If I were to write a deer hunting cookbook the title would be, “I shot a deer and then I ate it.” Simple and direct, the way I like the recipes I use to prepare venison and most anything I catch or shoot on Martha’s Vineyard.
I have no dream to be the star of a cooking show. I do not plan to open a restaurant. I do not aspire to be a celebrity chef and command reverence, and prices, bordering on silliness. I like food that tastes good and does not require much effort on my part.
My recipes begin with a well-fed deer that has browsed his or her way through some of the finest Chilmark landscaping seasonal home owner money can buy, and dined on acorns and other indigenous Island vegetation. Good food begins at the beginning of the process. Once I shoot a deer and recover it, I clean it thoroughly and get it into a cooler.
I butcher my own deer or when short of time pay Tom Berry of Edgartown, a professional butcher, to prepare my deer. Tom does a magnificent job and his cuts, particularly the French rack of venison, are restaurant quality and impressive on a plate.
I vacuum seal all my meat which keeps it frost-free and well preserved until ready for the table. Depending on my success each hunting season, my wife, Norma, my daughter ,Marlan (a vegetarian who came back to the red meat fold) and I eat a lot of venison throughout the year.
My family likes venison. Even during my daughter’s lost years, her teen vegetarian foray, she longed for my wife’s venison stew and it was her first request when she returned to the Island for the summer.
When I am packaging the deer I write “grind” on the label of meat from the shoulder and other tougher cuts, or trimmed pieces. I use that meat for venison burgers and meatloaf.
Venison has no fat so I need to add fat. I do that by adding pork. Sometimes I will grab a package of fatty ribs and cut that up with a ratio of about three parts venison to one part pork.
Years ago, I received a very helpful tip from an Island hunter. Ronnie Rose of Vineyard Haven told me he added Jimmy Dean sausage to his venison grind. It provides the needed pork, fat, and spices — and it tastes great.
I use a meat grinder attachment on our Kitchenaid mixer to grind the meat. It works best if the meat is still chilled.
I recently ground up two packages of venison grind. What to do? Open up my mammoth copy of “The New Best Recipe” cookbook from the same folks who produce the always informative and entertaining America’s Test Kitchen on PBS and improvise on the meatloaf recipe.
Meatloaf is my comfort food. I associate it with roadside diners and everything that is good about America, like chocolate pudding and frappes. The classic is meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and gravy.
The recipe I eyed called for 2 pounds of meatloaf mix: 50 percent beef, 25 percent pork, 25 percent veal. I had almost 4 pounds of venison and about 10 ounces of Jimmy Dean’s. The challenge was to keep it moist.
I am not a measurer. I am an estimator.
Following the recipe in the book and watching football as I worked, I sautéed a medium onion and two cloves of garlic. I let the pan cool.
I mixed together three eggs, 3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, 3 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of yellow hot sauce I brought back from Barbados (optional) and about 1/2 cup of milk.
I added about ⅓ cup of fresh minced parsley, ½; teaspoon of freshly chopped thyme, salt and pepper to the meat. I added the onion and garlic to the meat, then I added the egg and milk and mixed it well.
The next step was to add Panko bread crumbs until the mixture looked right to me. The recipe called for 1 1/3 cups, but I have no idea what I added.
I formed a loaf (more like a meat ingot) on a baking sheet and slathered it with ketchup. Three slices of applewood smoked bacon went on top. I cooked the venison meatloaf in a preheated 350-degree oven for about one hour, or until our thermometer said 160 degrees.
The best part about cooking meatloaf for dinner is meatloaf leftovers for sandwiches.