Deer hunting season is upon us. And whether you shoot your own deer or drive to your local butcher shop and buy domesticated deer, it would be helpful to know how to cook this uncommon meat. Although a bit strong for some, venison is considered by most to be a delicacy. And to keep it delicate, here are a few ideas.

The key to sweet-tasting venison is the speed in which you can dress, skin and cool a freshly killed deer. Long rides with your prize on the front of your Bronco are therefore not suggested.

Most cooks are not prepared for the sight of a whole animal brought straight from the kill. For those shocked beyond movement, it is a good idea to call your nearest butcher and deliver it there for skinning, aging and sectioning into cuts for the freezer.

The most desirable cuts for roasts are the saddle, the rack and the haunch or leg. Be careful not to overcook venison; it tastes best served on the rare side. Natural accompaniments are fruit and berry jellies or sauces to match the deer's habitat.

As venison is naturally lean it will need larding or barding (covering completely with a 1/4-inch layer of salt pork or bacon) before cooking. Cut all fat from the meat, as it grows rancid quickly.

James Beard, who offers quite a bit of advice for preparing game in his cookbooks, suggests in his "Theory and Practice of Good Cooking" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984) this marinade for older and tougher meat: Combine carrot, peeled and cut into julienne strips; 1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced; 1 rib of celery, cut into small pieces; 1 garlic clove, peeled; several sprigs of parsley; 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme; 1 bay leaf; 1 teaspoon dried summer savory; 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; 1/2 cup olive or peanut oil; 1/2 cup red wine vinegar; and 1 bottle of dry red wine; and marinate any cut of venison for roasting in the mixture for two to five days, turning it once or twice a day.

For those who would like to taste game, but not hunt, there is commercially raised venison. Much of it is sold frozen and must be thawed thoroughly before cooking. Thaw the meat in the original wrapper in the refrigerator. One-inch steaks will take about 12 hours, small roasts 3 to 4 hours per pound and large roasts 4 to 6 hours per pound.

You can prepare venison much as you would beef or pork. Along with roasts and steaks you can ground the meat into sausages and burgers or chop it into chilies and stews. In his "The New James Beard" (Alfred. A. Knopf, 1981), Beard offers his special recipe for venison hamburgers. Mix 2 pounds of venison, ground with about 20 percent beef fat, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and form into 4 large or 8 small patties. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy skillet, add the patties and saute' over fairly high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn and brown for 5 minutes or more on the second side to taste.

So if you're hunting this season or just want to part take in a winter feast, try this recipe from L'Auberge Provencale. With butter, salt and pepper in your cupboard it's just a quick run through the express lane.

Express Lane List: oyster mushrooms, shallots, rosemary, veal stock, marsala wine, venison


6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter

1/3 pound oyster mushrooms (you can substitute morels, shiitake or other mushrooms), chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

1 small bunch fresh rosemary, leaves only

1/2 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pounds venison loin, cleaned and cut into four portions (your butcher can do this for you)

3 tablespoons oil

2 cups veal stock

1/2 cup marsala wine

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon shallots, and rosemary. Saute' gently for 1 minute. Add water, salt and pepper. Place lid on skillet and cook for 4 minutes on low to medium heat. Let cool.

With a thin, sharp knife, make an incision lengthwise in each loin about 1 inch deep. Stuff opening with mushroom mixture. Fold loin over and tie with cotton string. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in oven-proof skillet over high heat. Place loins in skillet and sear both sides until lightly browned. Place skillet in preheated 375-degree oven and cook for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm on a hot plate.

Wipe skillet with clean, lint-free cloth such as cheesecloth. Add 2 tablespoons butter, remaining shallots, veal stock and marsala. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half. Remove from heat and incorporate remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

Untie loins, slice fairly thin and arrange in half circle on plate. Pour sauce around slices. Garnish with rosemary. Serve immediately.

From: "Historic Virginia Inns: A Cook's Tour," by M'Layne Murphy (Cardinal Productions Inc., 1986)