When I was kid, wild game was something I couldn't wait to eat but was more often than not disappointed by. Most of the wild meats we had came in the form of jerky, or summer sausage, or pepper sticks and only occasionally did we have anything else. Nobody in my family seemed to enjoy venison unless it was made into jerky or summer sausage or pepper sticks. Sometimes mom would try to sneak in the ground venison in a hot dish or spaghetti and it was always just a little off. I don't remember my grandmothers ever cooking venison but they did do duck from time to time and the ducks were always good. Coming from a family that enjoyed hunting as much as they did you would think that we would have eaten more wild game but we never did.
How I grew up to love eating wild game probably stems from my High School years when I would go to the Friday afternoon tailgate parties before the footabll games. There would always be a group of people out at a park and we would grill and have a few beers and do things High schoolers probably shouldn't have been doing. When we started grilling, there were a few guys that would bring venison brats and steaks out and I had a bunch of that stuff in the freezer at home so I started bringing some as well.
The Venison I started cooking back then was butchered for us at one of the local butcher shops. I would take a couple of packs of steaks or chops out to the park and smother them in Lowry's seasoned salt and serve them up to my buddy's at the park. As I remember them, they were way to salty and overcooked but everyone loved them because they were deer and we were cooking them ourselves.
After taking several years off from hunting, (my Navy years) I came back to Minnesota and started hunting again. I started butchering deer myself mostly out of necessity because I couldn't afford to take it to someone else to do it for me. I cooked as much of it as I could and have been in love with venison ever since.
My love for venison lead me into a rediscovery of ducks and that lead to pheasant's and geese and everything else I love to eat and cook. I really do prefer cooking and eating wild meat more than the finest beef you can buy. After getting really comfortable with all the meats I started exploring the odd bits of the animals. Duck livers and gizzards were the first things I tried and then venison livers. I made pates and terrines and a couple different types of sausage. Then I started taking the hearts and kidneys from the deer I was shooting and using them every way I could find. Before I knew it I was using every part I could from the animals I was shooting.
I am always looking for new and interesting ways to prepare the meat I bring home. Recently my wife and I were out to dinner and I had a pickled beef heart and was instantly in love and couldn't wait to try it with one of the venison hearts I had in the freezer. After looking at a few different recipes I decided to make up a pickled venison heart. I started by thinking of all the flavors I love to pear with venison and got to work. What I ended up with is a tender, bright and wonderful piece of meat that I would be proud to serve to anybody. Even my wife thought it was good and she isn't much for organ meats.
Pickled Venison Heart
This pickling recipe is a two part process, first you have to cook the heart and then you can pickle it.
for the cooking liquid I used
4 cups water
1 sprig rosemary
1 small bunch of thyme
5 juniper berries (crushed with the side of a knife)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons of salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
Cut the heart in four pieces using the chambers of the heart as a guide. Trim the heart of all fat until you have four nice pieces of meat then add the heart to the boiling liquid and simmer for 45 minutes. After the heart is cooked let it cool completely then slice it into strips or chunks, which ever you prefer.
for the pickling liquid
1 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tablespoons honey
4 juniper berries
2 cloves of garlic
bring the cider vinegar and remaining four ingredients to a boil, while that is cooking place the strips of meat into a 1 pint jar with 1/4 of a thinly sliced red onion, 1 sprig of rosemary and 2 sprigs of thyme. Pour the hot liquid in to the jar and seal. boil in a water bath for 10 minutes. Let the mixture sit for a couple of days before diving in.
Depending on the size of your heart you may need to use multiple jars if so just double the pickling liquid.