Roasting a Haunch of Venison over Charcoal

venison haunchThere is nothing in this world better for a carnivore to eat than this; a crisp, brown, smoky haunch of venison, juicy, tender, and deep rosy pink, yet cooked, down to the bone, fragrant with rosemary and garlic. The texture of the meat is finer than beef or goat, leaner than lamb, juicier than antelope. The taste is iron-rich but delicate; our Whitetails seem much less gamey to me than mule deer I have eaten from Texas.

Right Eating

This meat feels good to eat. You know that this animal lived free, died suddenly, and is the ultimate in free range and grass-fed. Yes, I worry a little about the fact that she probably ate tender tips of GMO soy, but it’s the best we can do right now. Since we butcher our venison ourselves, we know this meat is clean and we usually know exactly where the deer was killed. Our deer population is too high, but not to the point that we have to worry about disease, so we can feel pretty good about eating this meat. This article is divided in to two parts: the recipe and the cooking method, both of which are important to creating this pinnacle of carnivorous eating.

The Recipe:

1 haunch of venison, see post. Takes three days to thaw in a large pan (Blood will come through the wrappings) in the refrigerator, faster in a 5 gllon bucket of cold water if you are in a rush.

1 head of garlic

1-2 tbs sea salt to taste

1/2 cup rosemary needles

6-8 dry bay leaves, crumbled

3-4 tsp other dried Meditterranean herbs, such as oregano, basil, and thyme, as seems delicious to you.

1/2 c. olive oil ground

1-2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper.

Break up the garlicand peel the cloves. You want a good handful. I said a head but it depends on the size of the head. It could be more or less. You can crush them with the flat of a big knife and the skins will come right off. Throw all ingredients (less the haunch) into a blender or food chopper and whirl. You should have a thick, coarse, rosemary/garlic dominated paste. Rinse the meat and set in a pan. Pat dry if you are that sort of person, and rub the paste all over the haunch. Rub it well into the cut end as well. Depending on whether you planned ahead or whether this is a last minute rush, you can either wrap it up and refrigerate it overnight, or refigerate it in the pan until the fire is ready. In winter I just set it on top of the piano on the back porch….. Either way it will be great.

Cooking Method: The Indirect Method

I remember the first time I tried roasting venison this way, on a round Weber kettle grill in my backyard when we were living in the city. My daughter Crystal, then five, was upset to be eating Bambi, and refused at first, but as her father was later and later for supper she grew hungrier and hungrier, and finally agreed to try a little taste. Her little face became very serious as she thought about it, decided it was probably a wicked deer who kicked its mother, and quickly gobbled two big slices. This is the trick, learned from the owner’s manual all those years ago: You can’t just put the meat on the grill when it is going to be on there 2 hours, because the fat will drip in the fire and burn, and the meat will be deeply charred on one side. The indirect method solves this problem. First, take off the grill and prepare to start the coals as you nomally would.

Starting the Coals

I prefer not to use lighter fluid as it is toxic and nasty. There is a weber coal starter which costs about 15 dollars and starts about the right amount of charcoal with a few pieces of newspaper. It is a sort of metal chimney with a basket in it. That is very easy. Another easy way is to put dried grass, twigs, sticks, and charcoal in a paper bag, ball it up, and light it. Keep an eye on it as you may need to move things around to get it to catch evenly. Yes, bags of briquets are not sustainable or virtuous, but charcoal burning has always been a bad thing in that sense. If you burn brush frequently you can try smothering your fires and saving your own. Otherwise, sigh and continue.

The Pan/Coals Setup

You will need a pan that you don’t care about which is big enough to fit your haunch. It is ok if the shank bone sticks out as the meat will shrink away from it anyway. I have even reused old aluminum disposable pans. Once the coals are caught, put on a heavy glove and get a tool to move the coals into a ring in which your pan will sit. I use a garden trowel to clear a space and then tongs for individual coals. Your pan should be sitting surrounded by coals. At this point, since my present grill is awkwardly shaped for this, I heap more charcoal on top of the caught ones. You want to be able to let it go for about two hours. If it runs out, you will either have to finish it in the oven or move the whole hot greasy setup to the side, probably burning yourself and get soot everywhere, in order to add coals.

Finally, the Meat!

