Venison Jerky

It’s autumn here in Hobart, though you could be forgiven for thinking it’s still summer at the moment! The sun is shining and the tomato harvest seems to be stretching on and on this year. The deer season opened in Tasmania a few weeks ago and, while I object to shooting a living creature just because you can, I have no problem with hunting if the animal is killed humanely and all the carcass is used.

I was gifted a shoulder of venison last week by family members who hunt. One deer provides a lot of meat shared throughout the clan, including mince and home-made sausages as well as the usual roasts and stewing pieces. I took my my shoulder home and wondered how I was going to use it.

As I walked in the kitchen, I spotted the dehydrator (it’s hard to miss!) still out on the bench after drying all the prunes this year, and made up my mind to try some jerky. I haven’t made jerky in a dehydrator before (only on a Weber barbecue) so this was quite an experiment for me!

Here’s the recipe:

Venison Jerky

1.2 kg (2 ½ lb) venison, sliced into thin strips

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup Worcestershire Sauce and Mushroom Soy mixed together

1 ½ teaspoons salt

4 cloves garlic, minced finely

1 teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Boning out the shoulder took some time, but with a good knife, some fine music and podcasts to listen to, I was pretty happy. The trick is to cut with the grain of the meat and remove as much of the sinew as possible along the way, but the end result is worth it. Also, instead of wasting all those bits of sinew, I got a stockpot out with a head of garlic, a roughly chopped onion, a few bay leaves, my homemade Tuscan seasoning and some dried celery leaves. Once I finished boning out the shoulder, I added the bones, covered it all with cold water and wine and let it simmer for hours. The next day I skimmed off the fat and let it simmer again for a few more hours. Once it had cooled, I strained the remaining liquid and it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve potted it up and frozen it for rainy day soups, casserole and risotto bases.

In the meantime, back to the jerky. I peeled the garlic and started chopping it. Once it was reasonably small, I sprinkled the salt over it and, using the flat of the blade, really started the mash the garlic. I got out my biggest plastic lunchbox with a tight sealing lid and put the salty garlic mash in the bottom with the sugar and chili flakes. Then I added the wet ingredients and carefully mixed the whole thing. Adding the venison strips was a messy business, you really need to use your hands to massage the mix into the meat. Finally, I covered the container and put it in the fridge overnight. I did squish it around some more before I went to bed, but it isn’t really necessary.

The next day, I put thin strips of marinated venison on the dehydrator trays and lovingly placed them in the machine. The smell was gorgeous and I think this marinade would make a wonderful stir fry or slow casserole too. Using vinegar and the high salt content of both the soy and Worcestershire sauce did a great job and really drew out a lot of the moisture content from the meat as well as flavouring the strips.

To start, I put the temperature up high on the dehydrator (74 C/165 F) for the first half hour. This is recommended because I don’t use a nitrite “cure” for the jerky and it is necessary to kill off potentially nasty bacteria before drying proper. Botulism is dangerous and I take food safety seriously. Then I brought the temperature back to 63 C/145 F and processed it for just over 6 hours. This will vary with different dehydrators.

The results were excellent – chewy, delicious, dark and spicy! I’ve bagged it into little packs and for extra safety, will keep it in the freezer and pull out some as needed.  I’m going to try this with other meats (especially cheaper cuts of beef and rabbit) but the cider vinegar and salty soy combo is certainly worth repeating.

I hope you’re all well and happy wherever you are on this beautiful planet ❤

Autumn – Part 1 – Chestnuts

April 23 2014 Chestnuts

There are few times of the year that give me as much satisfaction as autumn. It’s a time of frantic activity, harvesting the bounty of summer while getting winter veg planted before the cold weather hits. Indeed, in the last week I’ve been making Basil Ravioli and picking late tomatoes, beans and even eggplant while planting winter peas, broccoli and endives. And as I type this, my household’s been plagued with change-of-season bugs, and I’m doing my best to recover from tonsillitis. But this week I had a sharp reminder that autumn means chestnuts!

My pet rabbits live in the shade and protection of a mature sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sp.), and a day of strong wind brought nuts tumbling on top of their hutches. While I was feeding them, one landed on my head and although it was pretty painful, fortunately no damage was done. So, I pulled out my strongest pair of winter gardening gloves and got down to the business of shucking.

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestnuts are fiddly things to process. There’s no shortcuts that I know (but any you want to share would be gratefully accepted and acknowledged!), which probably accounts for their high price! They’re not a common nut in Australia, with most tinned or vacuum packed produce coming from overseas. After liberating my nuts from the painfully spiky husks, I scored a couple of dozen at a time with a sharp paring knife and set them to roast in moderate oven (about 180 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes. The scoring is important, as chestnuts can explode in the oven, making not only a huge mess but a potentially very dangerous kitchen!

Scorching Hot - Fresh From the Oven

Scorching Hot – Fresh From the Oven

It is also impossible – well, I think it is – to shell chestnuts cold. The outer shell is tough and there’s an inner membrane that comes away easily when it’s hot. So, I recommend taking a few out of the oven at a time, wrapping them in a thick tea towel and peeling as fast as possible.

It was very tempting to scoff them all as I was peeling them – there is something so enticing about fresh, hot chestnuts. I can totally understand the northern hemisphere custom of roasting chestnuts over an open fire at christmas time. Fortunately, I remained strong, and sereval scorched fingers and broken nails later, I had quite a nice bowl to show for my efforts.

The Final Product Sans Shell

The Final Product Sans Shell

So, the next and all-important question – what to do with them? Some people use them for baking gluten-free cakes and sweets, but I find them very heavy for that kind of thing and quite unappetising. Chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are starchy in texture, but unlike most nuts, have little fat or protein and lots of carbohydrate. They absorb other flavours well – both sweet and savoury – and are equally lovely tossed hot in butter, ground cinnamon and sugar or coarse ground sea salt, butter and a little fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme.

But I decided on a complex flavoured sauce for a simple chicken main course, very easy to prepare and well complimented with boiled potates with garlic butter and steamed seasonal vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

April 24 2014 Chestnut Sauce

Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breast or 6 thigh fillets
  • 1 tab olive oil &/or 1/2 tab butter

Sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion (or one small) sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 roasted chestnuts, chopped
  • dried chilli to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tab stock powder
  • 1 tab fresh lemon thyme
  • ½ teas fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup water

Method:

Heat oven to 180° C and heat the oil and butter in a deep frypan. Sauté chicken over a high heat for a minute each side, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the deep frypan, turn the heat down and add sliced red onion, bacon, garlic, chilli, smoked paprika and finely chopped lemon thyme. Stirring, add the chopped chestnuts, stock powder and cup of water.

Simmer gently, mashing the chestnuts with the back of a spoon and add the chopped fresh rosemary. When the chicken is cooked, the sauce should be quite reduced. Plate up the chicken and vegetables, spoon the sauce over carefully.

On reflection, one addition I’d make to the sauce that’s in keeping with autumn produce is a few very finely chopped mushrooms.

April 24 2014 Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Bon appetit!

Besides my mandatory butter-tossed chestnuts, I’m planning to experiment with the rest of this year’s crop. I want to do a soup (my favourite comfort food) and a dessert with some of the apples and quinces I’ve recently been given. I’ll let you all know how it goes but please feel free to comment and share, especially if you have more experience than my few seasons struggling with chestnut shucking – I’m keen to learn!

Debra 🙂