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Arkansas’s deer season is well underway with more than 120,000 deer harvested so far. Freezers across the state are filling with venison steaks, roasts and, of course, ground venison. Typically the loins and the tenderloins are the first cuts cooked up at home or camp, leaving a generous portion of ground venison at the bottom of the freezer. Wil Hafner, facility manager at Potlatch Cook’s Lake Nature Center in Casscoe, has a few tips and recipes to get more out of your ground venison.
Whether you process your deer at home or take it to a processor, Hafner recommends that the venison is ground without the aid of pork or beef fat. Fat spoils faster and is more prone to freezer burn than the lean venison, causing a shorter shelf life in the freezer. Often, bacon ends and pieces are added for extra fat and flavor, and although it makes a great hamburger (like the smash burger offered below), the bacon flavor may not be welcome in tacos, spaghetti, chili, or meals. It’s best to add the fat at the time of cooking.
When it comes to storing ground venison, expect about a year out of properly packaged venison in the freezer. That is just enough time to clear out the freezer to make room for next season. Hafner also reminds hunters that if they find themselves with too much ground venison and not enough uses, many processors across the state work with Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry and are more than willing to donate a portion of their meat to families in need.
Here are a few of Hafner’s favorite recipes to get the most bang for your burger.
Venison Smash Burgers
Venison burgers can sometimes turn out dry and tough. This recipe incorporates ground bacon to add fat, flavor and juiciness to create that iconic dairy bar burger.
3 lbs. ground venison
1 lb. ground bacon
2 yellow onions thinly sliced
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1lb. sliced American cheese
2 cups thousand island dressing
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
Buns of choice
In a large bowl, mix ground venison and ground bacon with steak seasoning of choice. Mix until bacon is evenly incorporated into the venison. Form into baseball-sized balls, season topside of ball and place in refrigerator until ready to cook.
Mix up Thousand Island dressing and horseradish, refrigerate until ready to use.
Heat a griddle or skillet on high heat. Add oil and saute mushrooms and onions until tender, set aside. Place burger, seasoned-side down, and smash into skillet with a large spatula. Cook about 3 minutes or until the meat gets a crispy brown crust. Flip, repeat and add cheese. Remove from heat and toast buns on the same griddle or skillet. Dress the burger with the onions, mushroom and sauce.
Venison and Italian Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
1 lb. ground venison
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 cup cheddar cheese
½ cup finely diced green onions
1 lb. baby bella mushrooms
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Mix sausage, venison, bread crumbs, egg, cheese and green onion in a large bowl. Set aside. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Place about a tablespoon of meat mixture into the cap of each mushroom, and place in a cooking dish. Cook about 45 minutes or until the meat is fully cooked and the mushrooms are soft.
Ground Venison Stroganoff
1 lb ground venison
1 cup sour cream
1½ cups beef broth
1 small onion
1 stalk celery
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 10 oz. can sliced mushrooms
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper to taste
12 oz. egg noodles
Brown venison in a large skillet with oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and pepper. Remove venison and add mushrooms, chopped onion, celery and 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet. Cook until tender. Sprinkle in flour and mix with the vegetable mix, after 20 seconds or so, whisk in the broth and Worcestershire. Add sour cream and stir until mix begins to bubble, add the venison back in and simmer for a few minutes. Serve over buttered noodles or rice.
More fantastic wild game recipes can be found in the AGFC’s cookbook, “A Celebration of Conservation: 100 AGFC Recipes,” which is available as a free download at www.agfc.com/brochures.