How to Cook Deer Organs & Offal
Gut Pile Gastronomy
Offal Isn’t Awful!” I’d like to see that phrase printed on a T-shirt and handed out at deer camps all across the country. Every fall hunters in the United States kill roughly 6 million deer. That’s a lot of backstrap, hindquarters, front shoulders, and neck roasts. But too much exceptionally good venison is left behind in the woods. I’m not talking edible only if you were very hungry. I mean some tasty parts that rival even the vaunted backstrap as table fare.
The heart, liver, kidneys, and the less familiar parts—collectively known as wobbly bits, jiggly bits, offal, or giblets, the stuff left in the gut pile or on the processing room floor—can be some of the best venison you will ever eat.
Want to expand your wild game menu? Try a few of these lesser-known cuts.
The heart might be the most underrated part of the deer. It’s pure muscle, just like the top round or front shoulder. The heart should be trimmed of all fat and connective tissue. The simplest way to do this is to butterfly it open from one side so that it unrolls into a flat steak. When the heart is sliced open like this, it’s easy to see the fibrous tissue that runs along the inside and trim it away.
Just like backstrap, heart is best cooked to medium-rare for maximum flavor and tenderness.
Liver is one of those polarizing foods people generally fall into one of two categories: You either love the rich, iron flavor, or you can’t stand it. Rarely do you find someone in the middle.
If you are a liver fan, give venison liver a shot. The flavor comes in a bit stronger than that of pork or beef liver, but a soak in milk or saltwater for a night (or two) will tame even the oldest buck liver.
My favorite way to prepare venison liver is sliced, rolled in seasoned flour, and pan fried in butter. Once the venison has browned on the surface, move it to a warm plate and add a big handful of sliced onions to the pan. Cook them down a bit, add some flour, give it a good stir, then pour in a beer to make a thick onion gravy. Return the fried liver to the skillet and bring it back up to temperature by spooning onion gravy over it.
Kidneys are considered a delicacy in most of Europe, but they aren’t as popular as heart and liver on this side of the pond. While they take a bit more prep work than other organs, venison kidneys make a fine meal. If you want to try them, start by peeling the membrane from the surface of the kidney. Cut the kidney in half, lengthwise. Trim away the hard, white centers. Now for the important part. Drop the kidneys into a bowl of milk and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, change out the milk and return the bowl to the fridge. After two days of soaking, rinse the kidneys and dice them up.
A great way to dip your culinary toes into kidneys are to use them in a steak and kidney pie. Sauté diced venison and kidneys in butter until well browned. Reserve the meat and cook down a large sliced onion. Add three tablespoons of flour and stir well. Follow with three cups of beef stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the meat to the pan and pour the mixture into a pastry-lined baking dish. Top with additional pastry and bake.
Rocky Mountain Oysters don’t come from the sea. But when fried, they are just as tasty as their saltwater namesake. Testes from domestic animals like pork, cattle, and sheep are so popular you can find them on the menus of many restaurants.
Start by removing the sac holding the testicles when you field dress your buck. Use a sharp knife to trim away everything attached to the top of the scrotum. Use your fingers to pull away the skin surrounding the testes until you can pop them free with pressure from underneath.
Pull away the outer membrane and drop the oysters into a bowl of cold water. Refrigerate overnight to chill thoroughly. Use a sharp knife to remove the top section of tough tissue from the upper portion of the testicle. Next, make a shallow slice down one side, just cutting through the clear membrane. Tightly grip one side of the membrane and peel away enough to press down with the blade of your knife to separate the membrane from the inner meat. Press the blade of the knife down on a cutting board and, using steady pressure, pull the membrane from under the blade, leaving the soft inner meat.
Once you have removed the peel, you’ll understand why they call them oysters. Raw, peeled testicles are soft and gelatinous. Toss the meat in seasoned flour and deep fry to a crispy golden brown.
You’ve probably noticed caul fat before, even if you didn’t realize it. Caul fat is the lacy, thin membrane that surrounds the internal organs. Carefully peel it away and use it to wrap your venison roasts or anything that might benefit from being surrounded by slowly melting fat as it roasts.