When you come home from a successful hunt, are you already thinking about how you’re going to prepare the meat? Generally speaking, you’ve got some decisions to make. What cuts of meat do you want? How much to grind? Do you plan to store it all in the freezer? Or are you going to preserve it using other methods: canning, smoking, fermenting, or dry curing?
There are plenty of legitimately delicious ways to prepare and enjoy wild game. I’m going to make a case today with reasons to dry cure your wild game, whatever it may be. While I love a good fresh sausage or roast, there’s nothing quite the same as meat that has been dry cured.
And here’s why you should dry cure your game meat:
Reason #1: Dry curing as a method of preservation
The dominant method of food preservation we use today (at least in this corner of the world) is refrigeration. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine what life would be like without a refrigerator in every household. And it makes perfect sense to use it: cooling your food slows down the growth of pathogenic and food spoilage bacteria. It slows down food rot.
But really? All it does is that. It slows down a negative process. It keeps bacteria from multiplying rapidly. It doesn’t do anything inherently “positive” to the food that you put in there (unless we’re talking about freezing cookies, because those are delicious). Often, refrigerating or freezing food will actually lead to negative results.
Foods that stay in the freezer for a long time pick up strange flavors, risk freezer burn, and can suffer from mushy texture after being thawed. Freezing your hunt for long-term storage isn’t a perfect solution.
Dry curing your meat, on the other hand, is a method of food preservation, where you salt and cure and hang your meat to dry in cool and humid conditions. After it has lost 30% of its weight, the meat is safe to eat without cooking. This whole process takes a while: depending on the project, your meat could take weeks or months to finish dry curing. For some, that may seem like a long hassle, but I say: better to have your meat hanging up to dry cure rather than slowly degrading in the freezer. If it’s going to take you a few months to get through your meat anyway, you might as well reserve some for your dry curing chamber.
Which leads us to . . .
Reason #2: Dry curing tastes better
During the process of dry curing, natural enzymes in the meat break down connective tissues and tenderize the meat. Beneficial bacteria and enzymes work together to improve the flavor. Dry curing changes the flavor of your meat in subtle ways, and makes it taste better. Not only that, but water loss from the drying process helps to intensify and concentrate flavors.
If you have brought home an animal that you yourself have hunted, then you know that the best way to honor that life and respect the animal that you have killed, is to prepare its meat properly. There are many ways to cook venison and keep it tasting good, but dry curing is more than just a good method of food preparation. Dry curing honors the meat that you have brought home by making it a focal point, by generating anticipation during the long cure, and by complementing (rather than masking) the flavor of your hunt.
If you want to do something special with the meat that you’ve taking home from a hunt, and if you want to find a way to enjoy every bite that comes from that cut, then you need to try dry curing.
Reason #3: Lean meats are good for dry curing
Many wild game animals are leaner than their commercial counterparts. Grain-fed and CAFO-finished cows have greater fat content and can be more forgiving when when it comes to cooking them. For the uninitiated, there can be a learning curve when it comes to cooking game animals. Of course, you can still make a great venison roast or steak without drying it out, but you need to change your methodology slightly.
When dry curing, there’s less of a learning curve for working with venison (or other wild game). Lean meats can dry-cure well (in the style of bresaola, for example). And if you want to make a salami out of your meat, it’s easy to add other meats or fats to supplement your wild game.
And here’s another bonus: there tend to be cuts of meat on your game animals that are full of sinews or silverskin or other tough parts. As long as you’re careful to cut off the silverskin, those cuts can still be great sources for making salami.
Honor your wild game: learn how to dry cure.
Next time you take down an animal, seriously consider making some elk bresaola or venison prosciutto or wild boar salami. Not familiar with the process of dry curing or making salami? Come check out our e-book. In one great source, you can learn everything you need to know to get you started dry curing and making your own salamis.
Let’s get started dry curing together! I can’t wait to see what you all end up making.