I eat a lot of meat, but I’m not much of a hunter. I know plenty about butchery and processing animals though, so when I got my first charity deer year, one of the first cuts I knew I would take out was the breast, which I’ve never, if rarely seen people mention when processing deer/venison. Mostly, I see breast meat stripped off, ground, or left on the carcass for the birds.
I hadn’t heard of breasts either until my farm partners at Shepherd Song sent me some from lamb and goat to work with a few years ago. Not having any idea of how to cook this bony, fatty, awkward piece of meat, I cooked it and picked the meat off, then whipped up a rice bowl with it, which was great, but I was missing out on a real triumph of meat fabrication.
After I dug through a couple old books of mine looking for ideas for how to cook breast, I stumbled across a preparation for lamb that was a gift from the heavens: slow braising, then carefully removing the bones, pressing to compact the meat and fat, chilling, then cutting into pieces, breading and grilling or baking. It was love at first bite.
When I harvested and butchered my first lambs that year, I put the pieces together of how to remove the breast myself (it’s easy with a hand-saw), and after that I was primed to tackle the young buck my friend gave me all by myself.
I knew the first thing I wanted to do was taste the breast, so I could tell for myself how applicable the technique could be with venison. I knew the meat would be just fine, but I was a little worried about the fat, since there’re a fair amount on the breast, and with venison, you can be rolling the dice a little.
Luckily the buck I had was very young, and although the fat smelled, like venison fat, a little taste made me suspect it would work out, and it did. The key to cooking the breasts is pressing them, which compacts the meat, but also helps press excess rendered fat out to give it a better mouthfeel. The preparation is a classic french one typically used with lamb: cooked, pressed, chilled, cut into cubes, brushed with mustard, then worked in a 3-stage breading to make crispy deer nuggets. If you’re a hunter and you’ve always stripped the meat off the breast, or if you butcher pigs, lambs or goats, definitely give it a shot sometime.
Venison Breast Pressé with Mustard and Breadcrumbs
- 1 venison breast
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Dijon mustard I used homemade but thats another post
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 dried bay leaf
- Cooking oil or lard
- 1/4 cup each: small diced carrot onion and celery (optional)
- Season the breast liberally with salt and pepper, then rub with the garlic and thyme and allow to marinate in the fridge, preferably overnight, but a couple hours will do.
- Preheat the oven to 250.
- If the breast is too large to fit in a pan, carefully cut in half with a cleaver. Trim the venison breast of as much fat as you can with a sharp paring knife, it doesn't have to be perfect. Put the venison breast, vegetables, bay and 3 cups of water in a baking dish, then cover with foil. Bake for 1.5 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. Remove the pan from the oven and cool until you can handle them.
- Carefully remove the bones and any sinewy tissue you wouldn't want to chew on. It's important to keep the breast as whole as possible. Wrap the breast tightly in plastic, then put in a pan, put a weight like a brick wrapped in foil or another heavy pan like cast iron on top, and refrigerate until chilled. If it's fall or winter, and 30ish degrees outside, you might do this in an unheated garage or another similar cold place to avoid annoying your significant other by hogging fridge space.
- When the breasts are chilled and compact, set up a station with a bowl of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Remove the breasts from the fridge and cut into bite-sized squares or triangles, then dip, using a wet hand and a dry hand, in the flour, egg, and finally breadcrumbs. Bake, grill, or saute the breast pieces. The breaded breast can also be frozen at this point and cooked straight from the freezer in the oven.