If you are a hunter who lives by the ethos that you should try a new cut of meat every time you kill a deer, it could be easy to quickly run out of ideas. Ribs, shanks, necks, and brisket are all delicious additions to the typical quarters and backstraps, but at some point, you’ll have to start looking inward for new ideas. Into the guts of the deer, that is.
If there is one hunting tradition that spans cultures and generations, it is saving the heart and eating it first. The heart is a hard-working muscular organ, so it is similar in taste and texture to meat. However, because it is cardiac muscle rather than skeletal muscle, it does not go through rigor mortis like the rest of the body and does not have to be aged before being eaten. Not only is heart delicious and straightforward to prepare, but it also contains folate, iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins essential for our own heart health.
The easiest way to prepare the heart is to cut off the aorta, fat, and hard connective tissue from the top and then slice the heart in half. With a knife, remove the many small heart strings and clean out any remaining blood. Heart can be eaten as grilled steaks or cut into strips for kabobs or bulgogi. For those still unsure about eating organ meats, I have found that grinding the heart in with my burger is an easy and delicious way to incorporate organ meats into nearly all my meals.
Despite what recent trends in liver consumption might lead you to believe, social media vloggers did not discover the benefits of eating liver. Liver consumption has occurred for millennia and was often the first organ eaten from an animal. It is one of the most nutritionally dense foods available to humans (animals also tend to eat organ meats first). The liver contains iron, folate, copper, vitamin A, and vitamin B.
When gutting a deer, the liver will be on the animal’s right side, connected to the spine and the diaphragm. Cutting through the liver will not damage it, but avoid the gallbladder, which is full of bile and can tear easily. Much like the heart, the liver can be sliced for grilling, searing, or for those still unsure of organ meats, ground in with burger.
Now for something a little different. The tongue is another organ that has gained recognition recently, possibly due to the rising popularity of lengua in many Mexican dishes. Despite its unique reputation, tongue can be used in various dishes, from braising for tacos to pan-frying or searing and topping with chimichurri. Tongue is high in zinc, iron, choline, and fatty acids.
To remove the tongue, begin by cutting into the underside of the animal’s chin and skinning the flesh away from the bottom jaw. Then make cuts on either side of the inside of the bottom jaw, between the teeth and the tongue. Pull the tongue out through the bottom of the jaw and cut it off an inch or two before the throat begins. To be rendered edible, the tongue will first have to be simmered in water for about 4 hours and then placed in an ice bath, after which the outer layer of skin can be peeled away.
Saving intestines is not for the faint of heart or those short on time, but they will make some of the best natural sausage casings you’ll ever use. Any natural sausage casing you buy from a butcher shop is made from the intestines of hogs or sheep, so it isn’t too crazy to imagine making your own casings from the guts of your deer, antelope, wild hog, caribou, or even moose. The smaller the animal, the smaller the casings; deer intestines would be suitable for breakfast sausage, while a moose intestine might make decent summer sausage.
Saving intestines involves a lot of work, but it is worth it in the end. Identify the small intestine and, without being too aggressive, give it a good tug away from the membrane it is attached to. It should begin to unravel without tearing. The intestines should then be emptied of all fecal matter, rinsed out, turned inside-out, and scraped clean. For a more thorough explanation of how to harvest intestines, you can refer to my previous article, How to Make Sausage Casings out of Intestines.
The stomach may be one of the final frontiers for modern-day hunters saving organs. Deer, like other ruminants, have four stomach chambers. The different stomachs work to ferment grass and turn it into a food source that the body can absorb. The four stomachs, in order, are called the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. Tripe can be made from all four chambers, and each one will look different on the plate. The most popular types of tripe for culinary uses are rumen tripe (book tripe), reticulum tripe (honeycomb tripe), and omasum tripe (book tripe).
Fortunately for anyone hoping to cook tripe, most of what you will find in the stomachs is mostly grass. The stinkier stuff doesn’t occur until a little further down the line. To clean the tripe, empty the stomach of its contents, turn it inside out and give it a rigorous rinse. The stomach lining will still be dark, but all loose stomach contents should be cleaned out. Soak the tripe in simmering water for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a cold-water bath or the sink, where you should be able to scrape the remaining stomach contents off with your fingers or a knife. You can also use coarse salt and white vinegar to remove impurities. Repeat the process as necessary until the tripe is pale yellow. To create white tripe, it must be soaked in a chlorine or bleach solution. The tripe can then be cut into strips or squares and used in classic dishes such as menudo, pho, and trippa alla Romana, or (my favorite) simply deep fried.