If you don’t retrieve the organ meats (sometimes referred to as variety meats or offal) from your harvested big game animals upon field-dressing, as I was taught to do when I learned to hunt with my dad years ago, then you really don’t know what you are missing out on!
The heart, liver, kidney and tongue of venison (moose, deer, elk) are every bit as delicious as those from domestic animals that you purchase at the butcher shop and, in my opinion, are leaner and healthier than the same cuts from beef, pork and lamb, which are not naturally organic like game meat.
Properly field-dressing big game animals promptly after shooting is the biggest secret to organ meats that tastes gourmet good on the table, because nothing taints meat faster than retention of body heat, which also prompts the growth of bacteria. And organ meats, being more delicate and perishable than the rest of the bounty, must be cleaned and cooled as quickly as possible.
After the guts are emptied, the heart can be retrieved from the chest cavity and the liver and kidneys from the rest of the entrails. To retrieve the tongue, you have to tackle the job before rigor mortis sets in. Cut back between the lips as far as you can reach with your knife, then cut up between the jawbone to reach the root of the tongue. Work your knife around the inside of the mouth to free it. This will take a little practice, but I have seen hunters like dad who can do it in a flash.
In the field, use paper towels, leaves, moss or snow to wipe fluid from the organ meats before setting them aside while you finish dressing out the rest of the animal. Once you get them back to camp, wash well with cold water, pat dry and hold over ice. Organ meats that are not eaten fresh should be vacuum sealed and frozen. They will keep up to three months before they deteriorate in flavour and texture.
To prepare the heart for cooking, trim off the excess fat from the outer surface around the open end. Unless the heart is intended for stuffing, split it in half and slice away the connective tissue and discard. If cooking whole, work your knife around the inside of the heart to cut away the tough flaps and tendons. Wash well under cold running water, soak in lightly salted water, rinse and pat dry before cooking. The heart can be roasted whole and is delicious stuffed. It can also be cut into stewing pieces and slow cooked into a delicious “hearty” stew.
The kidneys have a stronger flavour and thus are typically paired up with other milder tasting meats in recipes, such as steak and kidney pie, which is my favourite way to put these tidbits to tasty use. To prepare kidneys for cooking, peel off the membrane from the outside and then core them by cutting out the hard, white centre and discarding. Slice them in half, lengthwise, to preserve the shape (if desired for the recipe) and then soak in a bowl of hot water for five minutes. Rinse with cold water. Place in a bowl, cover with milk and soak for up to 24 hours in the fridge. If you notice the milk is very bloody, you can drain it and cover with fresh milk. Rinse well after soaking, pat dry with paper towels and proceed with your recipe. If not destined for a steak and kidney pie, try cutting the kidneys into very small pieces, sauté them in butter until tender and serve piled onto crispy garlic toast and, I assure you, you will never overlook them in the field again.
Dad’s old recipe for tongue is simple. You soak it in salted water (add a splash of apple cider vinegar) for a couple of hours. Drain, put in a kettle, cover with water, add one tablespoon salt, a chopped onion and a couple garlic cloves, bay leaf and peppercorns and boil for two to three hours or until fork tender. Plunge in cold water and peel off the skin. Chill and slice thinly for sandwich meat. A little mustard and it’s delicious!
In our camp, venison liver is always served as a celebration feast after a successful day on the trail. A hungry party can pretty much devour a deer liver in one sitting; however, if you have more liver from a larger game animal than can be eaten in one meal, keep the excess chilled until it can be frozen for safekeeping.
Before cooking, I like to soak the sliced liver in a bowl of salted cold water (about three tablespoons salt per quart of water) for a couple of hours to draw out excess blood. After soaking, rinse well in cold water to remove the salt and pat dry with paper towels.
Hunting Camp Fried Liver & Onions
I always tuck a bottle of sherry into the food box with hopes of using it for this special-occasion meal that pays highest tribute to the prize. Serve with boiled potatoes and carrots drizzled with butter and sprinkled with herbs for a memorable meal.
Liver slices (enough to fill a large cast-iron skillet. If you must, work in batches to prevent crowding the pan)
Splash of sherry
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dehydrated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
2 large red or white onions, peeled and sliced thinly
Butter or bacon fat for frying (or a mixture of the two)
Put liver slices on a plate and sprinkle to moisten both sides with the sherry. Measure the flour and seasonings onto another plate and mix well. Shake excess liquid from the liver and dredge in the seasoned flour. Place the coated liver on waxed paper.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over the fire and add two tablespoons of fat to the pan. Sauté the onions until soft. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Add three tablespoons of fat to the skillet and when hot, slip in the liver and fry until browned on both sides, about four to six minutes per side, depending on thickness, or until it is cooked to your liking. Return the onions to the pan with the liver and cook until they are reheated through.
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