Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Canning Meat: Where Science Meets Patience

Canning is one of those fading kitchen arts that risks being underutilized to point of extinction, tossed to the side to make room for the "quick and easy." But canning can be incredibly rewarding, and it can free up significant space in your freezer. So let's take a few minutes and learn about canning meats.

My almost-90-year-old grandmother still tends a vegetable garden in upstate New York, and what she doesn't eat fresh from that garden she cans. When my dad harvests deer from her fields, he, too, cans most of the meat. This is why I treasure the canning process.

This past weekend, I collected about 12 quarts of stew meat cuts while butchering my elk. I'll freeze a couple quarts, and I'm canning the rest this evening. In fact, as I'm writing this post, I'm waiting for my pressure canner to slowly calm down after a lengthy canning process.

If you've never canned anything before, you'll need a few items: a 22-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner, a Canning Jar Lifter and some canning jars. And I highly recommend these two reading resources: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the Web site, National Center for Home Food Preservation.

But the most important tool in the kitchen for this process is a touch of patience.

To can your game meat, decide if you want to "hot pack" or "raw pack." I suggest "hot packing" venison stew chunks because it's about the safest way to can meat, especially game meat that has been in the field and butchered at home.

A "hot pack" essentially means pre-cooking the meat before you can it, and "raw pack" is just what it sounds like, packing raw meat into the jars and then canning it.

To get started, heat up your frying pan with a little oil and start sauteing a quart-sized jar's worth of meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees F. Fill your hot jars with the meat, loosely (note: canning meat does not require sterilized jars, like canning vegetables. In most cases, jars fresh out of the dishwasher cycle will work perfectly). The jars should be hot, however, because you'll be adding hot liquids to them and you don't want them to break.

Add a teaspoon of salt per one-quart jar of meat and then pour hot water, tomato juice or broth over the meat, leaving about an inch of head space. Screw on the lid until tight by hand (don't over-tighten!).

A 22-quart pressure canner will hold five quart jars per canning session. Fill your pressure canner with 2-3 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Place five filled jars in the canner, with the provided canning rack at the bottom of the pot. Make sure none of the jars are touching each other or the sides of the canner.

Close and lock the lid according to your manufacturer's guidelines. Leave the weight off the pressure valve for now. Bring the burner up to a medium-high and wait until steam pours out of the pressure valve at a steady pace. Let the steam vent for 10 minutes, which removes the excess air from the canner and allows the meat to cook at a higher than normal temperature.

After the steam has vented for 10 minutes, place your weighted pressure guage over the pressure valve. Use the right weight for your altitude, jar size, style of pack and cut of meat (Generally, it's the 10 lb. weight if you live between 0-1,000 feet and the 15 lb. weight if you live above 1,000 feet). Again, refer to the mentioned resources and your manufacturer's specifications.

Let the pressure build again, maintaining at least a medium boiling temperature, until the weighted gauge begins to rock steadily. At this point you begin timing your canning process. Again, depending on your jar size and cut of meat, you'll likely be canning for 75 minutes for pint jars and 90 minutes for quart jars.

Maintain a steady temperature, and only adjust the temp lower if the gauge is rocking violently. After you've timed your canning process, turn off the heat and let the pressure canner return to normal on its own. Do not try to quicken the process by removing the gauge prematurely, and definitely don't open your canner until you can safely remove the guage and let the canner sit for an additional two minutes, venting through the open valve. Remove the lid slowly and let the jars cool to room temperature at their own pace. Within a couple hours, you may hear a distinct "popping" noise that indicates your canning was successful and lids are sunk in tightly.

After the jars have completely cooled, you can rinse off their sides and store them in your cupboard!

I love using canned venison for my Sloppy Doe's recipe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Elk on the Menu!

I've spent the last two days elbow-deep in elk meat from the cow I shot (pictured above). I shot it a week ago and have been letting the quarters age in my garage. Elk and venison meat are much more tender if you can let the animal age for 7-10 days after the kill, but this can only be done if the meat can always remain around 45 degrees or lower, or you risk spoilage.

The first dish I prepared from this elk was cooking up its tenderloins the next day in a little salt and butter. Truly delicious!

Cow elk average a live weight of around 500 pounds, and dressing an animal usually yields around 50-60 percent of its live weight. On my cow, I've probably got at least 200 pounds of meat to process. Tomorrow I'll dive into the hind quarters, which are teeming with prime cuts. I've already marinated and froze steaks from the two backstraps (using my trusty FoodSaver).

My process for dressing deer and elk is simple: eat the tenderloins within 48 hours, steak out as much as you possibly can, keep both rump roasts in tact, cube and can what you can't steak, and grind what you can't can. With the ground meats I make summer and breakfast sausages, beef jerky and hamburgers. I use canned meat for chili and Sloppy Doe's.

If I don't get a duck or goose before Thanksgiving, I'll be preparing an elk rump roast. I just discovered a new meat rub blend, which I'll try before I share, but for Turkey Day, I'm going with this recipe.

