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Posted January 21, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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What's for dinner? Deer meat can replace beef in many dishes, residents say

Kathy Norman cooks venison
Kathy Norman, of Middletown, adds vinegar to ground venison as she browns the meat. She says the vinegar takes the gamey taste out of deer meat. Dennis Grundman/Daily

venison chili
The Normans use venison for almost any recipe that calls for beef, like this bowl of Mrs. Norman's venison chili. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Sally Voth -- Daily Staff Writer

You've heard, "It tastes like chicken." Well, some cooks in the Northern Shenandoah Valley are more apt to say, "It tastes just like beef."

"It" is venison.

"I don't buy any beef," says Tammie McIntyre, of Front Royal. "The only meat I buy is like chicken and pork and that's it."

Instead, she uses deer burger for just about every meal that typically calls for beef.

"I can make lasagna, chili, soup, anything," McIntyre says. "I just use the deer burger and I put all my seasonings in it. Really, nobody can tell the difference. They think it's regular hamburger. They would never know if I didn't tell them.

"Yesterday, I made a big pot of deer soup, vegetable soup. I just did some of my deer tenderloin."

She learned to cook with venison from her mother and brother and has been doing so for a quarter-century. McIntyre uses a hybrid recipe for her lasagna specialty.

"I use some of my mom's stuff in it," she says. "Then, I use some of my brother's stuff in it, and I combine the two [sets of] ingredients together."

McIntyre recalls setting an extra plate for her older son's friends.

"His friends used to come to the house, and they used to ask, 'What are you making?' because they couldn't wait for me to make lasagna," she says.

McIntyre's husband hunts the deer, and then he processes it with a friend. When her older son was still at home, they'd have between six and eight deer a year.

"I don't buy any beef," she says.

For her son's wedding rehearsal dinner, McIntyre made deer lasagna.

"That's what they wanted, and nobody knew the difference," she says. "Some of the girls then went, 'Ugh! Yuck!' But, they ate it and loved it at the time."

Over in Middletown, Kathy Norman also notices how venison can masquerade as beef.

"If people didn't know they were eating venison, if I didn't tell them, they would never know," she says.

Norman has been cooking deer meat meals for nearly 20 years, ever since she met her husband, Whitey, who "always had venison around."

"My 10-year-old son is now the hunter of the family," she says. "My son got three deer this year."

Like McIntyre, Norman substitutes ground deer for ground beef.

She uses it for "everything -- spaghetti and lasagna and sloppy joes and soups and stews -- I interchange it with what I would use for beef, really."

The Normans grind their own venison.

"We stumbled upon a really good grinder," she says. "We finally got a really good one just short of an industrial-strength one. It grinds up so quickly that it's become really easy to process for us. After 17 years of doing this, my husband and I have this down to a science."

One of the first things Norman's husband does is cut some of the tenderloin off and put it on the camp stove.

"We will cook up some fresh tenderloin and butter to eat while we're butchering, and the rest will be packaged," she says.

The tenderloin goes on the grill or gets sautéed. They also make a great deal of deer jerky.

"I very rarely buy ground beef," Norman says. "I will buy a good beef roast once in a while, but for the most part, we mostly just eat the venison, especially now when you can't afford to go to the grocery store.

"I think it's healthier. There's not an ounce of fat on it. My husband cuts out any fat that's there. I think when people eat venison and go, 'Oh, I don't like it,' we believe it's because it wasn't processed correctly."

Her husband is sure to cut off the outer layer of the meat that can leave a film in your mouth.

"It's a credit to his butchering that his venison comes out so well," Norman says.

Another trick for removing any leftover gamey taste is to put a little bit of vinegar in the pan toward the end of browning ground deer meat, she says. Or, you can marinate it first, like they do with soy sauce when they make shish kabobs.

The Normans have instilled in their son that deer are to be killed primarily for the nourishment they provide.

"It's nice to have those antlers, but you can't eat antlers, is what my husband always says," she explains.

Contact Sally Voth at svoth@nvdaily.com

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