How to Cook Deer Liver

Deer liver – it’s one of the things I started eating many years ago and never really enjoyed it. Once I moved out of my folks house and started hunting again, the inevitable happened – I shot a deer and we let nothing go to waste around here.

 

In fact, my hunting buddies will probably make fun of me, but I am going to make a european mount for the skull.

Now, the heart. Aside of having a broadhead mangle it up a bit, it’s like steak. The bottom (the point) is tender and delicious and it gets less tender but no less delicious as we move up. I hit the top of the heart with an arrow so it looked ugly but otherwise didn’t impair the taste. You cook it like steak, you eat it like steak, it’s good. But, moving down, oh, the liver…

I eventually figured out several things. Onion salt (or garlic salt) is better to use here than just onions. You can pile it on your plate. These tastes are supposed to go together, so put onions in the pan, put onion salt on the liver. It’s good. The second thing I figured out is to cook it in butter. In oil, it tastes dense, which is what oil does, but the meat is already super dense like the heart. If you use real, honest to God butter, you’ll have a meal you can eat.

Recipe time!

  1. Shoot a deer. Easier said than done. Once you have a dead deer in your posession, grab the liver. It’s the purple one. In young animals, the spleen is also purple but it has a wavy texture. In mature animals, the spleen is green and has a feathered texture on half of it. Not sure why. Don’t grab the spleen. They’re joined at the artery that feeds them both so sometimes some creative cutting is required.
  2. Wash it off. Take the liver home and just wash the crap out of it so you can actually see everything.
  3. Trim the liver. This means cutting off any nasty parts, the artery should be cut out, and I like to cut it in half here at the artery so I can inspect it. If it looks gross or doesn’t have a uniform dark texture, toss it. There’s a few veins in there, don’t sweat those. Giant disgusting cysts should go. Fatty livers get tossed.
  4. Brine. Make up a salt solution and let it soak 24 hours overnight. It will bleed into the bag, so consider changing the water. We’re trying to get as much blood out as possible. You’re ready to cook after 24 hours…
  5. Slice. Cut the liver up into quarter inch strips. Longways, sideways, it doesn’t matter. Also trim the outer skin. This does two things – more area to adhere butter to and it gives it a more uniform texture. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes – just trust me. This is also a good place to cut out any more thick walled veins you find or artery you didn’t slice out previously. You just want the inner dark meat of the liver.
  6. Butter. Heat a pan on medium heat and toss in a stick of butter. Toss in two! I don’t care! It will brown if you heat it too much so it’s best to start out on medium heat, melt it, then crank up the heat shortly before tossing in the meat.
  7. Massage. Wait, what? You cut the meat into strips. It will benefit from being washed again under running water and tenderized a bit. You should get even more blood and little stringy blood clots coming out of the meat. This is where most people call liver “irony” or “mineraly”, because they didn’t get the blood out. However, before you get tempted to slice and soak overnight, I’ve found it makes the liver less tender.
  8. Dredge. I keep a bowl of water with the meat in it and a bowl of flour next to it. That’s it, just flour. You can always salt and onion salt it to taste later. If you have a favorite steak rub for making country fried steak, it might also work.
  9. Cook. Set the heat on high and let the pan warm up for a minute. When the butter just starts steaming or popping you’re hot. Take your dredged pieces and toss them in the pan. Cook them two minutes or three minutes per side. I like to feel up the small ones. When the small ones are getting stiff, the big ones need to be flipped. The liver should firm up when you cook it, but it’s a fine line between “firm” and “rubber”. The flour should be golden, not white.
  10. Season. It probably doesn’t need anymore butter but if you promise not to sue the blog you can have it. On the other hand, consider using garlic salt, onion salt, or cooking some onions in that butter. I also put a dash of pepper on mine, but whatever. If you know what you want, put it on before letting the meat rest for a few minutes. If you’re not sure, put it on after. There’s no right or wrong.

Enjoy!

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Post Deer Season Wrapup and One Year Homebrew

The last day of flintlock hunting and I’m empty handed. Not from lack of effort, mind you, but more from the weather. There’s a reason they didn’t fight battles in the civil war when it was the middle of a snowstorm.

My brother and I had been hunting the farm all day. I was using the flintlock but having serious doubts about this being a good idea. The problem was a constant wind (I’ve never winded the flintlock, I had no idea what the drift was) and when they called for six inches of snow, they were talking about “over the course of the day”. It was snowing when we got there, there were periods of hail, and it was snowing at sunset.

I had followed a deer trail from one side of the farm to the other end, the deer was there but having seen no deer beds and nothing but tracks, I doubted the deer was stopping. Given the weather I figured it might have gone to the pines on the far side but it went straight through. I knew the tracks were recent because they were on top of the snow but since the deer didn’t bed down, it wasn’t waiting for me or anything else. I took this as an opportunity to hike around the other areas to check for tracks or beds. Even in the places you would expect to find deer (acorn mast), there were no tracks and no beds. I checked mostly point to point, there’s no sense in line hunting alone. My brother doesn’t own a flintlock and has no interest in it so he was out with a shotgun for small game.

I had resigned myself to sitting on top of a hill in some light cover waiting to see if the deer would circle around. I had about 1h30m until sunset, so I figured it would be cold and boring. It managed to be both. With single digit temperatures in the valley and windchill on top of that, taking off my gloves to type on my phone quickly turned into OH GOD MY FINGERS ARE SO COLD THEY HURT. I was never so pleased with shoving my hands down my pants in public as I was Saturday on that hill.

Suddenly, a deer! Hunting goes from slowly poking around to sheer excitement with nothing in between when game is found. My brother was up the next hill over chasing a snowshoe hare when a deer came crashing through the bushes trying to avoid him. The deer was as suprised he was there as he was suprised he nearly got run down by the deer. I had heard the whole thing and suddenly my well placed stand with brush behind me became a liability as I tried to bring the gun around. I finally brushed the snow off the sights and found a lane to shoot through. I pulled the trigger and…

I actually watched the spark blow sideways off the frizzen and fall into the snow. George Washington’s ghost was laughing at me.

I reset the lock rested the gun again, and once again pulling the trigger lost the spark in the wind. I was trying to fire between gusts but deer rarely sit still and my firing lane was crowded anyway. There was a very real chance the deer would spook, especially since the lock isn’t exactly quiet and the delay between sparking and firing is enough to let the deer “jump the string” over enough distance. Given this was about a 50 yard shot, I was worried. One more spark in the snow.

Ripping my hat off, I supported the front of the gun on a thorn bush, aimed, then put my hat over the pan. This time the spark landed in the pan, but didn’t catch. By now the flint and frizzen were getting polished, where the face of the flint matches the frizzen so well it can no longer scrape the surface. Figuring I needed fresh powder I took down the gun and opened the lock to see that my pan had collected a layer of snow with all this false firing. I dumped out the pan and cleaned the rest with my fingers, which were now hurting again since I had discarded my gloves to help with the aiming and priming.

I pulled the powder tube over the pan and pressed the button. Nothing came out. Looking down the tube, it was also filled with snow, and to make matters worse the button to dispense powder bound in the down position. If George Washington were laughing before, his entire regiment was laughing now. I started to look for a place to lay the flintlock before realizing that six inches of snow is more than enough to lose a rifle in. I resigned to holding it across my chest in my elbows while I unscrewed the powder horn’s lid. I managed to dump powder into the pan wholesale (and all over me and the ground with the wind) and shove the horn in the snow upright with the lid laid on top.

Bringing the sites back onto the deer I see… Nothing. The deer probably winded me because she took of running away from my stand and onto the neighbors property, far and away from the longing sights of my gun.

The woods win again.

But all wasn’t lost, my brother shot a squirrel at about 25 yards, I was suprised he connected with it. We took it home as our only prize that day.

Dad always lightly fried up squirrels in butter, but Dad also really sucked at the whole preparing the other white meat. His squirrels always came out too small and cut to hell. There had to be a better way – and there was! In a stroke of brilliance, he prepped the squirrel shirt-and-pants, soaked the blood out, and what could we replace the blood with? BUTTER. How do we get it there? 15PSI. What do we use? PRESSURE COOKERS.

“But butter is insufficient!” you say?
ADD BACON.

The squirrel, now stuffed with bacon and butter, went into the pressure cooker along with about a half cup of water. We didn’t want to completely die. Actually we just wanted to hydrogenate that oil, as hydrogenated oil is the most flavorful of all the oils. Put the lid on, set it for chicken (lower heat) and let it roll for 20 minutes. The result was a forkable culinary delight. I could hear my brothers heart from across the room as he enjoyed the bounty of the woods.

To celebrate the end of deer season, I pulled out my mad elf clone. It had been sitting in the fridge lagering for an entire year, and this was the last growler from last year. How was it? Completely lacking in carbonation, which pissed me off. The growler top gave up at some point and all the carbonation seeped out. However, it wasn’t oxidized. The cherries were completely gone, but it was still tart, and very dry on the finish almost to the point of mouth puckering. It would have passed wonderfully well for a lambic if I chose to blend it. With it’s new status as a barleywine, we both enjoyed a pint before realizing it had refermented in the bottle. The ABV had gone through the roof, and after a pint and a half we were well on our way to being sloshed.

Squirrel for Dinner?

Gray squirrel from French Creek

Gray squirrel from French Creek

While I don’t have quite the recipes that The Mad Fermentationist does, I would still like to contribute this to the internet recipe dump. I bagged two fairly good sized squirrels at French Creek State Park, with the handy dandy Baikal shotgun (Remington Spartan sold stateside). The subset of huntable land in that area is SGL43. The 12ga #6s in “heavy field load” from Remington have restored my faith in the shotgun, last year I had #6s in some crap no-name shell and had several rabbits live to see this hunting season. While not quite as fun as the 17HMR, the shotgun is a perfectly serviceable weapon in close woods. The Heavy Field Load version of the shell shoots these shiny, almost silver pellets.

To prepare a squirrel you have to fill a pot with salted water. Salt it enough the meat drops to the bottom of the pot easily. Put the skinned and gutted squirrels in the pot and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The osmotic pressure brings out the blood and other nastiness that makes meat taste “gamey”. The next day quarter the squirrels as best as possible. Prepare a fresh pot of water, wash off the quartered squirrels and place them in the fresh pot. Bring this to a boil to lightly cook the squirrel. Remove squirrel and discard water and scum.

Now, if you want to use the squirrel in a pot pie (traditional cooking), you can easily debone them at this point. Use the squirrel just like chicken. I prefer pot pie topped with bisquick and my wife used some really chunky soup mix which worked exceptionally well.

If you want to eat the squirrel like wings, this works well too. I reserved some bacon fat to cook with and me and Travis fried up a squirrel in that. The result is chewier than chicken but they’re delicious. They definitely have their own taste, and the bacon adds a good smoky flavor to it. The Bounty of the Earth, which I’ve wanted another copy of since forever, has a recipe in there for curried squirrel, we’ll try that next.