Deer Goulasch

There are lots of reasons to take up hunting, fishing and foraging, but for me, the ultimate goal is culinary.  Nothing is more organic, wholesome, local, and arguably more healthy than a foraged meal.  Its certainly hard to appreciate a meal more than the one you have created with ingredients you have personally harvested.

For those of you who have read my recent posts you know I recently harvested my very First Deer.  This was an exciting experience and I was eager to conduct my culinary experiments with the results.  Last Sunday offered some free time, so I was able to putter around in the kitchen to create my very first self harvested venison dish.

I chose to prepare the venison in a traditional Goulasch using a recipe that was passed down in my wife’s family from her Oma to her mother, and from her mother to her.  Goulasch was a traditional way to prepare game meats for many eastern European countries and for good reason;  Since this recipe is so flavourfull it makes it the perfect way to support the complex taste of wild game.

As many of you who have family recipes know, quantities are sometimes subject to interpretation and written directions are more of a frame work than a recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 – 2 lbs of venison (a flank steak was used here)
  • 1 x onions (white or red)
  • garlic
  • 3 to 4 tbl spoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
  • half a small can of tomato paste
  •  pinch cayenne pepper
  • 3 to 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cups of beef or venison stock and water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway
  • salt and pepper to taste

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The recipe begins with lightly frying the onions and garlic in oil or butter and then adding and browning the venison.  Following that add half a can of tomato paste, 2 to 3 table spoons of sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon of hot Hungarian paprika (optional) 3 to 4 bay leaves, 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Add 1 to 2 cups of beef stock and water.  I usually use 1 table spoon of concentrated beef stock mixed into 2 cups of water.  Stir the ingredients and let simmer.  Don’t worry too much about not having the exact amount of spice.  Goulasch is forgiving and you can always add more later as it cooks.

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Let the mixture simmer for at least and hour, always keeping an eye on the liquid levels.  Add more water if necessary and stock if you find the taste isn’t where it needs to be.  After about a half an hour I take a taste test and play with the spicing and stock levels if required.  ***Be careful here, trying to bolster the seasoning immediately following the additional of more water can lead to over seasoning.  Remember, the goulasch will cook down and loose a lot of its volume which in turn can lead to overwhelminglyy concentrated flavours.***

Once the spicing is right, Its just a matter of cooking until the meat is tender.  Sometimes this takes 45 minutes, sometimes over an hour. Really it all depends on your cut of meat.

But what do you eat it with you ask? Well goulasch can be served with anything from rice to egg noodles.  However, in my family, tradition requires that European Goulasch be served with some form of potato accompaniment.  And if you ask my father,  the only side dish you should serve Is german potato dumplings (called Knödel).

These beauties are simple creatures consisting of 2/3rds cooked and mashed potatoes, 1 3rd part flour, 1 egg and salt to taste.  Basically you take all of these ingredients, mix them together and knead until you create a doughy mass.  You can add more flour while you knead to get a stiffer consistency but I prefer them a littler looser.  the looser they are the less “heavy” the meal will be.

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Once mixed, create a log of dough about 1″ thick (shown above) slice into bars or shape into balls and drop into boiling water.  I usually wait about 5 minutes after these have floated to the top of the boiling water before removing.

Afterwards, remove from the water, smother in Goulasch goodness, and enjoy the contrast of the simply flavoured dumpling with the spicy complexity of the Goulasch.

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Seeing as how this was my first deer, I couldn’t resist the urge to quickly season and pan fry up a small chunk while preparing the main dish.  Venison flavour can vary quite a bit depending on how it was harvested, the gender, its age, and what it ate throughout its life.  Since its so variable I feel tasting the meat cooked in its simplest form is a vital step to assessing the inherent taste of your meat and properly selecting recipes for it accordingly.  Tasting can prevent you from serving gamey atrocities to you family or guests, and from  possibly turning people away from venison for good.

Many people already have misconceptions that deer tastes bad or gamey. Likely caused by eating poorly prepared meat or even meat that wasn’t properly harvested.  I feel its our job as hunters and cooks to make sure the meat is harvested and prepared appropriately; Hopefully converting others into venison lovers along the way.

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So what up with pan searing?  Pan searing venison is very simple.  Start with a better cut of meat like a backstrap or tenderloin (other steak cuts are fine as well as long as they are on the tender side). Clean the fat from the cut of meat, season the meat with salt, pepper ( I add a touch of Montreal steak spice), and place in a oiled pan that has been heated to medium high heat.  Pan searing should take no longer than a minute or two to complete to a nice medium rare cooking.  I cook until the meat takes on a bit of firmness while still having an over all soft feel.  The softer the feel, the more rare the meat.  Check out this nifty trick to estimate meat cookings:     http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/the_finger_test_to_check_the_doneness_of_meat/

Above all else, avoid well done venison as it will become tough when overcooked, not to mention loose its true taste.  Besides, the goal is to cook it so you can actually taste the meat, not char it into oblivion.

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The result? A tender, delicious and succulent morsel of wild goodness.  I can honestly say, this tasted better than 95% of beef cuts I have tasted.  Over all, the experience was a success.  and I mean a success right from the hunting, to the cooking, all the way to the eating.  This was the kind of successful experience I hope everyone gets to experience at least once in their lives.

Cheers from my kitchen,

Al

Deer Fat Misconceptions

One of the things I have always been told about deer hunting is that the quality of meat if always directly proportional to how well you clean away the fat.  I can still hear the bellow of the senior hunters while processing of our game last year: “Who left so much fat on here? Don’t you know it will make the meat taste like garbage”.

