Venison liver is one of those overlooked parts of the deer that often gets abandoned in the woods with the entrails. Don’t leave a big part of your harvest behind! Bring that deer liver home and cook it into nutrient-rich meals.
We live in a neighborhood of hunters, where the deer population is thick and everyone’s got a hunting stand set up on their back forty.
Early one morning in hunting season, my husband went out to feed the boiler and came back in with an armload of deer organs…and just like that we gained a reputation in the neighborhood.
A neighbor had shot a deer from his stand and tracked its trail all the way to our house. He was cleaning it when my husband went out, and about to discard the “pluck” or heart/liver/lungs.
“You’re really going to just leave that?” My husband asked.
“You’re really going to eat that?!?!?” The neighbor replied, handing him the whole mass.
Ever since that day, anytime a hunting neighbor takes a deer within a half-mile of here, they’ll stop by our house to drop off the heart and liver.
If you’ve never eaten the “fifth quarter” of your deer harvest, you’re missing out. Venison heart is a true delicacy, like the most tender steak you’ve ever eaten.
I’ll admit, eating deer liver takes a stronger constitution, but if prepared properly it’s both delicious and incredibly nutritious
Preparing Venison Liver for Cooking
Deer liver has a flavor similar to other types of liver, only a bit more intense. If you’ve eaten calves liver and enjoyed it, there’s a good chance you’ll like venison liver if prepared properly.
Start by cutting the liver away from the other “pluck,” or heart and lungs, and washing it thoroughly with cool water. Usually, when you’re handling an animal liver you need to carefully cut away the bright green bile duct, but deer actually don’t have a gall bladder, so you can skip that step.
Slice the liver into cutlets. This increases the surface area, which allows you to trim out any veins or other gristly tissue. It also will allow blood to seep out of all the tiny capillaries throughout the liver.
Next, soak the liver in either water, saltwater, or milk. I generally go with raw milk from a farm down the road because it has small amounts of natural probiotics in it.
Cultured dairy is said to be the best for soaking liver, and if you’re using regular pasteurized milk, try adding a tablespoon of plain yogurt or cultured buttermilk. We’ll soak liver slices overnight in the refrigerator, submerged in milk.
Forager chef suggests using water instead,
“First, the liver is soaked. Typically you’ll see liver being purged in milk, which is good too, but when the livers are from venison, I’ll probably soak them in a few washes of water, similar to how I leech the tannins from acorns. The more washes you do, the more flavor will get washed away–for better or for worse.”
Others suggest saltwater, adding a tablespoon or two of salt to a gallon of water for a soak. I’ve even heard some people add a bit of acid, such as a few tablespoons of lemon juice or cider vinegar.
Regardless of what you use, it’s helping to draw out blood from the liver tissues and mellow the flavor.
Soaking is optional, and you can technically just eat the liver as is…it puts more hair on your chest that way. Still, we’re not that hardcore, and would strongly suggest a refrigerated soak (for at least an hour, if not 12-24), especially if you’re trying deer liver for the first time.
Once the liver is soaked, rinse off the soak and dry it. Now you’re ready to cook deer liver!
Venison Liver and Onions
The simplest deer liver recipe has got to be venison liver and onions.
There are a couple of different ways to do it, either plain or dredged in flour for more browning.
Heat a pan with a bit of oil, and brown a sliced onion.
Dredge the liver slices in seasoned flour (with a bit of salt, pepper, onion/garlic powder, and paprika), or simply leave the slices plain and un-dredged.
Add a dab more oil to the pan, and fry the liver slices over a hot fire until firm. This should take no more than 2-4 minutes per side.
You can eat the venison liver and onions like this on a plate, or you can create gravy from the pan drippings and a bit of beer as they do in this liver and onions with beer gravy recipe.
Venison Liver Pâté
Personally, we skip the gravy and the dredge when frying venison liver and onions because only about half of it is going to be eaten as is on a plate.
The rest of the fried deer liver is going to be processed into homemade venison liver pâté.
We make venison liver pâté by placing fried onions and liver slices into a food processor. It’s then blended with spices, cream and/or butter, and a bit of brandy or cognac.
I really like adapting this recipe for chicken liver pate with thyme and cognac, and it works beautifully with deer liver.
Packed tightly into small jars and sealed with a layer of butter, venison liver pâté will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. I imagine in a technical sense it’ll keep longer, but always try to eat it quickly.
Once you’re ready to eat a jar, use a butter knife to crack into the butter seal at the top of the pâté jar. Spread it onto crackers or toast, or whatever you’d like really.
You can even use it as a spread on a sandwich, as you would with soft liverwurst.
If you want a perfectly smooth pate, you can put the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve before finishing, but we usually skip it and go with a more rustic texture. It is deer liver after all!
Venison Liver Recipes
While simple fried liver and onions, or a gourmet venison pate are our favorite preparations, there are all manner of creative ways to cook a deer liver.
I’m always blown away with the amazing work of today’s wild food chefs, and there are some incredible deer liver recipes out there these days…everything from appetizers to dessert.
Yes, I said deer liver desserts…
- Venison Braunshweiger (Liver Dumplings) ~ Forager Chef
- Venison Liverwurst ~ Venison Thursday
- Deer Haggis ~ Food Network
- Venison Cajun Dirty Rice ~ Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
- Venison Hunters’ Hash ~ All Recipes
- British Venison Meatballs (Faggots) ~ Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
- Venison Liver with Mushrooms & Cream Sauce ~ Broken Arrow Ranch
- Chargrilled Venison Liver ~ Fur, Feather & Finn
- Sweet & Savory Venison Creme Carmel (Dessert) ~ Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
Looking for more wild cooking ideas?
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- 40+ Squirrel Recipes
- Fatwax (Animal Fat Salve)
- How to Render Squirrel Fat (for Cookies!)
- How to Clean and Gut a Groundhog
- Buttermilk Fried Groundhog
- How to Eat Crow (Literally)