Now, put the grill back in place, put the haunch on top, and close the lid, adjusting the side/bottom and top vents almost halfway open. The meat will be quickly sealed all over by the smoky heat, which will be nearly at its highest at first, and then will gradually go down, so don’t check on it too much as you will be letting out heat and adding to the time. The meat will continue to cook in towards the bone even after the outside has stopped getting darker, which is an added reason for the traditional half-hour wait for juices to reabsorb once it is off the grill. I have tossed a haunch of goat on the grill, gone swimming in the river for two hours, and come back to find it perfect. But I was lucky. Two hours for a haunch is a ballpark figure. I have had a yearly buck’s haunch done in an hour and a half, and an enormous doe’s haunch take two and a half hours. It is pretty forgiving, but I start poking the meat at an hour and 45 minutes. The shank meat will be soft and overdone, and the fattest part will be springy.  The color will be nice and brown, with burnt rosemary and garlic encrusted all over it. I am too Luddite to use a normal thing like a meat thermometer. Generally I just call it done and take it in on a carving board to sit for a half an hour, but put the lid back on the coals just in case I am wrong.

Slicing

roast haunch of venison

My sister did this one very slowly for that awesome even pink- mine are generally darker with some grey on the edge.

When the meat has sat a half an hour, take a large and very sharp carving knife and slice in perpendicular to the bone. Here is a post about how to sharpen a knife. It should be brown on the outside, grey as you go in, and then pink until the bone. That is the benefit of a fast start and a slow end to your heat. You want it to be pink but not raw, although there are many who disagree. Some people want it as raw and bloody as possible, while others fear parasites. I believe our deer are healthy but I like a deep rose pink, juicy but cooked.

Thoughts on Grills

My kind and thoughtful husband has provided me with a grill that looks a bit like a locomotive and has both gas and charcoal grills on it. It is a princely gift. However the charcoal area is only a little bit larger than the pan I use to do my indirect haunch roasting, so I carefully perch coals around the pan. It is a bit tight and a bit precarious. Honestly, for this particular kind of cooking, which, I might add, is also good for smoke-raosting whole chickens, turkeys, etc., a cheap kettle-style grill is easier. But I would never mention this to my husband.

Shucking Oysters

When I was a young girl you could walk down to the shoreline at low tide and fill a bucket with oysters. Sometimes we’d pop them right off the rocks of the jetties and slurp them up with the seawater right on them. So good! Now oysters are scarcer, because of pollution in the Bay, but primarily because of two introduced diseases; Dermo and MSX, which destroy the hinge ligament and kill the oyster before it reaches market size. I think Juvenile Oyster Disease is still mainly in New England. So why eat them? I really don’t, unless somebody brings me some or there are a few bushels at a party. In that case the deed is done so I might as well rejoice in traditional pleasures. It’s hard not to. I crave them. Maybe it’s the iodine. I remember once scraping up the 98 cents one oyster cost at the Oyster Bar in Penn Station. Had to have it.

shucking oysters (2)So, scrub your oysters in the sink. Some people don’t because they say it takes the taste away, but they are pretty gritty. If they are a lot, in a bushel basket for example, I dump them out on the grass and spray them with the garden hose, to spare clogging the pipes. Now, you need a strong, stiff blade. Oyster knives are sold as such. Here is a nice one:Dexter-Russell 4″ Oyster Knife
I like the longer, sharper ones because you can work them in between the lips of the shell without making so much crumbled up shell. But some people actually pop the shell at the hinge, by brute strength, with a screwdriver. You need a wooden board to work on, and you definitely need a thick tough glove, like the picture on this link, CUT RESISTANT GLOVES-100% KEVLAR®, Heavy Weight Textured Blue Latex Coated,large, (1 pair)because if you slip you will impale yourself with a filthy oyster knife. If you are serving them on the half shell have a plate ready, and if you are making stew have a bowl for oysters and a bowl for collecting extra juices which you can later pour through a sieve to strain out bits of shell.

OK, now, check out your opponent. Your oyster tends to curve one way more than the other, like a paisley pattern.  I usually look for a spot around two-thirds of the way around the outer curve, on the top. The top is darker and the lip kind of makes a little shelf that might curl upwards a bit. Get a good grip on the oyster with your holding hand- I’m right handed so I’m holding it with my left, with the hinge towards me. I aim the tip of my oyster knife slanting down into the edge of the oyster lip. I’m going to push the tip through the thinnest edge of the top shell and as I feel it give I’ll start twisting. This will get me further in between the lips of  the oyster and I will begin to force them apart a little, enough to slide the blade in and cut the muscle that is holding the shell closed.  Feel for the muscle with your knife; it is just about a half inch in somewhere in there. If you can try to keep your knife horizontal and close to the top to avoid mutilating the oyster so it will look pretty.shucking oysters (1) Once you feel your knife go through it, the shells will loosen so you can slide your knife sideways towards the hinge and pop the top shell into a bucket. Loosen the oyster so it sits free in the shell, check for bits of shell with your knife tip, top with a squeeze of lemon or a dollop of cocktail sauce, and then tilt that back and slurp it down. Fabulous! That will give you strength to shuck the rest.

