Ode to Offal – Deer Kidney Pot Pie

“You really want to do this” asked Chef Mike Zeller – a friend, co-worker and fellow wild game butcher at this point. 

“Well, no, but I have always wanted to try…” I said.

“I’ve always been a little curious myself…no going back from this man…” Zeller added.

“Cheers!” I said and took a bite out of my fried deer testicle. Zeller followed suit.

Now, this was not the plan for the day. We had been deer hunting a few days back which managed to be a success. And in Idaho you are required to leave evidence of sex on deer. So, in addition to the horns I packed out, the testicles were still viewable and attached to a skinned leg. Now, after the carcass had cooled in my garage for a while, Zeller was back at my house to cut up the meat.

Deer Kidney Pot Pie

When we got to the nuts, and had a few beers, the topic turned to eating testicles. Rocky mountain oysters, bull balls, testicle festivals that sort of manly – the wife leaves the room – stupidity. Eventually we dug the balls out of the sack and examined them. Before long the two chefs in the kitchen had out the flour, the salt and pepper and pan of oil. We were daring each other along. Who was man enough to eat, well, another manhood. 

The testicles of a deer are, honestly, about the size of a man’s. Having limited exposure to that topic but not feeling like my data set of one is somehow inadequate. That said, just like I have feared all of my life, they pop right out of the sack with abandon. The testicles, and by logical reasoning my testicles, have a protective silver-skin around them that needs removed. But when you do they become a soft and entirely delicious hunk of meat.  

Now, deer nuts are not a meal. But they are one hellava conversation starter at your next cocktail (ha!) party.

Look, I love venison as much if not a little more than the other guys. But every now and then I get tired of steak, chili and tacos. I want something a little odd-ball. Something offal-ly good tasting. Something a little nutty – you get the point. Read below and eat some weird stuff that came off of your deer. You won’t regret it. Recipes abound for these cuts in the domestic world. Just translate them over to the deer – or visit my website for information. Hank Shaw also has a TON of information on the topic of offal.

Now, let’s start at the front of the critter and work our way back shall we?

Cabesa – On the topic of eating meat from the front end of the deer, to hell with it. Skin the head, leaving as much muscle tissue attached as you possibly can. Clean all the hair off of it and then simmer it in beef stock for a few hours. This will turn into head meat – cabesa at the taco stand. This is a rich and flavorful section of the animal. Warning! Do not cut the head off keeping the horns, fur and tongue in the animal for days. This is not a defacto euro mount operation. You have to treat the meat on the skull like it is well, meat. Not just stuff you have to cut off to get a skull mount. Google recipes for scrapple, for head cheese and for cabesa tacos for inspiration. 

Tongue – I covered this a while a go on elk but it bears repeating. The first problem is getting the damn thing out. Often the animal is in the stages of rigor mortus and prying the jaw open is a pain. Instead of accessing the meat from the inside I go through the bottom of the jaw. I make a slit from the furthest forward point of the jaw bone to the back of the throat. Then I reach in and detach the tongue from the back of the throat. I find this a heck of a lot easier than dealing with teeth and prying open the jaw bones. 

Throat tenderloins – most times this is left in the field because on small deer, it is a very proportionally small amount of meat. On elk however this is a decent cut. The throat tenderloins are actually attached to the esophagus tube. One of each side of the neck. So when you skin the animal, look at the windpipe – then trim out the muscle on either side. It is delish.

Testicles – Why are deer testicles so cheap? Because they are under a buck 😉 …. Anyway dad jokes aside. Deer nuts are almost never eaten. But I am serious that they are good food and conversation. If you have ever participated in an oyster feed than they should be a ball for you to try.

Liver – Liver and Onions…the classic, down home, blue plate, country club bridge players and honky café meal. Disrespected, most times, by being sliced so thin and cooked into a hunk of chalk, ground down between the teeth of many eaters. Loved by some, reviled by others. Liver is best the day after harvest, or it should be frozen. Most times I cut the liver into smaller sections that allow me, an only me, to have a liver meal that they rest of my family does not partake in. Do not slice thin. Treat it like a steak, cook it to medium rare or medium. See the recipe posted to my website – chefrandyking.com

Heart – With hearts proper trimming is vital. They are a working muscle and as such need to be cleaned up. With a sharp knife take off the white outer lining that all hearts have. Slide the blade under the white tissue and gently trim it away. Next, follow the contours of the heart itself to figure out how to unroll it. While cutting you will notice seams, follow one of those seams and “open” the heart up. Inside the heart will be more connective tissue that needs removed. Clean the hearts really well; they will be better for it. Quick note – the heart will have little tendon looking segments inside it. Those are called heart strings. They can break in time of great strife in life – so yes, you can die of heartbreak…

Caul fat – next time you go to gut an animal look for what looks like lacey membrane that encases the intestines. This lacy stuff is called caul fat. In French cooking it is often used as a meatloaf wrap. In other places, like Rinella’s TV show, he uses it for wrapping heart and cooking it over a fire. I find caul fat awesome as long as you give it enough time to cook. Limp caul fat is not Bueno. 

Kidneys – the joke about kidneys is that you have to well, soak the piss out of them. This is, in fact true. With wild game kidneys the work for something weird is totally worth it. A magazine article I read one time called them liver squared. I soak them in saltwater for several days before I make a recipe with them. My favorite so far has been an old school kidney pie from England. Kidneys are definitely I not something I would buy at a store – so having free access to a small version seems like a once a year tradition I can get behind.

Shanks – One easy to make shine item is the shank meat. Shank meat is essentially the calf and forearm of an animal. In the fancy restaurants of my past I would serve lamb shanks in the winter like hotcakes. I would charge upwards of $40 a plate for them as well. When I started thinking back to all the shank meat on the deer and elk I had killed I realized most of it went through the grinder and into burger. A true shame.

Shank meat is ungodly tough, right? What makes shank meat different is the very thing that makes it tough, connective tissue. That same tissue, if cooked long enough, melts into the most buttery and luscious sauce. What happens in the naturally occurring gelatin breaks down and incorporates into the cooking liquid. But this takes time, shanks are slow food. Mmm tasty slow food. 

Venison Kidney Pie

Kidney Pie is an English and Irish staple and this dish is a good jumping off point for offal cooking. I cheat a little and buy the puff pastry, but otherwise this is a cool looking and simply dish. I like to bake this dish in a mason jar. It gives a lot of the “pie” effect without all the pain of the dough work.

¼ cup butter

1 deer kidney, soaked and cut into ½ cubes

1# deer sirloin, cut into ½ cubes

1 onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

¼ cup AP flour

1/4 cup red wine

1 ¾ cup beef broth

1 sprig thyme, rosemary and sage

1 tablespoon mustard

Salt and pepper

5 sliced of bacon, raw

Store bought puff pastry or biscuit dough. 

Melt butter over high heat in a large sauce pan. When melted add the kidney and sirloin. Brown the meat then add the onion and carrot. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent. Next stir in the flour, red wine, herbs, beef broth and mustard. Cover and simmer on low for about 1.5 hours of until the meat is fork tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut 5 squares out of puff pastry that are about 3×3 inches. Reserve them.

Arrange 5 small, wide mouthed mason jars. Line the inside of each with a slice of bacon. Add the kidney mixture to the jars. Top each jar with a square of puff pastry. Pinch the puff pastry to the sides of the jar. Bake the jars for 30 minutes until the puff pastry is golden in color. Remove from the oven, let stand about 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

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