Savory, Satisfying Venison Recipes

Learn the quirks of cooking with venison and use it in these flavorful preparations.

  • Cooking venison requires some practice in the kitchen to get it right.
    Photo by Getty Images/MayerKleinostheim

Deer and humans have evolved together. We’ve hunted deer, and deer have escaped us, for so long that neither of us are what we were when our intimate, eons-old relationship first began. Our dance with deer is eternal.

Many paleontologists believe that the ancient pursuit of deer-like animals made us fully human, fundamentally changing our inner life, our identification with the world — even our cognitive powers — through the planning and execution of the hunt. Deer hunting is firmly embedded in our ancestral DNA, and deer, or the more general category of venison, is a staple food item recognized throughout the world. Tell most people you’re deer hunting and they’ll barely shrug. Tell them you’re swan hunting, or even bear hunting, and you’ll likely get a very different reaction. Humans hunt and eat venison; it’s just what we do.

The word “venison” derives from the Latin word venari, “to hunt.” Evolving through Old French, the term came to refer to any hunted game, a reference that is still widely used today. Although venison can mean different things in different cultures, the word most often refers collectively to all the deer-like animals: the cervids (especially deer, elk, and moose) and the non-cervid pronghorn and African antelopes. This is the definition I’ll use here.

Given our long history as eaters of venison, it’s more than a little surprising to discover that, with the possible exception of waterfowl, no game animal is more horribly treated in the kitchen by contemporary cooks than deer. Nasty, gloppy cream-of-mushroom soup. Bacon-wrapped everything. A disturbing array of processed cheeses. Venison loin cooked until gray. Shoulders undercooked. And far too much waste. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that venison — even the easily cooked backstrap and tenderloin — requires some skill and practice in the kitchen in order to pull off properly. We’re not talking about fancy preparations here; more often than not, simple dishes are the most deeply satisfying.

Venison does have its quirks, and there are subtle but important differences between cooking venison and cooking beef or lamb, with which we are generally much more familiar. But cooking a great piece of venison, no matter what piece you happen to have on hand, isn’t rocket science. All you need is a good foundation of solid information and a fistful of tips, tricks, and techniques that work with venison, and you’ll be fine.

Ready to begin?



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