When it comes to food — deer meat, herbs, vegetables, fish, milk, eggs, whatever — fresher usually is better. Right?
You never hear anyone say, “Yeah, that stale bread had a unique flavor to it so we toasted it and slathered it with that 13-month old jam in the back of the fridge. Boy, was that tasty!” Have you ever heard, “Wow, that catfish from the freezer that was tough and covered in ice frost was deeelicious!”
Never. If someone says that then they have mental problems. Fresher is better. Chefs say it. Average cooks say it. Your deer meat and other food will be better because of it.
What reminded me of this was the thought of a trip, with a prior job, a few years ago when I was in Conroe, Texas, for a bass fishing tournament. I was there for about eight days so I sought advice from locals on a good restaurant that wasn’t a chain with faux-Aussie hooey, “BigggAssssTexasss” attitude or run-of-the-mill. Something different without being too over the top fancy-schmancy, if you know what I mean.
They pointed me to Wild Ginger Japanese Steakhouse, which fortunately was across I-45 from our hotel. Fresh sushi, steaks and other fare was on the menu. It was a nice place, comfortable. A place where a guy should take off his cap (he should take it off indoors anyway to be polite) to eat, but didn’t have to wear a sportcoat or anything unless he wanted to. Just a nice joint.
My first night was with friends. My second night was alone, after working late, and sitting at the sushi bar. My third night — hey, I’m a creature of habit and the food was good — I sat at the same bar seat and the guy behind the counter smiled and said, “You’re back! Hello!” (That’s a good sign and also sort of a “I’m a loser … yes, I’m here again” sign, too.)
He asked what I was interested in and I said to surprise me. With that, he held up a 4- to 5-pound striped bass and asked if I was interested. Certainly, I said, after noticing a clear eyeball and no horrible, fishy aroma. He deftly cleaned it, filleted it and sliced it into thin strips of sashimi. He laid several strips into a roasted garlic oil in a small bowl. The minced garlic had been sauteed just to the point of burning before being put into the oil, so it had a heartier flavor.
In short, the fish was stunningly clean and delicious. It was fresh, and that mattered immensely.
With your herbs, spices, vegetables and whatever meat you use — beef, lamb, chicken, fish, venison, game birds — always try to go with the freshest items you can procure. If you can grow your own and catch or kill your own, even better. It makes a difference.
Venison kebabs are easy to make and fun because everyone can choose what they want on it. Set out dishes of tomatoes, mushrooms, chunked onion, seasoning, maybe some chunked pineapple, and the skewers, and let folks make their own. If you want to add marinade for them, remember that anything syrupy or sugary can burn, so either brush lightly or add about halfway through cooking for flavor but no char.
Try this recipe if you have some deer meat to chunk up or already prepped for stew meat.
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
16 cherry tomatoes
10 ounces white mushrooms, stemmed
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into wedges
1 pound venison, 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, cut into bite sized pieces; add more venison as needed for your guests
Tip: When using wooden skewers, wrap the exposed parts with foil to keep them from burning. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, soaking skewers in water doesn’t protect them.)
1. Preheat grill to high.
2. Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl. Add tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and onion to the remaining marinade; toss well to coat. Thread the vegetables onto eight 10-inch skewers. Drizzle the vegetables and meat with the reserved marinade.
3. Grill the meat 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium. Grill the vegetable kebabs, turning frequently, until tender and lightly charred, 8 to 12 minutes total. Remove the vegetables from the skewers and serve with the meat.
If you use the venison, or steak, on the kebab skewers, cut the meat into bite-size pieces a little larger than your cherry tomatoes. If the chunks are too big, the vegetables could burn before the meat is done.
Keep an eye on the meat so it doesn’t dry out and burn. The grill heat should get the meat just right while putting a nice char on the vegetables. If you’re brushing on any sauce, do so right at the end. If it has sugar in it then it’ll get a nice caramelization without burning.
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