Back home in Pencil Bluff, the air getting crisper and evenings growing shorter means that it's nearly hunting season.
When I was growing up we used to get out of school for the first two days after modern gun season opened for deer so everyone could get those extra days in. It was called "Deer Break," although the name has since changed to "Fall Break," according to the school's online calendar.
The local newspaper will soon be filled with photographs of hunters posing next to their bucks. Children who killed deer during last weekend's youth hunt usually get their own page.
Saturday marks the beginning of modern gun season for deer in most zones across Arkansas. The season closes at the beginning of December.
Squirrel have been in season since the middle of May and the season continues until the end of February.
For a complete calendar of Arkansas hunting season, visit agfc.com/en/hunting.
The following recipes are a conglomeration of family recipes and recipes I created; none of them are too work-intensive.
Both of the squirrel recipes are best cooked with legs, as eating ribs is tricky with such a small animal. The venison steak recipes are fine if you cook the meat as soon as you thaw it, but may taste better if soaked in salt water for an hour or two before preparing. Soaking the steak makes the meat taste a little less gamy.
A basic soaking brine for any meat (including domestic) is 2 to 4 tablespoons salt to 1 quart water. Be sure to dissolve the salt before adding the meat.
1 pound of squirrel pieces (bone in or out)
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups water
2 cups brown sugar, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups soy sauce, plus more as needed
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1/2 white onion
Rice, optional for serving
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Season squirrel pieces with salt.
In a medium pot, combine seasoned squirrel and water. Bring to a boil; cook 8 minutes or until squirrel is light brown on the outside and tender.
In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar and soy sauce. Mixture should have consistency of syrup. Add more soy sauce or brown sugar as needed.
Mince the garlic and add it to the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture. Set aside about 1/4 cup.
Remove squirrel from water, add it to the remaining soy sauce-brown sugar mixture. Stir well, coating squirrel pieces.
Dice onion and add it to the squirrel mixture. Stir well. Pour mixture into a loaf pan.
Bake 10 minutes. Add the reserved soy sauce-brown sugar mixture and bake 10 minutes more.
Serve over a bed of rice, if desired.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
2 ½ cups frozen hash browns
1 to 1 ½ pounds of bone-in squirrel pieces (legs are the easiest for removing the meat)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 (10 ¾-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
¾ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
2 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided use
1 cup crushed sour cream and onion potato chips
1 (3-ounce) can fried onions
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Set hash browns out to thaw.
Meanwhile, place squirrel pieces in a 2 to 3 quart pan. Season lightly with salt and add pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squirrel is tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove squirrel from water and cool. Remove meat from bone and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine undiluted soup, sour cream, milk and 1 1/4 cups of the cheddar cheese.
Spread about 3/4 of the soup mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle thawed hash browns over mixture and press lightly. Add squirrel meat. Spread remaining soup mixture over top.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese and all of the potato chips.
Bake for 1 hour or until bubbly. Check to see that cheese is not getting too brown. If it is, cover pan with foil and finish baking.
Sprinkle onions over top and bake 5 to 7 minutes more or until lightly browned.
Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Smothered Venison Steak
1 pound venison steak
1 green bell pepper
1 yellow onion
6 to 8 mushrooms
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's seasoning
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 serrano pepper
Rice, for serving
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut meat into 1/2 inch thick bite-size pieces. Place meat in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Slice vegetables. Layer them over the meat.
Mix seasonings in a bowl. Stir in cream of mushroom soup.
Mince serrano pepper. (Be sure to wash your hands afterward and avoid touching your eyes or face.)
Add pepper to soup mixture. Pour over meat and vegetables, making sure to cover. Cover pan with foil.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until meat is brown all the way through and vegetables are tender.
Serve over rice, if desired.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Venison Pepper Steak
2 pounds venison steak
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can unsalted tomatoes with liquid
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup shortening or oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 bell peppers, cut in strips
Rice, for serving
Freeze venison until partly frozen. If it is already frozen, remove from freezer and let thaw until still firm but slices easily.
Slice venison into thin strips and cut into bite-sized lengths.
Combine flour and pepper in a 1-gallon zip-close bag. Add venison and shake well to coat venison.
In medium bowl, combine tomatoes with juice, water, garlic powder, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce; set aside.
Heat shortening or oil in large skillet or chicken fryer on medium heat.
When grease is hot, stir-fry venison, onion and green peppers. (Reserve remaining flour in bag.)
When meat is done and vegetables are tender, remove from skillet. If there is any flour left in the bag, add it to the pan drippings in the skillet and stir until browned. Add tomato mixture to skillet, stirring until smooth.
If too thick, add a little water. If too thin, whisk together about 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon flour into small bowl. Combine well and add to skillet.
Taste and adjust for salt as necessary.
Serve over rice.
Makes 5 to 6 servings.
1 pound ground venison
1 to 2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon crushed dried basil
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups milk
6 ounces grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups chopped kale
About 8 ounces angel hair pasta
Parsley, for garnish
Place venison on a plate or in a bowl.
Mix together the Old Bay, crushed basil, black pepper and salt. Sprinkle mixture over meat; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Cut cream cheese into tablespoon-size chunks. Add cream cheese to melted butter and whisk until smooth. Add milk a little bit at a time, whisking away lumps. Stir in parmesan. Let cook, stirring often until it reaches the right consistency. It will thicken quickly as you cook it. If too thick, add milk to thin. Set alfredo sauce aside. (If you don't want to make sauce from scratch, a jar or can of prepared sauce such as Ragu will also work.)
In a large skillet, cook the seasoned meat until browned. When it is almost done, pause to drain off the grease.
Add kale to the drained meat and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, or until the leaves are soft.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
Serve meat and sauce over noodles, adding a sprinkle of parmesan and parsley for garnish.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Food on 11/08/2017
Print Headline: The game plan: Five ways to prepare your hunting season bounty at home