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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deer liver with bacon and onions

One of the best things about hunting deer is the opportunity to eat fresh deer liver. Nothing else with the exception of seals has a liver to match a deer for its sublime taste (and I guess I better specify that I am talking about 'Kodiak Island, Sitka Blacktail' deer). I think my favorite meal of the whole year - one I look forward to all spring and early summer - is the liver of the first deer of hunting season (usually during the first week of August). It has become a tradition in our house to accompany this meal with the first new potatoes and beets out of the garden. It's the kickoff of my annual subsistence season.

Good deer liver starts with butchering the deer, and I believe this is why you can't just buy good liver. It has to be fresh and well taken care of - you either have to do this yourself or trust a good hunter to do it well. I always carefully remove the deer liver making sure not to puncture the gall bladder or contaminate it with anything untoward. I then immediately cool it and wash it off in a nearby stream. I take my time with this and the liver always bleeds out a lot of blood.

Next is to get it home as quickly as possible. Once home I put it in the fridge in a bowl of water with a lot of salt in it, and leave it there overnight. This soaks out more of the blood and gives the liver a more mild flavor. Once it has been soaked in salt I pat it dry with paper towels, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate on a plate (cause it might still drip a bit). It's ready to cook. I generally try to cook it within two days.

What is needed for the meal:

At least 1/3 of a good sized deer liver or a whole yearling deer liver
1 cup of good sherry or madeira
1 packet of quality bacon (I prefer the thick strips)
4 or 5 medium sized onions (chopped into strips across the grain)
3 handfuls of flour
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of seasoned salt
5 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil
2 large cast iron skillets

How to:

1) In one skillet cook the bacon over low heat. While in the other skillet cook the onions in half the oil also over low heat. You are caramelizing the onions and trying to create chewy, yet crunchy bacon and high heat is not the best way to do either. Take your time with both the onions and the bacon. The natural sugars in the onions actually will caramelize and burn a little. Near the end of the process (about a half hour) I generally add about 1/2 cup of sherry. Some people even add sugar to help with the caramelizing. I hope you know how to cook bacon.

2) Mix all the flour together on a plate with the spices. Basically, you are making seasoned flour so try whatever spices strike your fancy. On a cutting board slice the deer liver into thin slices (@ 1/4 inch thick). Try to make the slices as uniform in thickness as possible. Dredge the slices in your seasoned flour and set aside to cook later.

3) Remove the cooked bacon from frying pan and place on a paper towel on a plate. Pour all of the bacon fat into a glass or gravy boat. Then clean the frying pan (remove all the burnt bacon etc) and return to heat on the stove. Get this pan good and hot and add some of the bacon fat back to the pan 2 tablespoons or so, and maybe another 2 tablespoons of canola oil.

4) Once the oil in the frying pan is good and hot (sizzles when you touch liver to it), quickly add 4 or 5 slices of liver. DO NOT OVERCOOK! Maybe 45 seconds on each side. You want the liver to be pink all the way through and not grey color of high school cafeteria liver, and remember that it will continue to cook after you remove it from the skillet and place on a platter. Once you have cooked all the liver, 4-5 slices at a time, de-glaze the pan with 1/2 cup of sherry and scrape up all the good bits and pieces and pour this liquid over the liver on the platter.

5) Serve the meal immediately. No one likes cold liver. Serve everyone 1 or 2 slices of liver with a few strips of bacon and a good dollop of caramelized onions. Try to eat each piece of liver with a bit of bacon and onion on top. This meal goes together as a whole. Enjoy!


Photo: The liver slices, onions (I added some sliced bell peppers for variety) and bacon after step two in the above process. I took this photo earlier tonight. Both Stuie and Nora scarfed down their liver, and even Zoya had a slice.

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