Author Harold Webster Jr. gives the beef on venison.
Venison does not have to taste bad.
So goes the philosophy and introduction of venison cook Harold Webster Jr. and his book, "The Complete Venison Cookbook."
Webster, who has turned wild game into gourmet fare, is a connoisseur who participates in every step of food preparation.
"You can define me as a cook who hunts rather than a hunter who cooks," Webster said. "It's a subtle difference, but an important one. I get no pleasure out of killing animals."
Webster, who has hunted for as long as he can remember, has taken to buying venison almost as much as he hunts it.
"You can buy it now and it doesn't cost much more than beef," he said.
That doesn't mean it's available at the local supermarket. Venison is typically found in specialty butcher shops and can be mail-ordered through several U.S. and European companies. Kansas butcher shops cannot sell game meat.
Webster lives in Jackson, Miss., and hunts his own or purchases it from venison farms.
Hunters who kill their own deer have the option of dressing it in the field or taking it to a butcher shop. Either way, the key to success is to make the kill and the processing quick and painless.
One of the most common reasons people shy away from venison is its "wild" taste, Webster said.
"The questions a lot of people ask are, 'Why is my venison tough and why does it stink?'," he said. "The toughness is a function of age. A 10-year-old cow is just as tough as a 10-year-old deer. An 18-month-old is just as tender."
The stronger the flavor, the less desirable the conditions under which the animal was killed, Webster said.
"It's a function of adrenaline and lactic acid stores in a scared and frightened animal," he said. "If you kill the animal plainly, quickly and humanely where it doesn't know what happened, you won't have that taste."
Deer can be hunted with bow and arrow and firearms, and even road-kill deer, if processed immediately, can be eaten. Archery season in Kansas began Oct. 1. Firearms season is Dec. 3-14.
Wally Neal, a butcher at Steve's Meat Market in DeSoto, helps dress and cut approximately 500 deer a year.
"It's an extremely lean meat," he said. "Most beef has a fat covering. Deer has a slight covering."
For that reason, venison cooks quicker than beef. If it's not prepared properly, venison can dry out.
"It cooks really fast," Neal said. "Almost everyone makes deer burger out of the meat and a lot of people like summer sausage."
Steve's Meat Market has become a popular destination for hunters because they get their own animal back after processing and the butchers work to keep turnaround time to a minimum, Neal said.
"As a general rule, we can get it back to the customer in one to two weeks' time," he said.
Fresh deer meat can be prepared immediately or frozen.
Douglas County Extension Agent Susan Krumm suggests fixing venison roasts with spices and vegetables to enhance the flavor.
"A lot of people really like it in stews, too," she said.
The moist heat allows the meat to cook without becoming tough, Krumm said.
The major advantage to eating venison over other meats is its lean qualities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Nutritive Value of Foods" a 3 1/2-ounce cut of venison has approximately 159 calories and 3.3 grams of fat, compared to 239 calories and 17.9 grams of fat for a similar portion of roasted chicken with skin and the 265 calories and 18.4 grams of fat found in ground beef.
"It's a healthy food," Webster said. "People are starting to recognize that and there's becoming more of a balance. People who used to go (hunting) just for the trophy now go for the food aspect and for the nutrition."
In his book Webster utilizes more than 750 recipes to remind readers that venison is not an exotic meat.
"People have forgotten that venison used to be part of our diet," he said. "Up until the turn of the century it was as much of a staple as beef, chicken or pork. With the venison farms that are around today, it's easy for anyone to get it."
--JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.