as having a “gamey” flavor, some state it is more pronounced in wild diet animals than others with a diet of alfalfa, corn, and soybeans. Flavor can also be influenced by proper field care and cooking techniques. Removal of the guts and keeping the meat cool between 32°F to 40°F within a short time after dressing will make a difference. Others think it improves the flavor of the venison when it is aged, and that requires a great deal of care concerning humidity and temperature.

The amount of silverskin and the amount of fat also contribute to the gameness. Deer fat tends to be fairly thick, waxy, and powerfully flavored; make sure to trim it away, especially in ground meat.

This will help achieve an overall tenderness and flavor. For the best flavor and tenderness, preparation should cook venison steaks and backstraps only to medium-rare, then let the meat rest before serving. Cooking it well beyond that makes it dry and chalky. Some cooks like to use marinades and sauces to tenderize and add flavor to the meat, while others prefer very little seasoning to allow the natural flavor to come through.

To add fat to the ground venison and make it taste more like beef, some cooks add beef tallow, which also somewhat erases the potential health benefits that might be picked up from the consumption of the venison.

Ground venison, whether wild or farm-raised, has less fat compared to other red meat. It is also a nutrient-dense food: a good source of iron and zinc, as well as vitamins K and B-12, and high in protein. Venison contains just one-fifth of the fat per serving one finds in beef, making this meat of traditional farm animals much healthier.

Hunting for your venison has health benefits as well. In a report by Michigan State University, the activity associated with hunting provides a natural antidepressant benefit via the reductions in blood pressure and stress, along with an elevated level of vitamin D from exposure to the sun.

Consequently, be it a hunter or one who enjoys this unique flavor of venison, this lean and nutrient-dense meat abounding in the deer family makes it a great option and good for one’s health as well.

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