By Harley Trumbo
When I'm not hunting, I work as a commercial electrician and I've wired many fancy restaurants.
About 35 years ago, I had the good fortune to design a kitchen for a chef from Europe. He was fascinated by the fact I was a bowhunter, and said he routinely served venison when he lived in Europe. Deer are sold commercially there, and he missed eating venison.
The chef gave me a tour of the cooler where he aged beef loins. They'd been hanging for three weeks. The loins had mold growing on them and didn't look very appetizing.
Then he showed me a European secret.
I was amazed as he took a clean rag soaked in vinegar and wiped down one of the loins. It was now clean and shiny!
During the next few weeks as we worked together designing his kitchen, I took the opportunity to pick his brain. He taught me the importance of aging my venison for palatability, with five to eight days as sufficient time for the process.
He explained that not only does vinegar tenderize the meat, but it also enhances flavor.
Now I go to great lengths keeping my venison from freezing during that week-long process, because freezing stops the natural bacterial breakdown and puts the meat at risk of spoilage.
Ideally, you need to remove the hide and de-bone the deer as soon as possible and keep the meat in one of those five-day coolers or a refrigerator. Do not allow ice to directly contact the meat if you use a cooler. Keep the ice in bags.
The most important lesson I learned from the chef is to never use water on your deer. Period.
He said water rapidly spreads harmful bacteria, and advised to only use vinegar when you need to clean up, especially in the event of a mishap where stomach content or bladder leakage occurs.
Vinegar retards the spread of harmful bacteria from spillage as well.
I've taken it a step further. I keep a pint-sized bottle of vinegar with me when I'm hunting. Immediately after field dressing an animal, I wipe out the entire cavity with vinegar and remove the tenderloins, placing them in a plastic bag. Now I'm ready to drag out my deer.
Anyone who says venison is gamy doesn't know how to properly care for the meat, from field to table.
Think of it like this: if a prize-winning Angus steer was handled the way some hunters handle their deer, you'd hear people complaining how gamy beef tastes!