Apple Cider Roast
8 lbs. boneless elk roast
4 Tbls. butter, softened
2 Tbls. Dijon mustard
4 Tbls. packed brown sugar
2 Tbls. cracked black pepper
2 tps. dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
2 tps. kosher salt
2 large onions, sliced
1 1/2 c. apple cider (or juice)
2 Tbls. pickle juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. While oven is preheating, rinse roast and pat dry. In a bowl, blend together butter and Dijon mustard and spread on all sides of the roast. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, pepper, rosemary and salt; sprinkle mixture evenly over roast, patting into butter.

Place roast on rack in a roasting pan. Scatter onion slices over roast. Pour apple cider and pickle juice into bottom of roasting pan. Cover with foil and cook until roast is done to your preference (see chart below). Let roast stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Doneness Chart (internal temperature)
Rare 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit
Medium-rare 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit
Medium 140-145 degrees Fahrenheit
Medium-well 150-155 degrees Fahrenheit
Well-done 155-160 degrees Fahrenheit

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Product Review: Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System

Last week I ordered the Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System., and every day since it arrived I've been searching the house for knives I can sharpen on it, simply because it's that good.

The last five years I've been collecting knives and collecting sharpening systems. The knives I've been happy with, but the sharpening systems, by and large, are just taking up space in my kitchen drawers.

The Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System. is very similar to a system my Dad always used when I was a kid. I can picture him clearly sitting at our oak kitchen table with his knives arranged nicely on a small towel, while the hint of honing oil lingered until dinner.

What using this system has taught me is that sometimes you should stick with what you know. The Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System. consists of three stones: Coarse, Medium and Fine. The system also comes with a trial bottle of honing oil and a small plastic 23-degree sharpening guide. (I also ordered a large bottle of Lansky Nathan's Natural Honing Oil when I ordered the system, and I'm glad I did because the trial bottle didn't last long).

The 23-degree sharpening guide isn't very useful for anything other than getting a "feel" for the right angle. Believe me, it won't take long to master.

Most of the knives I sharpened started on the Medium stone and finished nicely on the Fine stone. Several knives attained an edge sharp enough to shave hair off my arm. One of the selling points of the Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System. is its ability to polish an edge while producing one. I don't know how important of a feature this is, but I certainly didn't notice anything unsightly when I finished sharpening a knife.

The only down side is that I felt I had to rinse off the stone every time between knives because of the buildup. I didn't remember my Dad having to do this. On the flip side, however, is that the base is made of plastic (my Dad's was wood) so I didn't have to worry about its resistance to constant washing.

I highly recommend the Smith's TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System.. My knives are sharper than they've ever been. I only hope my fingers don't pay the price!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hunter's Stew with Baked Pumpkin

Over a week ago I made a substantial batch of fresh pumpkin butter (pictured above) out of a few pre-Halloween pie pumpkins we bought from a local farm. My family grew up making pumpkin butter at least every other autumn. For two days our house was filled with the smells of pumpkin pie spices. We invited friends and family to help us can dozens of pints of the sweet and spreadable deliciousness (best on made-from-scratch biscuits).

I'm sorry, but I won't be giving out my family's secret pumpkin butter recipe anytime soon, but I do have a great recipe I'll be using soon because I have a few leftover pumpkins. This recipe comes from a 2001 issue of Sports Afield.

Hunter's Stew with Baked Pumpkin

1 lb. of venison, cut in 1" cubes and dusted with flour (but any red game meat can be substituted)
1 lb. duck thighs, boned and cut in 1" cubes and dusted with flour (I'm going to use ruffed grouse)
1/2 lb. pork loin cut in 1" cubes and dusted with flour
1/2 lb. of your favorite spicy sausage cut in 1/4-1/2" chunks
1/2 lb. sweet butter
1 Tbl. minced garlic
1 large onion, minced
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 c. red wine
1 c. beef or chicken broth
1 c. peeled potato, cut in 1/4" cubes
1 c. turnips, cut in 1/4" cubes
1 c. rutabaga, cut in 1/4" cubes
1 c. baby carrots
1 c. peas (fresh or frozen)
16 oz. stewed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbl. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt

Baked Pumpkin:
2 c. raw pumpkin (or squash) cut in 1" cubes
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 c. maple syrup (or honey)

Directions for Stew:
In a large stock pot, melt butter and brown venison, duck and pork, separately. Set meat aside and saute onion, celery and garlic for five minutes. Add wine and stock to deglaze the pan. After bringing liquid to a boil, add the browned meats and sausage. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, covered, for an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls or over buttered noodles. Garnish with Baked Pumpkin.

Directions for Baked Pumpkin:
Begin preparing pumpkin 30 minutes before the stew is finished. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large saucepan, melt butter and add maple syrup. Bring to a slow boil and then add pumpkin cubes. Remove from heat and transfer to a buttered, covered casserole dish and bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Serves six to eight generously.
Baked Whole Pumpkin on Foodista