The Other Red Meat

We’re lucky enough to have a good venison farm in the area, so those of us who do not hunt have a source for deer meat. Next year may be the one in which I begin hunting, but for now I have to say I’m OK with the steps I’ve taken so far to curate my food sources. Venison is super-lean, flavorful, and, when cooked properly, offers an elegant alternative to beef.

I’ve been thinking a bit about frugality, altruism, and sacrifice lately. Some kinds of conservation yield lower utility bills, so they are their own reward, even if they mean shivering in one’s own kitchen at breakfast while the water boils. Others, like composting, yield crumbly black goodness that makes for happy vegetables, which is another tangible benefit of the extra work they entail. But then there are things like having one car instead of two, which is less expensive, sure, but also inconvenient with some regularity. There’s the garden itself, which is a superbly carbon-friendly endeavor, and gives forth some of the best-tasting food one can eat, but is a lot of work and can be a real pain in the ass, especially this time of year. While midsummer bounty positively leaps into one’s basket with a grin, fall roots are cold and clotted with clammy dirt. My fingers are half numb by the time I’m done gathering the makings of a meal, and then everything needs to be washed–first in the outdoor sink while it’s still above freezing, then indoors after extensive editing and trimming. My choice to extend the garden deep into the cold months (without a greenhouse, which I can’t afford to build right now) means that I spend meaningful amounts of time occupied with procuring some of the least expensive crops available: roots and hardy greens.

The only point, insofar as I have one at all, is that I’ll never see the difference my conservation makes in the wider world. I saw two people leave their engines running while they went into a store the other day, and it made me think of how much energy we use without even realizing it–and how many massive motors and appliances run constantly to maintain acceptable comfort and convenience levels. You know those “baby” carrots in the supermarket? They’re lathed down to that size from bigger ones, wasting power and food in the process. Doesn’t that seem wrong on a basic level? And yet I’m a filthy hippie for even bringing it up, I know. My mucking around in cold dirt for my dinner is probably even a waste of my time, if I think about it in terms of the other work I could be doing instead.

But there’s more to it than that. Despite the discomfort of frigid fingers, there’s a commitment to the process and ritual of growing food. Imperfect though the garden may be (vastly so, really) it holds a lot of food. And going out and letting it tell me what to make for dinner is a powerful part of my day. And that attention, and the appreciation for a handful of misshapen yet colorful roots, can make a regular sort of meal into something profound. And the practice of simplicity in these things extends outward into other parts of life, I find, making me consider certain choices more carefully that I otherwise might have. But at the end of the day, I still feel strongly that virtue must be motivated by pleasure, not guilt; it’s the only way it becomes self-reinforcing. And the ragout of fall treats that I cobbled together from the garden to accompany this hunk of deer was all the motivation I need to keep going outside to grow and pick food.

I took this roast, defrosted it, and rubbed it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. While it sat, I prepped and chopped a variety of things. Potatoes, a daikon and its greens, turnips and theirs, chioggia beets, celery, leeks, parsley, fennel, carrots, garlic, and onion all had a nice sweat in the sautée pan, then got an ice cube of trotter gear to calm them down and steamed, lidded, until tender. I seared the meat pretty hard all around, then switched the lid to its pan and took it off the heat to finish cooking. And I puréed some pan di zucchero with garlic, walnuts, sherry vinegar, and olive oil to make another great mash. A splash of wine, grape jelly, and meat juices made for a broken pan sauce that worked well to lubricate the meat. I opened a 2000 Guigal Côte-Rôtie “Brune et Blonde” for a few reasons: the meat wanted it, I forgot to load up on more affordable wine this week, and I was looking to drown my electoral sorrows in style. But it wasn’t anywhere near as special as I had hoped. I like this wine a lot in general, but this one was an unsatisfying combination of too young and too old: tannic and austere, with unremarkable fruit and no sense of elegance. Maybe I just caught it at a bad time, but it didn’t seem like it. That’ll teach me to be an elitist.

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  1. November 5

    Sounds to me like you’re angling for a merit badge again. The ‘frozen muddy fingers’ badge, perhaps.

    I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a venison farm. Like, really? You live in Texas or something?

    But then again if next year IS your hunting year, you’ll have a whole new set of badges to work for! Just don’t bloody up your one and only car.

  2. Peter
    November 5

    I just hope they make it an iron-on. I can’t sew on account of the numbness.

  3. November 5

    I always think of ostrich as the other red meat.

    We have fallow deer here that are delicious. They’re fattened up (not feed lot-style) like any other kind of free-range livestock that gets a grain bin, and this is a wonderful thing.

  4. Peter
    November 5

    This farm is all pastured and additive-free. If only they raised guinea fowl to eat all the ticks…

  5. November 6

    Hey Peter,
    where is this farm?! Also, if you’d like some free range venison, I inherited a chest freezer full from my dad who was an avid hunter in the area and I’d be happy to give you some of it since I am doubtful I can really cook it all – there is a lot. Just let me know if you want to stop by sometime and take some cuts.

  6. Peter
    November 6

    Over in Germantown. I would love some. This week? I’ll email you.

  7. November 8

    I love venison. The pinky perfection of the above picture is simply magical. I do hope you take up hunting, it is a rewarding and filthy experience. When you do, keep the long bones for demi glace. You will not regret it.

    I have to get more into root veggies up here, yours make me jealous.

  8. Peter
    November 8

    Jacquie: Nice to see you again, all iPadded and shit. I always keep bones from everything, so that won’t be a problem. Stay tuned to see how the hunting thing goes next fall. Roots will do well up there, but if not, I’ll gladly trade you for some caribou.

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