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From the City to the Land: A Cook’s Journey

Since I started doing work at the Edge of the Woods Farm back in August, on two separate occasions a different friend at the Two Row Times has given me gifts of deer meat.

farmer joeDeer friends of the Two Row Times

Since I started doing work at the Edge of the Woods Farm back in August, on two separate occasions a different friend at the Two Row Times has given me gifts of deer meat. The first was a shank from Jonathan Garlow the paper’s founder and the second a roast from my distribution partner Brenda. I feel truly honoured and humbled by these acts of generosity.

My interactions with hunters around Six Nations in discussing the preparation of deer meat have led me to the conclusion that the tougher cuts of meat such as the neck, shanks, brisket, flank of deer are usually turned into pepperettes or hamburg meat. Now don’t get me wrong I love pepperettes and hamburgers. However, with an adventurous spirit and some planning ahead you can explore some different cooking that will deepen your appreciation for the animal and will enable you to expand your cooking repertoire and appreciation of the many delightful ways that deer meat can nourish you and your loved ones.

Generally, the concepts of cooking tough cuts of meat are simple: let it cook low and slow to break down the connective tissues, or tenderize the meat by grinding it into mince meat or pounding it into thin slices. This tip applies not only to deer meat preparation, but also to cuts of meat where more active muscle groups are located on the animal you are working with.

Cooking Six Nations deer has been an incredibly joyous experience. Most of the “game” meats I have prepared in Toronto have come from game parks. The tradition, respect, patience and skills that go into the hunt are lost given the manufactured existence of these animals raised for profit. In the Toronto restaurant context deer meat has become a luxury item only available to the wealthy. The commodification process obscures the diners and cooks understanding of the animal’s sacrifice. Curiously, farm raised deer is often referred to as “venison” on city menus. Oddly enough the term venison stems from the Latin word venatus meaning to hunt.

What I have learned is that being present on the land and listening to Mother Earth is paramount whether or not you will be returning with a meal. This realization came to me on a hunting and wild ginger gathering adventure that I embarked on with Jonathan Garlow on his land at Six Nations. When the day comes when one of Mother Earth’s creatures is sacrificed in my presence on a hunt, I will be very thankful. I look forward to honouring its life through a meal with those I care for.

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How-to braise guide: Tough Cuts to Tender Meat

Please use this as a basic guide for braising any tough piece of meat. The following is how I prepared the aforementioned shank. I used an oven; though a slow cooker will work too.

In terms of flavour profiles, meat is a great flavour carrier, but I mostly enjoy tasting the diet of the animal by seasoning simply with salt and pepper.

Braising is a moist heat method of cooking and the moisture can come from any liquid you choose, plain water is always an option. I typically rub, marinate or brine my braising meats with non-intrusive flavours of the season before cooking.[hr] STEP 1: Rub meat generously with salt and pepper.[hr] STEP 2: Make sure hood fan is on high (if you don’t have one open a window or two)[hr] STEP 3: Bring a pan up to high heat and add cooking oil.[hr] STEP 4: Place the meat in the pan until a nice golden brown color on all sides appears. Be sure not to burn it, adjusting the heat on the stove accordingly. (If the heat is too low the meat will sweat and you will end up boiling the meat.)[hr] STEP 5: Take the meat out of the pan and into a deep baking dish.[hr] STEP 6: Turn the pan off and deglaze it with water to get all those delicious flavour bits off the bottom of the pan.[hr] STEP 7: – Put an assortment of woody herbs, mainly rosemary and thyme, a small onion, a couple garlic cloves, and black peppercorns in a baking dish with enough water to cover the meat half way. Cover the dish with a lid or tinfoil.[hr] STEP 8: Cook at 325F in the oven until the meat is tender to the fork. (Any oven temperature between 225 and 325 will work depending on the time available to you.)[hr] STEP 9: Take the meat out of the dish and reduce the liquid to a nice sauce consistency and enjoy with some mashed potatoes and or roasted root vegetables.[hr] STEP 10: You could also use neck meat. Cook as above. Shred it and put it on a bun with your favourite fixings for a nice pulled deer sandwich.[hr] STEP 11: This time of year spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, juniper berries, or star anise speak to me especially when served with a roasted squash recipe of your choice.[hr]

Questions? Comments? Food stories? farmerjoefood@gmail.com

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