How to cook them:

Classic Oyster Stew

Fry a half a finely chopped onion with two slices of bacon, chopped.

Add 12 shucked oysters, without juice. Fry in same pan until curly but no longer.

Add oyster juice.

Add 3 cups of milk and a cup of cream and bring to a simmer.

salt with Old Bay Seasoning to taste. You really need that celery seed and paprika taste.

Grind of black pepper.

Optional: add sliced boiled potatoes.

Some people thicken the milk and cream with flour and some people use more cream.

Serve with oyster crackers or saltines. It is a milk-thin soup, so crumbling in crackers is normal.

Oyster Fritters

Shuck oysters, drain.

Dip in beaten egg, roll in seasoned flour, roll in Ritz cracker crumbs, fry in butter until golden brown. Seriously. They will shrink so make a lot. I would run a mile for just one though.

Baked/Broiled Oysters

At a winter feast on the Eastern Shore, it is traditional to put oysters on the grill until they open. They are hot and savory, and a little smoky, cooked in their own juices. That is hard to beat.

Everybody does them with bacon and cheese. They use cheddar.

Fill a baking tray with oysters on the half shell. Put some chopped fried bacon and a thick chunk of cheese on top of the oyster and bake them for 20 minutes at 400.

Also great with some chopped cooked spinach, fried onions, bacon and cheese- I want to say that is Oysters Rockefeller.

My mother did a batch with a champagne dill sauce and a sprinkle of prosciutto slivers. Pretty fancy.

Oyster casserole is pretty delicious but I never made it because it takes a lot of shucking.

Do return your oyster shells to the Bay. They are a good place for baby oysters to grow on. We always used to put ours in potholes but times have changed and oysters need all the help they can get.

Skinning a deer: sharpening your knife

Skinning: A sharp knife

First, this is a good time for you to have a good edge on your skinning knife. And later when you are cutting the meat into usable pieces it will make the job so much easier. I use a French pocketknife called an Opinel. The metal is relatively soft and takes a great edge. See my review of Opinel knives here. You can’t do that with a kitchen knife. You need a comfortable knife with a short, sharp, curved blade. Mine is about 3 1/2″ from the haft to the tip. Learning to put an edge on a knife is not too difficult, but my father is obsessive about it so I had to practice secretly. He’s the sort of person who watches for two seconds before he explodes with “Let me do it!!!” For a small blade like this you want a sharpening stone. Often one side of the stone is a little rougher than the other. Do that side first. Spit on the blade, or ok, you can use some edible quality oil. Lay the blade at about a 30 degree angle on the stone, with edge flush against the stone. Lifting it away from this flush position would make a blunter edge. Rub the blade against the stone in a circular pattern. It’s as if you are trying to shave the stone. Do this for several minutes. It takes a while. You can check an see if you can see a bright shiny area right by the edge which shows you have removed some metal. Try the edge by cutting a hair off your forearm. I have tried it slicing of a few hairs on the end of my braid as well.  Just the split ends…. If you maintain your edge it doesn’t take as long the next time.

People do horrible things to knives. When I taught high school in New York City I took a drop knife away from a kid.  I think I only got it away from him because it never occurred to him that I would try to take it. I was amazed to see the horrible deep gouges along the blade. It had been sharpened on a street curb. I gave it to my father for a conversation piece and he put a nice edge on it. Sort of a rescue dog knife, if you know what I mean.

Opinel Knives: Convenient and sharpen well

 

sharpening a knifeI was raised on Opinel knives. They come in different sizes; I think the biggest one we have is #10 but before the whole country went mad with paranoia I kept my #6 in my purse, mainly to cut fruit, but also to whittle if I was bored, cut twine, and in case I had to walk through a dark parking lot or something. (Yes, they are French. I’m not going to apologize. After all, I taught French for 12 years. I like to be able to cut up delicious baguettes, camembert, and saucisson.) They make a nice simple folding knife which is very affordable, has a nicely shaped simple wooden handle, and the blade takes a very nice edge. My father said the steel was a little softer which is why it takes such a nice edge. (A stainless steel one might not be as easy to sharpen.) Low-tech but perfect.

