Monday, July 16, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Venison

     I was surprised to learn that “venison” has been used as a catchall term for the meat of any game animal, including wild pigs and hares.  In this post I’m referring to its most prevalent definition, that is, deer meat.  Venison is healthier than beef, lamb, and pork in several ways, in that proportionally its got less fat, fewer calories, and lower cholesterol.  Sometimes this lack of fat is a disadvantage—deer burgers usually have to artificially introduce some, using olive oil, bacon, or cheese.  The major downside of venison is the prospect of contracting chronic wasting disease, essentially deer’s version of mad cow.  This has been found at deer farms in the U.S. and Scandinavia.  However, a new test makes this transference even less likely.
     Growing up in the NJ suburbs to a non-hunting family, I didn’t have venison until I was about thirteen, at a church charity dinner.  I was immediately impressed, but there’s a problem in the U.S.—it’s very rarely sold in supermarkets (probably in large part due to the need for USDA inspections) or served in restaurants.  Fortunately, as an adult some of my archaeology friends were avid hunters, and I was able to have it at their parties.  During one year the deer population had exploded so much that each hunter was allowed to take fourteen deer, so lots of freezers were well stocked.  At one cookout our hunter host showed us some portions hanging in the barn.  It was interesting on a professional level because he showed us certain common meat cuts, and what cut marks they would leave on bones, which helped us since we sometimes found animal bone remains on the job.  He finally offered us “deer sushi” after explaining it was safe because he could identify parasitic infections.  I wasn’t quite bold or drunk enough to take him up on this.
     Also around this time, I happened to hit a deer with my Grand Marquis when I was in Delaware.  Since I was close to my hotel, I drove my dented but functioning car back to it.  Later, I felt a little guilty, wondering if the deer was just wounded, in need of mercy-killing, so I asked a coworker to drive me back.  Because I’d hit it coming off of a highway with tolls, my friend and I had to park at a closed plumbing supply store about a quarter mile away from the accident spot.  We walked out and confirmed that the deer was dead, then returned to the vehicle.  Six police cars were surrounding it—they thought we were robbing the place.  After explaining the situation (and later showing the police my dented grill with deer hair still embedded in it), we were allowed to leave.  The police said I could keep the deer, but since I didn’t have the equipment, storage, and know-how to dress a deer this seemed unfeasible.  Plus, I was told that if I didn’t take it, it would be given to the poor, so that seemed like the best option all around.  Years later, a coworker of mine road-killed a deer too, but he chose to take it in his truck before anyone saw him.  Then, amazingly, he put it in the bathtub of his hotel room, and went to work the next morning without even putting his “Do Not Disturb” sign on.  The maid looked in quickly, saw a bloody dead body, and understandably freaked out.  This clearly wasn’t one of my coworkers blessed with a large supply of common sense.
     Later still, on my trip to New Zealand (which was great—if you get a chance, and can afford the plane ticket, I couldn’t recommend it more), I discovered that venison is huge there.  We passed numerous venison farms (with unusually high fences encircling them) and it was commonly on the menu.  So in addition to great hikes, walking on glaciers, and getting close enough to hug a yellow-eyed penguin, I had venison several more times.
     Okay, enough background and personal asides.  You may be wondering, what do I think of venison?  I absolutely love it—it may be my favorite meat.  Some folks complain about the slightly gamey flavor, but to me that’s a plus.  I’ve had it in stews, as a steak, even in jerky form—all top notch.
     Two final points.  For any Orthodox Jewish readers out there, venison can be made kosher.  In the U.S. big cities like NY and Chicago are your best bets for this availability.  Also, the expression “humble pie” is supposedly venison-based, as “noumbles” is the term for deer organs.  Evidently eating this meat pie was considered more modest than consuming a deer steak.

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