The term venison is used to refer to any type of deer, elk, moose, or antelope. The annual culling of herds puts meat on the table for families around the world, and keeps deer populations — no longer kept at natural numbers as their predators have decreased — in check.
If you are not a hunter and want to cook with this ancient staple of American cuisine, look for farm-raised venison at farmers’ markets, order from your local meat markets or purchase online. Many farm-raised animals are free roaming and some are actually harvested in the field; for information on how a producer raises, feeds, and harvests its animals, simply ask the farmer or consult the ranch’s website. You might also want to ask about the flavor of the meat, which will vary according to the breed of animal, how it was raised, its diet, age, and how it was harvested.
Venison can be mild in flavor or gamey, and it is often best cooked slowly at a low temperature. The addition of wine or other alcohol, or apple cider, to a stew will tenderize the meat and add complexity of flavor. Root vegetables and fruits complement venison beautifully, as do grains of all kinds.
I have a couple of friends who are hunters and are generous enough to supply me with white-tailed deer meat, which I invariably cook into a savory stew fashioned after a traditional French bourguignon.
First published December 2014