We Hae Meat and We Can Eat: Venison Pastrami

February 26, 2010 § 6 Comments

Some hae meat and cannae eat
Some would eat that want it
But we hae meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

-Robert Burns

Let me present you the with the venison pastrami I made using a recipe from my new book, Charcuterie, and these nice pieces of venison. I first had this at my mother’s-in-law, who made some to serve as an appetizer at her daughter’s wedding, and, when we harvested our deer this past fall, I decided to make some myself. And I did – today. And it worked. And it worked beautifully. Although I was at one time briefly enveloped in a cloud of smoke and was having flashbacks to the house fire we had this past fall, all while wondering if the neighbors were going to call the firefighters. But they didn’t.

But man, when I was done, it was like graduating from college. With a degree. Not only do I now know how to avoid bodily harm whilst smoking wild meats (hint: don’t use too much starter liquid!), I know how to smoke meats, period! All in all, it was an epic journey. It was like going down into the tomb and resurrecting. How’s that for a Lenten metaphor.

Speaking of Lent… I was so carried away by my project, that I completely forgot that it was Friday, which reminds of one of my favorite jokes from the Prairie Home Companion, which went something like this:

Ole was the only Lutheran in a town full of Catholics, and every Friday his Catholic neighbors would be annoyed watching him grill venison steaks in his backyard. So they went to Ole and persuaded him to become a Catholic. And they took him, and they sprinkled him with water, and they said, “You were born a Lutheran, and you were raised a Lutheran, and now you are a Catholic.” But, come Friday, the smell of grilled venison spreads, as usual, from Ole’s backyard. Annoyed, they came over and saw him sprinkle water onto the steaks and say, “You were born a whitetail deer, and you were raised a whitetail deer, and now you are a walleye.”

Anyhow, to make this, I chose large single muscles with very little connective tissue, such as can be found on the hind leg of the animal, and brined them for three and a half days in a solution of water, kosher salt, curing (or “pink”) salt, brown sugar, and spices. Just before smoking (which was done on my kettle-style charcoal grill), I coated it with a 50/50 mixture of freshly-ground black pepper and not freshly-ground coriander. I then soaked my hardwood charcoal briquettes in water for one hour, and added them to the grill along with some apple wood in the from of twigs and branches that I cut up in smallish pieces.

Note: After talking to my friends, I learned that this soaking of the briquettes was unnecessary, and I am not going to be doing any soaking in the future, as long as I can use some straight-from-the-tree (or “green,” as it is called) apple or other fruit wood with my wood chips, which [the green wood] at this point is naturally full of moisture to promote smoking.

It was here that I added a bit too much starter liquid, which is my common problem, but all was well in the end. Once the flames subsided, I waited for the coals to be covered with a layer of gray-white ash, which takes a considerable amount of time on a cold February day in Wisconsin, and raked them into a pile in one half of the grill. The instructions I was using suggested that I place a drip pan filled with an inch of water under the meat, but I couldn’t find a pan that 1)would fit the space 2)was fire-proof and 3)not too dear to my heart to be used for this purpose. The Pyrex pans clearly said “no broiler or stove top,” which, if you can read between the lines, also means “don’t use as a drip pan in your grill while making wild venison pastrami.” But the good news was that I didn’t need a drip pan at all – the venison was smoking so low, it didn’t drip. Anyhow, with the coals on one half of the grill, I arranged the meat on the other half (the grilling method known as “indirect cooking”), after brushing the metal grill rack with some sunflower oil away from the fire. I then left the holes in the lid partially open because the instructions said that, if you covered the holes all the way, this could create too much smoke and make the meat bitter. From time to time I would turn the meat, and, whenever my coals were on their way out, I would add a bit more wood on top, this time using just the apple twigs and some non-soaked (fully dry, from a package) hardwood charcoal briquettes. This went on without further adventures (not counting the fact that I smelled like a smoked sausage myself afterwards) for about four to five hours, until, at last, the thermometer registered 150 degrees indicated in the recipe. And, I must confess… Friday or not, I ate some! And it was divine – perfectly seasoned, perfectly smoked, wonderfully tender.

And now, if you excuse me, I am going to have a deeply narcissistic moment with my deer:

I am not entirely persuaded that this was not worth the eternity I gave up for it.

Or this, for that matter.

Beef or Venison Pastrami

(Adapted from Charcuterie cookbook)

I prefer this made with venison, because, for one, venison is leaner and has deeper flavor, but I am sure it’s going to be every bit as good with beef. The book recommended to use beef brisket, and if it was me choosing from the selection of cuts available when you buy your beef by the side or the quarter (the best way to purchase beef in my opinion – and give me a holler if you live in the area and want some, because, by a happy coincidence, we sell some grassfed beef that we raise on our farm – think of it as a way to be a patron of my blogging art), I would go with a sirloin roast.

For the brine:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1 C Kosher salt (note that I cut the amount of the Kosher salt indicated in the original recipe by one-third, following Jacob’s mom’s advice, who, if you remember, is the original pastrami trailblazer in our family)
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz weight PINK SALT (special curing salt available at butcher shops or online – it is highly toxic straight-up – so by all means keep it far away from your children and don’t taste it with your finger. It is for this reason that it is dyed bright pink – so you wouldn’t confuse it with table or sea salt). If you don’t have a friendly neighborhood  butcher shop near your place, you can substitute Morton Tender Quick available at any grocery store (my BFF substituted it 1-to-1). It’s the curing salt that makes your sausage and other cured goods pink and also impairs the growth of botulism – so don’t skimp on it!!
  • 1 T pickling spice (can be substituted by a mixture of black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds or ground coriander (which is what I used), hot pepper flakes, allspice berries (can be substituted by whole cloves – the two are interchangeable in my mind), ground mace (or just use a dash of nutmeg, for crying out loud), cinnamon sticks (or use ground cinnamon like me, because I find whole cinnamon sticks too “foodie” – which I am not – just a farmwife cooking real food for her family), ground ginger (skip it if you don’t have it), a few bay leaves, and whole cloves (if using allspice berries). Note that I didn’t measure those ingredients – just added a small amount of each, 1 t to 1 T depending on the individual potency of each ingredient.
  • 1/2 packed C of dark brown sugar (but light works just as well)
  • 1/4 C honey or real (I can’t believe I even have to use this word) maple syrup (I don’t like honey)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced

For the coating: 1 T freshly ground black pepper + 1 T freshly (or not) ground coriander, mixed

Trim the meat of all the surface connective tissue/fat.

Combine all of the brine ingredients, bring to a simmer, stirring until the salts and the sugars have dissolved. Let cool until all the way cold, place your meat in the brine, and weigh it down with a plate or another heavy, food-grade object, to keep the meat completely submerged. Leave it in the brine and refrigerate for 3 (or 4, in my case) days.

Remove the meat from the brine, rinse, and dry it. (Here’s where the book suggested to let it rest, in the fridge, for a few hours to overnight, to allow the brine to fully penetrate the meat. I skipped this step, and there was a bit of gray in the center of one of my pieces). Discard the brine. Coat the meat evenly with a mixture of either freshly ground black pepper and freshly ground coriander or freshly ground black pepper and ground coriander from a store (1 T of each). I ground the pepper in my coffee grinder in this case.

Hot-smoke the meat (see the instructions above) until the meat thermometer registers the internal temperature of 150 F (151-152 is OK too). It took me four to five hours, can’t recall. To serve, slice thinly and devour on the spot or use as sandwich meat or an appetizer on top of some toasted bread or something.

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