On the topic of meat processing, there are several post-hunt options. Some hunters love the chase, but not the meat, and will gladly donate their animal to a local food bank. Others enjoy eating wild game but prefer their butcher does the cutting and wrapping. And finally, there are the hunters who find satisfaction in personally breaking down their animal into roasts, burger, filets, and sausage. Yet many home butchers overlook the offal when field dressing an animal. As a result, a lot of potentially good eating gets discarded.
Offal is considered the waste or by-products of an animal when we field dress and process it for consumption. It is the trimmings of the belly, head, tail, and hide. It is the viscera of the animal, the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, and caul fat. It is the brain, sweet breads, and testicles. It is the parts that some cultures would never use because it is taboo. It is the parts of the animals that other cultures learned how to use in fascinating ways such as brain-tanned hides and sausage casings from the intestines. All kinds of unique things can come from the use of the offal, and some very tasty things as well.
Hunters that include offal in their resumé of good food often consider the heart as one of the most desirable parts to bring home. Those of us who love the heart understand. If you haven’t tried some battered and fried heart, you really should.
The liver is another part that some hunters enjoy. For years I turned my nose up to it, because apparently I had never properly prepared liver. However, I finally decided to give liver a renewed effort and made it in a way that sounded appetizing to me. I was not disappointed. The liver will never be left in the field again.
The caul fat is one of my favorite offal offerings. The caul fat is the greater omentum of all mammals. It is a lacy fat that wraps around the guts of an animal keeping it in place and separating the internal organs from the inside body cavity. It is called the lace fat, or crépine, and since it doesn’t render well it can be used to encase sausages, roulades, meat loaves, and other specialty meat offerings. The next time you field dress your animal, take notice of the caul fat. You may never have actually noticed it all these years. And if you enjoy making trophy meals out of your animal, take the caul fat and place it in a little plastic bag or in an empty cup from your truck and wash it gently when you get home. Then roll it up and freeze it. You can take it out and peel off a layer and then save the rest for later. The “ah-ha” factor of caul fat is large!
Do we want to talk about the testicles? Or should we just leave that alone? Gotta do it. Rocky Mountain oysters are Rocky Mountain oysters, no matter what they come from. Take home a pair, clean them up, slice thin, batter thick, and make a really good “oyster” sandwich. Let your conscience or curiosity be your guide.
When it comes to birds, the neck, gizzard, liver, and heart are all delicious. The hunters that just breast their birds and leave the legs, carcass, and offal behind are missing out. There are so many wonderful things you can do with what is typically considered waste.
So, give offal a try. Have a hide tanned for decoration or a rug, or try brain tanning it yourself. Make some heart bites or heart fajitas Make an “oyster” sandwich. Wrap a hamburger in caul fat before you fry it, or wrap your meatloaf in it. It really makes a nice presentation. And if you like liver and onions, the following recipe is a winner. Even if you don’t think you like liver, you might like this!
Fried Liver and Onion Gravy
• 1-2 pounds venison liver, sliced very thin
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 2 tsp. corn starch
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tbsp. cooking oil
• 1 tbsp. butter
If the liver is fresh, place it in the freezer for one hour before slicing. This just makes it easier to make nice, clean, thin slices ¼ to ½ inch in thickness.
Place all the liver in a Ziploc bag with the two cups of buttermilk. This improves the texture and removes any smell of urine, if there is any.
Remove from the bag in two hours, or overnight, and pat dry. Sprinkle the corn starch lightly over each side of the liver slices. The corn starch will help create a nice, crusty caramelization to the sliced liver. Season with salt and pepper.
Fry in cooking oil and a couple pats of butter until crispy and done. You will know it is done when the liquids from the inside of the liver slice quit rising to the top. Serve with Onion Gravy.
• 2 thinly sliced sweet onions
• 3 tbsp. butter
• 2 tsp. brown sugar
• 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 1 cup of Guinness stout beer
• 3 cups beef broth or 3 cups water with 1 heaping tbsp. beef bouillon (Better than Bouillon)
• 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
• Salt and pepper to taste
Heat up the butter and sugar in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they start to brown. Stir occasionally for 30 minutes.
When the onions have softened and turned a light brown, add the flour, and stir until well combined and continue to cook for two additional minutes.
Add the beer, beef broth, Dijon and Worcestershire. Stir until well mixed and the gravy starts to thicken. Continue to heat on medium until the gravy has thickened. If it is too thick, add a bit of water. Salt and pepper to taste.