Making the Best of a Bad Situation, (Dry cured venison loin)


This time of year is hands down my favorite time of year.  I am free to get out in the woods and do as much hunting as time and family will allow.  In the last few years that I have been writing this blog something else has started to happen that is almost as much fun.  For years I have been telling people that just about everything out there can be tasty, If you cook it right.  Many of my friends and family have taken that as a challenge and from September to December I get all sorts of interesting texts and phone calls from people who have shot, trapped, or been given something that they want me to cook.  This year alone I have been offered prairie dogs, muskrats, possums, one skunk and last week was given a one gallon bag full of duck and goose hearts, livers and gizzards.

The most interesting text this year came from a friend of mine, Jeremy Van Landingham.  he had gone up north for the opening of the archery deer season and on opening day sent me a picture of two nice looking deer that he had gotten. I was impressed that within the first few hours of the hunting season he had already managed to arrow two deer. One Minute later I got a picture of his van with a smashed in front drivers side, apparently he managed to hit both the deer with the van within 15 minutes of each other.  Jeremy called the DNR and got tags for both deer and took them home.  Most people would never think of taking a road kill animal home but if you are the one who hit it and take care of the meat properly there is no reason not to use them. 

Jeremy was very interested in making some sausage and trying some new things with his deer so I met him a couple days later and we got set up to make sausages.  I had made a batch of Mazzafagetti, which is a northern Italian sausage that uses liver and meat together and is flavored with orange and coriander and garlic.  Jeremy really enjoyed them and wanted to make a batch for himself, he was also intent on making some kind of wild rice brat.  I had also made a lonzino that he enjoyed so he thought he would try his hand at dry curing as well.

When I got to Jeremy's that day he had all the things set up and ready to go, so we started with the Mazzafagetti. For this I use a recipe by Hank Shaw that I have used many times in the past and is a great way to use the liver of the animal.  When done right this sausages has a very mild flavor and is sweet and juicy, it is one of my favorite sausages and is very easy to make.  The only thing I will caution you about is that if you make Mazzafagetti  you need to know that it cooks very quickly. the sausages will dry out and burn if you over cook them even a little, so when you grill it keep the flame low and keep an eye on it.

I had made a Lonzino out of wild boar that I was very impressed with. Lonzino is a dry cured wild boar loin and I thought if I could do it with boar why not try venison.  Jeremy had a couple of one pound venison loins so we tried our hand at making a dry cured venison loin.  Lonzino is very heavily flavored with clove and I wanted to try something that would compliment the meat a little better so my dry mix had a lot of juniper, thyme and rosemary as the main flavors.  The dry curing process took about a month but Jeremy brought me a sample of the venison and it turned out fantastic.

The last thing Jeremy wanted was some sort of wild rice jalapeno brat so using the basic sausage recipe from Micheal Ruhlman's book, Charcuterie, Jeremy and I pieced together our own wild rice jalapeno brat.  I am not the most creative person in the world so I was pretty proud of the way these brats turned out.  They were packed with flavor and held their moisture well and didn't dry out.  What we ended with that day was 25 pounds of sausages and a dry cured venison loin all from Two deer that Jeremy hit with his van. It will be interesting to see what he does when he actually gets to hunt.

Dry Cured Venison Loin

2 pounds venison backstrap or other loin from the deer
45 grams of salt
15 grams sugar
5 grams insta cure #2
10 grams black pepper
5 grams garlic powder
10 grams juniper berries (crushed)
10 grams onion powder
5 grams rosemary (dry)
5 grams thyme (dry)

Place the loins in a one gallon ziploc bag and add all the other ingredients.  make sure the spice mixture is evenly distributed over the loins.  This will sit in the fridge for 12-14 days, check it every other day and flip the bag over and move the loins in the mixture to make sure the loins are evenly covered.  At the end of 12-14 days rinse the loins and dry thoroughly.  you then need to hang the loins for 10-14 days to dry.  You need to find a cool humid place to do this.  In the fall when temps are down in the 40's you can hang the loins in your garage other wise an old refrigerator set at it warmest setting can be used as a drying chamber.  After 10-14 days check the loins for firmness they should be somewhat hard and not soft at all.  slice the loins very thinly and enjoy.