By Cheryl A. Wixson
There’s an industrious level of excitement around our household as the month of October draws to a close. When the temperatures drop and daylight hours become shorter, we’re like the red squirrels, scurrying to prepare for winter.
Wood split and stacked: check. Rain barrels drained: check. Pumpkins and squash harvested: check. Screen doors swapped out for storm doors: check. Carrots, beets, apples, turnips and cabbages packed in tubs and stored in the root cellar: check. Snowplow ready for action: check. Rabbits in winter hutches: check. Blaze orange hat and jacket on coat rack: check. Guns cleaned: check.
For Maine residents, this Saturday, Oct. 31, is the opening day of deer hunting season. Like many Maine families, we relish this opportunity to become a part of nature. And we enjoy the meat.
Humans have hunted deer for centuries, and venison is a staple food recognized throughout the world. The culinary possibilities are endless and delicious, as detailed in my new favorite book, “Buck, Buck, Moose” by Hank Shaw. This excellent resource, filled with beautiful photographs, is a must for any serious venison eater.
The recipe for Country Fried Venison Heart comes from my archives. The heart, just like a roast from the hindquarter, is a muscle. It requires a little extra care, but it is rich in flavor and versatile in the kitchen.
The first step in preparing the heart is to rinse and purge the clotted blood. Squeeze the heart while running fresh, clean water into the large holes at the top of the organ. Then trim away all the tubes from the top of the heart and the hard white fat. Next, make a long, clean cut lengthwise between the two largest holes, opening up the heart like a book. Remove any remaining web-like connective tissue.
Venison heart may be cooked three different ways: stuffed and roasted, marinated and grilled on a stick and sliced into steaks. The recipe for Country-Fried Venison Heart is a traditional dredge and fry preparation. After cooking the steaks, the pan is deglazed and the drippings are used to make a delicious, country style gravy.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at [email protected]
Country-fried Venison Heart
For best results, rinse and purge the heart with fresh clean water or soak overnight in saltwater brine.
1 venison heart, trimmed
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsps. corn starch
1 tsp. cayenne powder
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsps. milk
Bacon fat, lard, or vegetable oil
For the gravy:
2 Tbsps. pan drippings or butter
2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (or chicken stock)
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Slice the venison heart crosswise into 1/3-inch steaks. Place each steak between two pieces of waxed paper and pound into thin cutlets.
Whisk the cayenne powder, sea salt, garlic powder, cornstarch and black pepper into one cup of flour and place in a shallow plate.
Add one cup of flour to a second shallow plate.
Whisk the eggs and milk together and transfer to a third shallow plate.
Dredge each venison cutlet in the flour, then in the egg mixture, and then in the seasoned flour. Coat each side evenly.
Heat about ½-inch of fat in a heavy skillet. Add the cutlets and fry 2-3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove from the skillet to a platter and keep warm in a 200-degree F oven.
To prepare the gravy, lower the pan heat to medium. Add the flour to the pan drippings and stir and cook until a light brown roux has formed. Be sure to scrape up all the pan drippings. Add the milk, a small amount at a time, whisking to make a sauce. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper. Simmer until thick.
To serve: Spoon the gravy over the venison cutlets and garnish the plate with chopped fresh parsley. Serves 4 or more.
Nutritional analysis per 4 ounce serving with ½ cup gravy: 299 calories, 24 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams fat, 489 mg. sodium, less than 1 gram fiber.