I staged a pretty hot and heavy debate in my head about the focus of the first venison cookery post here on The Meat Hunter. I settled on a ubiquitous venison product that, at least in these parts, goes by a lot of different names, including deer bologna, summer sausage, trail bologna, and venison sticks. Why the debate? The answer to that gets to the core of my overall venison philosophy, but the short reply is: limits.
A large contingent of the deer hunting public seems to have a pretty limited idea of how venison can be prepared for consumption. On one side of the fence, you have the cast iron purists, guys who seem to believe that deer are made only of steaks and that those steaks should only be cooked, in a cast iron skillet, with butter, salt and pepper and that said steak better for damn sure be red in the middle and if, so help you god, you over-cook it, prepare to be belittled.
Opposite of those folks are the processors – the guys who convert (or pay somebody to convert) entire deer into MSG laden “product,” often with the help of various branded packages of seasonings and kits. “Big Chef Joe's Jerky Juice.” That sort of thing.
Neither of these two groups is wrong, per se, it's just that they both have a pretty limited idea of what can be done with venison. Look, you can “over-cook” venison – it doesn't have to be served hot on the outside, cold on the inside. Likewise, you don't have to grind or pulverize the entire animal into submission with piles of spices fit for a curry. Each of these contingents neglects great swaths of cooking tradition.
But, this first recipe I'm sharing with you fits (though no seasoning kits are employed) in that latter category. This a “product,” rather than a dish – something you make a lot of and that, frankly, uses up a lot of meat for less caloric return than, say, a plate of steaks of equal weight. That being said, it's among my very favorite things to carry in my backpack while fishing or hunting or what have you, and it's without a doubt, one of the very best ways to use up that last 5 pounds of last year's ground venison.
Rebecca's Aunt Roween came up with this. It's dark in the room in which I'm typing up the first draft of this or I'd go pull Charcuterie off the shelf and try and track down a sensible category for this stuff. I think it's a summer sausage. It tastes great in the summertime. It's appealing for some simple reasons: you can make it without any fancy gadgets or sausage casings; the spices are very general and simple and the recipe itself provides a nice framework for variation; and the final preparation is flexible – want to smoke it? Knock yourself out! Scared of that sort of thing? No problem!
The finished product! Note the absence of mustard seeds; I ran out and used dry mustard. Tastes the same, but is missing the pleasing texture of the seeds. Also, this ground venison wasn't trimmed that well; I got lazy on this particular deer, I guess. Nobody's perfect.
In short, I love this stuff.
So here you go: Grade A West Virginia Deer Baloney.
ROWEEN'S VENISON STICKS
5 lbs ground venison, the redder the better (that means very little fat and silver skin – put in the time to trim your meat – it's worth the effort)
4 Tb Morton Tender Quick Curing Salt
2 Tb coarse ground black pepper
2 heaping Tb mustard seeds
½ Tb garlic powder
2 ½ Tb liquid smoke (optional – I leave it out and use 1-2 Tb chipotle instead; definitely leave this out if you’re going to smoke the meat and be aware that 2 1/2 Tb of liquid smoke is a lot)
Mix all ingredients together well and knead for 5 minutes. You can use a mixer like a Kitchen Aid for this and subsequent kneading steps. Ensure that the spices are well distributed – mix longer if necessary.
Cover and refrigerate. Over the course of the next 3 days, remove from the refrigerator and knead for 5 minutes each day.
On the fourth day, pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees, knead again and divide into logs/sticks. (Think of those summer sausages that get sold in kiosks art shopping malls around Christmas time, roughly 2 1/2” in diameter,) I divide it into 4 very long sausages (the length of a broiler pan), but 8 smaller sausages would work as well so long as you adjust your cooking time. Let these rest, covered, at room temperature for at least an hour. It's good practice to bring meat up to room temperature prior to cooking it.
If you're going to smoke them, put them in a low temperature (< 180 degree, ideally) smoker for an hour, otherwise load them onto broiler pans with plenty of room between them and place them in that 160 degree (oven won't go that low? No problem – just ball up a piece of tin foil and prop the door open a little) oven. Leave them in the oven for ~9 hours. You'll want to flip them once in that time.
At the end of the period, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Store in the refrigerator while you eat away at them or, considering how much this recipe makes, freeze them in vacuum bags. They defrost very nicely.
A quick word on curing and recognizing doneness: First off, don't panic – you used curing salt. That shit is magic. Some basic information about salt curing can be found HERE. More information on Morton Tender Quick can be found HERE and HERE. Morton Tender Quick contains nitrites, which deal with nasty microbes. Secondly, this isn't jerky – it's ok if, when you cut them in half, they're a little moist inside. They shouldn't be downright soggy, but if they are, split them and put them back in the oven for a time. Chances are you skipped the room temperature advice I gave above. Don't do that next time.
Enjoy! Experiment! Send me pictures! Or samples!