As I am still a young hunter with much to learn I accepted this as gospel and moved on with other lessons. Truth be told, I have had bad venison experiences, and after trying “fat free” venison, I had no reason to doubt the previous advice. That is, until now.

Its no secret one of my inspirations in the field and in the kitchen, is the great american chef/hunter, Hank Shaw.  Hank is the brains behind several books and the website, hunter- Angler – Gardener – Cook.  A website dedicated to providing no nonsense guidance to harvesting wild food and to promoting the wild pursuits in general.  I eagerly read anything Hank writes and often employ his recipes following my own forrrays in the field.

So when a notification popped up on my Facebook feed titled “Demystifying Deer Fat” from Hank’s site I instantly delved into the article.

The article covers many of the misconceptions surrounding deer fat and gives detailed reasons for the various negative tastes people often report.  He also provided many alternatives for using deer fat and suggests that not all deer fat tastes horrible.  To date this is one of the best articles I have read on the matter.  So good in fact, it has me considering keeping a bit of deer fat around this season to test the theories presented in the article.

If your a hunter and you process your own meat, give it a read.

http://honest-food.net/2014/10/13/cooking-deer-fat/

Hunting season approaches, so good luck to all who are taking part this year.

Cheers from my desk,

Albert

Early Fall Foraging

Fall in Southern Ontario brings many things to those who crave the outdoors.  Hunting season arrives with the fast paced action of waterfowl.  Fall colours explode onto the forestscape with brilliant reds, golds and yellows. But perhaps one of my favourite things to do in the fall is to spend some time in the woods searching for wild edibles.  The most interesting of these, are arguable mushrooms.

Typical fall mushroom fare includes your chanterelles and boletus which, if I may add, are mighty tasty.  Along with morels and puffballs, these are some of the more tasty and desirable fungi to be had.  So with this in mind I headed out to a stretch of woods near Parham, Ontario to test my luck and eyes in search of some chanterelles.

As luck would have it, no Chanterelles were found during the walk.  But all was not lost because the beauty of mushroom hunting is that even if you don’t find edibles, you will likely find some mushrooms, and often a wide variety.  Part of the fun can be learning to identify the wide variety available and enjoying the wide variety of shapes and colours.

Its at this point I would like to remind readers that some mushrooms are toxic and can be fatal.  Mushroom should only be consumed when they have been 100% properly identified.  I recommend taking a course to assist with this (see link below) or consulting an expert.

So with that, here are a few pictures of several mushrooms that were encountered during the walk.  Any look familiar to you?

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(above: bracket fungi – mostly inedible except for certain species like chicken of the woods – not shown here)

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(above: the remnants of a lobster mushroom?)

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(above: coral fungi)

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(above: a young amanita sprouts through the leaf litter.  Amanitas are more often that not poisonous and should be avoided.)

 

For those interested in furthering their mushroom knowledge I recommend checking out the following resources:

http://mushroomobserver.org/

For those local Kingstonians, Queens offers an identification course:

http://www.queensu.ca/qubs/sites/webpublish.queensu.ca.qubswww/files/files/pdf%20files/Fabulous_Fall_Fungi_2014_details_register_twosessions.pdf

Delicious Wild Game

Spring is here in a big way which means the spring foraging season will soon be in our midsts. Soon the forest will begin to green and the early rising leaks with again dot the hill sides.
I for one, am on the edge of my seat awaiting this time of plenty. But, were still a few weeks away from any real foraging prospects. So until then I’ll just have to satisfy my wild cravings with some venison meat pies from last deer season. Tough break eh?
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Remember, ontario is blessed with an abundance of wild edibles.
Don’t miss out on the bounty this year! Get outside!

Cheers from the wild
Albert

One Year in the Wild…

WordPress sent me an alert today; Apparently it has been one years since my inaugural post on this blog. Time certainly does fly when your having fun, or in my case, when your catching fish.
Thanks to all my readers and followers for your patronage and bearing with me on the learning curve to a successful outdoor blog!
Cheers from the Wild
Albert

Foraging Guide – Northern Bushcraft

For years I have been looking for a comprehensive guide to foraging in Ontario.  Now I know there are plenty of resources out there that cover some of the wild edibles available to us but nothing close to comprehensive.  That is until now..

Through my searches and online wandering I have stumbled upon this amazing website.  Enter “Northern Bushcraft’ .

http://northernbushcraft.com/

This resource covers a wide variety of berries, mushrooms and plants found through out Canada with handy lists separated provincially.

All I can say is, Wow, and perhaps that I am even more excited for spring than ever before.

So until the snow melts, enjoy flipping through this handy website and take a gander at some of my pics from spring/summers past.

Cheers from the Wild

Albert

Get outside…with yor kids! An Outdoors Charter for Kids

The provincial government has recently put together an initiative to promote outdoor activities among our youth in Ontario.

http://www.childrensoutdoorcharter.ca/

Finally! In my opinion the current generation of kids are missing out on the richly diverse experience that is our outdoor environment.

In support of this, they have developed a website outlining a vast array of activities children can take part in.  This is a good first step, and here is hoping they are able to implement activities, outreach programs and connect with other existing programs to actually get kids outside.

oh BTW, kudos to the website for including “Harvest something to eat”.  As a forager, I am happy to see this way of life promoted.

Cheers from the Wild

Albert