To open, tap the back end, which has a little flat point just for that purpose, and the tip will pop out of the end, so you can open the knife. When it is opened all the way out, turn the circular piece of metal (hasp, tang, whatever you would call it) to lock the blade in place. When you finish using the knife, wash it if necessary and fold it back up when dry.  Like any pocketknife/folding knife, if you fold it up encrusted with blood and guts, it will be nasty and maybe hard to open next time you want to use it. Obviously with a handle like that you don’t want to leave it soaking in water for days. Respect your tools and they will perform for you. Oil it occasionally with olive oil.

To sharpen, see Sharpening Your Knife.

They come in different sizes and also with different handles. My husband got one with an olive wood handle in Andorra. It has always stayed very nice. I like how the handle fits my hand.

This is the knife I use for butchering and meat processing, along with my big old Chinese cleaver.

Field dressing and hanging a deer

 

If you get to the deer before the heart stops beating it is a good idea to cut the throat, both out of mercy and to allow the heart to expel blood from the body. I think most hunters feel gratitude at this moment, and I think it is appropriate to thank the deer as well. If you are in an area where it will not pose a nuisance to field dress the animal there, go ahead and grasp the furry lumps at the inside of the bend in the back legs, and cut them away. They are scent glands and will make your meat smelly.

butchering deer (8)

Note 12/26/2012: Really, even a doe. A young man gave me a doe which had been hanging for a day and a half without the scent glands removed. I have never butchered a gamier deer. It was actually nasty, and I am not the squeamish type.

Put the point of your knife through the skin of the belly at the edge of the breast bone (really just cartilage) and run it shallowly up to the anus. Do NOT pierce deeply. Go back to your breastbone and grab the edge of the ribcage with one hand while sawing down through the sternum. Be careful not to cut into any guts or you will contaminate the meat with smelly stuff. Actually you can make that cut later if you want, but if you do it now you can sort of let everything slide out at once, and blood will drain out and not coagulate in the throat area when hanging.

Go up around the genitalia and look for a tube running to the anus. Grab it and cut  the skin around it. You should be able to pull out the entrails easily.  Heart, lungs, and liver is great dog food as long as the deer is healthy. I remember seeing what looked like parasitic lesions on a liver my mother cooked once. Cooked it was fine for the dogs, but I didn’t want it.

Once your deer carcass is empty it is a lot easier to move. But it is also easy to gut a deer hanging up. I am a woman so I have less upper body strength and I always ask the guys to get the deer hanging for me. What you want is an overhanging limb or a cross-member in a shed.butchering deer (40) Tie a decent rope over it and get a piece of wood about as thick as a sturdy broomstick to put through the deer’s back legs. Tie the rope to the middle of the stick and make slits big enough through the thin area between the back legs and the Achilles tendon, where you removed the scent glands. This would be like if you feel above your heel, only the deer’s heel is above his back elbow; bottom of the hock, if that makes sense. You can do this on the ground and have someone tie off the rope when they heave the deer up, or tie the rope where you want it and hold the deer up while you push the ends of the stick through the holes in the legs. Needless to say don’t cut through the tendon.

butchering deer (7)

Usually we let the deer hang overnight to cool and stiffen, It is helpful to put a stick or something inside the body cavity to hold it open a little. Note somebody stuck a hammer in there. Whatever.

Always a great idea to hose it out well if you have access to water where it is hanging. I have been given carcasses that were messily shot or inexpertly field dressed that were nasty.butchering deer (5)

Note 12/26/2012: My neighbor has a pulley system hanging from the crossmember in his barn so a little kid can raise or lower a carcass. A mental leap too great for this Neanderthal.

