Up Close and Personal with Venison

I’ve written before on how challenging cooking is for me.  I have a lot of anxieties: that I’ll screw something up, that if I don’t follow the recipe I’ll break the kitchen, that I’ll end up poisoning my diners through under-cooking something.

So, my latest attempt to push myself out of my nervousness was to try cooking wild game, specifically deer.  I had thought on & off about doing this for awhile.  My old job had a chili cook-off last year & one of the winners was a spicy venison chili with peppers.  So tasty!  Couple my curiosity with my growing attempts to be more conscientious about what I eat & where it comes from and you’ve got yourself a curious, albeit nervous, girl.

Fast forward to this winter, when a co-worker asked me if I wanted some extra deer meat from her husband’s weekend hunt.  I told her, yes, great!  I had a few slow cooker recipes for venison roast, so I just asked for a decent-sized cut to use.  She gave me what I estimated to be about 8 pounds of a shoulder joint.  I accepted it gratefully, determined to try something new & have a real experience with my food.

Now, I realize that the last part of that sentence might sound silly or pretentious to some.  I know that there are other people who have no pretensions where their food comes or how to butcher an animal for food.  Unfortunately, I don’t really have that mindset & I’m trying to learn differently.  What I experience is meat in the supermarket that comes on square trays, presented with the least amount of mess.  & I know that is not real life.

Let me get the embarrassing part of this post out of the way–the squeamish girly parts.  Touching this piece of raw wild game was gross and more difficult than I thought.  There were a few stay hairs left behind from when the deer had been skinned.  When my husband cut the joint in half to make cooking it more manageable, bloody juice pooled on the cutting-board.  And yes, the meat was still in a recognizable shape that kept my brain trying to figure out where it had been on the animal & what organs had been nearby.

There was a dead animal in my kitchen & I was going to cook it.  There was no foam tray, no USDA stickers.  Just me & the meat.

Ok, I can do this. . . I can cook this.
Ok, I can do this. . . I can cook this.

I picked up the roast and washed it a few times, feeling the awkward heft of it in my hands.  I trimmed some fat off of it and got it ready for the slow cooker.  As I did this, I got used to all the gross stuff.  I found myself admiring the grain of the venison the way I never really had with other meat.  I was still trying to figure out where it had belonged on the animal & what the deer had looked like running.  I started thinking about Faulkner’s hunting stories.

Ok, maybe I was forcing it.  Maybe this is too romantical to relate here after the fact.  But seeing the venison like this was interesting in ways that cooking prepackaged meat wasn’t.  Although vastly more convenient, the meat at the grocery store was something I had to endure preparing, something that made me want to wash my hands immediately.  With this roast, I thought I could better understand the feeling of completion or sacrament other people may feel when cooking.  I wanted to do right by this roast.  And I will say, it came out pretty great.

Tonight's special: venison, steamed greens and wild rice
Tonight’s special: venison, steamed greens and wild rice

That night, Kurt & I had a delicious meal of roast, vegetables & rice.  And Kurt was very encouraging on how it turned out!  High praise, considering he is the chef in our house.  However, he had a very different reaction to preparing it than I did.  Where I became excited over my new insights, Kurt, unfortunately, kept thinking, “Oh no, I’m eating Bambi.”  We finished the roast & we still have the leftover half in the freezer.  I’m all for trying it again soon but I might have to wait until my dining partner feels a little more adventurous again.