“Caller reported a dead deer at the side of the road. Caller reported hitting a deer on Whatever Road. Caller says an injured deer is in their yard.”
It happens every year about this time; dead or injured deer incidents increase substantially, and some drivers are no doubt upset, perhaps even angry about the expense involved in repairing their vehicles after such an encounter. How can hitting one relatively small deer create so much damage.
We who live on this over-deer-populated island learn quickly always to be on the watch, especially at certain times of the day or night, for deer at the side of the road.
The sudden glint of eyes in the headlights, a shadowy figure turned to a statue in the center of the road as the lights hit, we’ve all been there.
But, come fall, the need for vigilance on our part is greatly increased, because suddenly the deer themselves are less vigilant, more careless, even reckless in their behavior.
Why? It’s called “the rutting season,” and it only occurred to me to write about this phenomenon because I happened to remark to a much younger friend that the deer were going nuts again and I’d almost hit one, thanks to the rut. She gave me a puzzled look and said, “What’s the rut; what does it have do to with hitting deer?” I realized then that even though most island residents are aware of the many deer inhabiting this island with us, there may be some drivers out there unaware of what happens when fall comes, and “the rut” occurs.
To put it as basically as I’m able, in October/November, male deer, aka bucks, need sex. The bucks have a brand new set of antlers and are feeling their oats, as the saying goes, and have only one thing on their little minds. (If you’ve ever seen a deer’s brain, believe me, it’s little for an animal that size.) They need to find a doe and they don’t care which one it is. Any other time of the year, it’s not easy to spot a buck; they are very wary and keep themselves pretty well hidden in the woods.
Come the rutting season, however, he’s out there, chasing that cute little flip tail he spotted munching grass at the side of the road, or anything else he can find on four hooves that looks like a ready doe.
Just as you’re proceeding down the tree-lined road, a doe dashes across in front of you. You brake and slow, and as your eyes follow her to the other side, you heave a sigh of relief that you didn’t hit her, unaware that there’s another one bursting out of the trees, bounding after her, oblivious to your approach. It’s a buck, he has eyes for only one thing, and it’s on the other side disappearing into the trees. He’s intent on catching her, and the only question is, can you fully stop before he ends up on your hood or fender.
That, gentle readers, is “the rut.” And if you’re driving any roads in wooded areas at this time of year, you need to know about it, because that buck doesn’t give one hoot that your vehicle could take him out of his chase forever in a matter of seconds. You will spend far longer than that dealing with your automobile insurance company.
Ain’t sex grand?
Those of you who are regular readers already know of my affection for venison (deer meat), so it’s obvious these recipes will be for one of my favorite red meats, but most emphatically not road kill. I’d feel awful if I took out Bambi just as he was about to overtake Faline.
(Note: Daube is French for “meat braised in red wine,” i.e., stew)
4 bacon slices, chopped
1 venison roast, cut into 1½ inch cubes (or beef chuck roast if you have no venison)
3 T. flour
1 T. olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 T. ground coriander
2 t. ground cumin
½ t. ground black pepper
1½ cups chicken broth
½ cup dry red wine
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Cook bacon in a heavy, large pot over med. heat until fat has rendered and bacon is crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels; reserve the pot with the drippings.
Sprinkle venison with salt and pepper, dust with flour, tossing to coat. Working in batches, cook venison in the bacon drippings over med.-high heat until browned (about 4-5 min. per batch). Transfer venison to a bowl. Add oil, onion and garlic to the pot; sauté over med. heat until just beginning to brown (about 8 min.) Return venison with any accumulated juices to the pot along with coriander, cumin and pepper. Stir 2 min. to blend, then add chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Cover pot and transfer to a preheated 325-degree oven and braise the venison for 45 min.
Remove pot from oven, add wine, return to oven and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly (about 40 min.) Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle with cilantro and reserved bacon; serve. Serves 6.
Note: This is excellent served with lightly buttered noodles or garlic mashed potatoes, or best of all at this time of year, fresh chanterelle risotto.
VENISON STEAKS IN CHANTERELLE SAUCE
6 T. unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
½ lb. fresh chanterelle mushrooms, cut into
¼-inch thick slices
½ cup veal or beef stock (homemade, if possible)
1 cup heavy cream
1½ lbs. venison steaks, ½-inch thick (cut from tenderloin or sirloin)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup flour
1 T. (or as much as needed) vegetable oil
Sprigs of parsley, for garnish
Heat 3 T. of the butter in a heavy saucepan over med. heat. When foam subsides, add shallot; sauté, stirring occasionally, until shallot starts to brown (about
3 min.) Add mushrooms, increase heat to high and toss mushrooms and shallot until hot. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mushrooms begin to soften. Add stock, increase heat to high and boil for 1 min. Add cream, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to med.-low, simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 min. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.
Sprinkle both sides of venison with salt and pepper. Spread flour on waxed paper and coat steaks, one at a time, with flour. Shake off excess so only a fine dust of flour remains.
Heat remaining 3 T. butter and 1 T. oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. When foam subsides, add as many steaks as will fit in one layer without crowding. Sauté
3 min. on each side for med.-rare (venison will be quite pink and juicy; longer cooking may dry it out quite a bit). Transfer to a platter and keep warm in oven while you sauté remaining venison, adding butter and oil as needed.
Quickly heat the mushroom sauce to boiling. Ladle half over the venison and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately, with remaining sauce on the side. Serves 4.
Venison and cranberries are made for each other; use dried sweetened cranberries with this mouth-watering stew. It is also delicious with dried prunes or apricots, however.
VENISON STEW WITH WILD RICE
½ lb. sliced bacon
2½ lbs. venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
Flour, for dredging
1 cup dry red wine
1 T. ground fennel seed (or to taste)
4 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
2 onions, cut in med. thick slices
5 garlic cloves, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 quarts water (for cooking rice)
1½ cups wild rice, rinsed
4 T. unsalted butter
1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit of choice)
Minced fresh parsley, for garnish
In a large skillet, cook the bacon until almost crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. When cool, coarsely chop. Remove half of the bacon fat to a large pot.
Dredge the meat in flour. Heat the bacon fat in the pot and brown the meat over high heat until brown on all sides. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping all the good stuff off the bottom of the pan, until the wine has evaporated. Add the fennel and beef stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until the meat is very tender, about 2½-3 hrs.
Meanwhile, cook the onions in the remaining bacon fat in the first pan, over high heat for 10 min., stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, reduce heat and cook over low heat for 30 min. (be sure not to burn the garlic). When the meat is tender, add the onions, garlic and the bacon. Season to taste.
In a stockpot, bring the water to a boil, add the wild rice and cook for 40 to
45 min., or until the grains have “burst.” Drain thoroughly in a colander. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the dried fruit and cook for 2 min. Add the rice and toss (use a fork); season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the stew on a bed of the rice, garnished with minced parsley.