More notes on gutting: Now you have your deer hanging and ready to skin. If you haven’t gutted it in the field out of consideration that someones dogs will find it and have a heyday rolling in it, now’s the time. Put a big sack under it to catch the guts. An old dog food bag, etc. If you haven’t removed the scent glands, do it right away. Gutting in this position I always start near the top but I don’t cut around the anus until I have the genitalia removed and the cavity open so that I can grab the sphincter and lower the guts into a bag. Just easier to control the fall.  Be careful not to damage the bladder which is pretty obvious; that’s the transparent bag full of yellow fluid that you don’t want on the meat. Also be careful when removing the liver, which is also obvious; the big lobed dark brownish red organ with a smaller greenish yellow organ attached to it. Be very careful of this little sucker- if you cut the gall bladder you will have horrible green bile all over the place that stains and ruins the taste of whatever it touches. Remove this by cutting into the liver around the bile duct, pinching the bile duct closed if you can. As I said previously, heart, liver, and lungs are good dog food, as far as I’m concerned. Liver is wonderfully nutritious, and there is nothing wrong with eating heart and lungs, so you could use them in sausage or something, but I never have. Unless you are really hard core and are going to try to use the intestines for sausage casings or something, leave them alone. They come out together if you can catch them in a bag. I have had a deer given to me that had a messy wound in the belly. The only thing to do then is empty the body cavity and hose it out until it smells ok.

Now that we have the carcass hanging empty and clean, if the weather is cool it is fine to let it hang overnight for the meat to stiffen. This makes it a little easier to handle. Some people even let them hang for a few days because that tenderizes the meat. I haven’t done this.

Harvesting a deer before the Barn Meeting

butchering deer (40)First you have to know what the Barn Meeting is. Every year our friends Roy and Gloria have a gathering in a 100-year-old barn on the property they rent in Bedford County, Virginia.  People come from all over the world to play music and praise the Lord. Usually about 50-65 people show up. It’s a wonderful time, but it’s a lot for Gloria, and folks eat. People contribute if they can or feel moved to, but during the past few years we have been thinking that the numerous deer chewing on Gloria’s vegetable garden should also be asked to contribute; see photo.

Our friend Andy has been really interested in coming early to help out with this, and I said I would show everybody how to turn Bambi into tasty chili, so a plan took shape. In faraway Miami, Andy purchased a top quality crossbow, a camo suit, and a can of scent controller. Every day after work he practiced his archery skills long into the night. At last came the big day, and he, his lovely wife, and his crossbow in its special case made the trip to Bedford County, Virginia. At 5 am he was on the move, stealing through the woods in full camo with his crossbow cocked, odorless and full of confidence. You know it. Not a deer came near. The second day, same deal. Except he got lost. He was getting really tired, and was starting to worry. But finally he heard a still small voice in his head say “Listen!” so he sat down and listened, -and heard cars on a road. So he headed out and someone lent him a cellphone to call Roy and get a ride home.

And here’s something else. Our good friend Andy, a devout Christian, family man, respectable guy who works in an office and wears a suit, is a Colombian of partial Lebanese descent. He looks like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Especially when he hasn’t shaved in a few hours. Sorry, Andy. We love you, but you know this. So the guy who saw this Arab looking man come staggering out of the woods, in  full camo, carrying a crossbow, had some serious guts to stop and lend his phone.

After the third day of no luck despite much prayer and hunting, we decided to go buy some ground beef at Sam’s Club. The chili had to be ready the next evening, and we needed a lot, so, no choice. We all felt so bad for Andy. Somehow we kept on not getting in the car, and the day kept getting older. Roy and Gloria were in prayer,  so Andy and his wife decided to take a walk, and our friend Kelly and I tagged along. Not fifty yards from the front door Andy spotted a deer about 100 feet off the road. “Go get your crossbow!” I hissed.

“It won’t be there when I get back…”

“Who knows, – get it!” we all whispered. He went tearing off. For maybe five minutes we stood and stared at the deer, a small doe, talking to each other- nice weather, nice deer, yes, yes, while she stood still hoping we wouldn’t see her. So when Andy got back, he took aim and let fly. Thwack! She took off- I knew that was the sound of the arrow hitting, but she moved off pretty fast. We went to look, and found the arrow had gone through and kept going about 20-30 feet! It was bloody so we knew she had to be wounded. I was worried we’d have to search but luckily she had only gone a few yards. He had hit her right behind the shoulder, through the lungs, and she had died quickly. She was young and tender, and just the right size for what we needed. It was perfect. We felt that God had used the hunt to teach Andy to listen, and to show us that He provides exactly what we need when we need it.

So now we all joyfully hurried to get her skinned out and disjointed so we could have the meat chilled to work on in the morning. Here is how you do it:

These links are giving me trouble, but they will at least get you to the Search page where you can click on the post.

Field dressing and hanging a deer

Skinning: Sharpening your knife

Skinning: Getting the hide off

Disjointing the Carcass:

Processing the meat into usable pieces: