Two of my favorite things in life are seasoning and venison. As you can probably tell, I love wild food.
However, my other passion is seasoning. I love the complexity it brings to food and how we can mix and match seasonings from all around the world.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when seasoning venison, perhaps the most important is the cut of meat you are looking to season.
Seasoning ground venison is not the same as seasoning something like a backstrap or cubed venison.
Seasoning Ground Venison
Much of the deer you harvest will end up as ground meat.
This is not a bad thing; there are so many dishes you can create with ground venison, from taco soup to venison burgers to the classic venison Italian sausage, and the versatility is endless.
Just as there are many dishes you can create from ground venison, there are equally as many ways to season the meat.
I like to break it down by the type of dish. Generally, anything that will be in a “formed manner” will be pre-seasoned; this is meatballs, patties, sausages, etc.
Anything loose, like taco soup, bolognese, etc., is seasoned during the cooking.
However, there are a few caveats with this:
Sausages- Always fully seasoned; no seasoning necessary before cooking.
Patties- Very light seasoning if storing. Add salt only directly before cooking.
Seasoning Prime Cuts
Prime cuts that will not be marinated usually require some seasoning to enhance the taste.
Often people will find venison too “gamey” on its own, so turn to seasoning the meat to help with this.
Usually, for prime cuts, I will season directly before cooking. With cuts like the backstrap or tenderloin, you risk drawing out too much moisture if you season it too long before cooking.
While this is ok with beef because it is typically marbled with fat, venison is different and dries out very quickly.
Seasoning Prime Cuts of Venison:
- Remove meat from the refrigerator and place it on a wooden board
- Ensure all silver skin is removed
- Pat the meat dry with paper towels
- Choose your favorite seasoning and rub all over the meat; really work it in.
- Let the meat rest until it comes to room temperature (about 20 minutes)
Seasoning Diced Venison
Diced venison is seasoned very much like loose-ground venison. These cuts are typically used for curries, stir fries, pies, etc.
Often these cuts are incorporated into saucy dishes. For this reason, they are typically seasoned during the cooking process as per the recipe.
Choosing The Best Seasoning for Venison
There are a few seasonings that work best with venison. While this list could be endless, I will only highlight some of the staples.
- Salt – It would be very rare to find an article on seasoning without mentioning salt. It works well with everything. For venison, I prefer to use smoked salt in most dishes. The smokiness pairs well with wild game. For some dishes, particularly saucy dishes, I opt for kosher salt or Kala Namak salt. Kala Namak is an Indian volcanic salt with a pungent tangy flavor that works well in many venison dishes to create an earthy flavor.
- Pepper – While pepper is a very popular seasoning, I don’t use it as much as salt. When I do use pepper, I tend to stick to 3 types. Telicherry pepper, long pepper, and occasionally white pepper.
Telicherry pepper is the one I most commonly use. This is the pepper I put on steaks or add to stirfries etc. Long pepper, I find, works much better in saucy dishes like curry. It adds much more complexity to the dish and often pairs well with the sweetness of the venison.
- Paprika – I feel that paprika goes better with venison than any other meat. Most often, I use either sweet or smoked paprika or sweet smoked.
Like the salt, the smokiness of the paprika works extremely well with game. If you use sweet paprika, you will enjoy the relationship between the sweetness of the venison and the sweetness of the paprika.
I can understand how seasoning venison may come across as complex. Working with meat that can dry out very quickly is challenging.
The main thing to keep in mind is the type of dish you are making. If cooking quickly, it’s usually best to reserve seasoning until just before cooking.
Rusty enjoys connecting food and nature and has done so since a child. He was fortunate enough to explore cuisine worldwide and work at great European restaurants. He now enjoys thinking up new recipes that he can find around him in nature in North America.