The first thing I learned about processing deer was to trim all the silverskin away from the meat. For a long time I held the common belief that all that sinew was worthless and inedible. After many years of cooking with wild game, I’ve found that was a huge mistake.
Part of the reason I wanted silverskin gone was that I didn’t really understand what it is: connective tissue. That includes tendons, ligaments, and cartilage; silver or white sheets and strings that contain and connect muscle fibers to each other and the skeleton. Also often lumped in this group is the web or foam-like fascia that sits between muscles and the skin.
As an animal ages and increases its fitness, the connective tissue in those working muscles grows bigger and stronger to accommodate movement. The primary protein in connective tissue is collagen. It’s the same stuff health experts advise us to consume more often and the ingredient that makes bone broth so nutritious. In fact, collagen is a $4.5-million industry that experts project will continue to grow within the next decade as powdered supplements grow in popularity. Fortunately for hunters, wild animals have a ton of it naturally.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you start chewing on tendons to reap the health benefits. I just want to encourage you to keep the silverskin on tough cuts.
I have two main reasons. The first is that tissue can hold liquid inside the muscle fibers, imparting flavor and juices. The second reason to leave silverskin intact is because collagen converts into gelatin, which adds silky succulence to the meat and anything around it. It’s what makes osso buco so delicious! I have found that leaving silverskin attached to chunks of meat can counterbalance the lack of fat in wild game and act as insurance against high heat drying out your pot roast.
To convert the collagen in silverskin to gelatin you have to heat connective tissue above 180 degrees for an extended period of time. The best way to do it is cooking over low heat for several hours. You can do this by braising in the oven, stewing on the stove, or using a crockpot, pressure cooker, or sous vide device.
The problem with silverskin is that it becomes very tough when it first touches high heat. It takes quite a while for that collagen to break down. For example, a backstrap steak you toss on the hot grill with the silverskin left on will be pretty darn tough. In any situation where you want to sear a tender cut of meat quickly, you should trim off connective tissue and put it in the stockpot. Saving scraps of silverskin is my secret to creating rich, jello-like stock.
My rule of thumb is to keep the silverskin on and in the most active muscles on an animal, the ones that contain a lot of silverskin. Those include necks, shoulders, shanks, and some roasts on mammals and legs on birds.
Keeping connective tissue attached to the meat might also go against the way you were taught to process wild game. But silverskin isn’t the bad guy we’ve made it out to be. It adds significant value to your meal in terms of texture, taste, and nutrition.