Harvest Kitchen Series: Deer Bacon Haluski
Like most readers, I’m not a master chef — just a guy who loves to hunt, fish, and eat what he harvests. If success afield and family schedule allows, this series will highlight a new game or fish dish each month. I’ll cover all the details from take to table, and everyone will benefit with a collection of easy, everyday meals harvested from nature’s pantry and celebrated in the home kitchen.
The dawn of a new deer season always sparks a motivation to use up all those venison morsels in the freezer you’ve been saving for a special occasion from the previous year. Essentially, you’re optimistically making room for the next deer while enjoying a delicious meal and memory. Recently, it was some cubed deer bacon I had processed and vacuum sealed late last January from a big fat doe taken during the late archery season that I decided to turn into a Polish-inspired masterpiece.
While hunting a field edge on one of the coldest evenings of the winter, a seemingly never-ending caravan of deer filtered out into the clearing, and I picked out a hefty mature doe to fill my 5B antlerless tag and warm my shaking extremities with some good old-fashioned heart pumping that comes with making a vital hit and hearing the deer expire within earshot.
In butchering the deer later that night, I noticed she had a fair amount of flank meat on the outside of her ribcage, which easily separated from the bone. I carved it out and reserved it for a little experiment I found online via foragerchef.com for real cured and smoked deer bacon.
The bacon, which can be cubed for use in chilis, soups, stews, and other applications, keeps well in a freezer, so I was all in to give it a try!
I neatly trimmed off most of the fat and mixed up the cure, which consisted of eight ounces of brown sugar, four ounces of kosher salt, 20 grams of pink curing salt, one teaspoon black pepper and a half teaspoon each of cloves, all-spice and grated nutmeg. This was applied to all sides of the meat as a dry rub, and it was left to cure in the refrigerator for several days. I then smoked it with hickory wood at 225 for about four hours, allowed it to cool, and diced it into small cubes for packaging and freezing.
Fast forward several months, and I pulled from my garden multiple large heads of red cabbage, as well as red onions, and I was hungry for some Polish-style haluski, which is a popular dish in northern Schuylkill County where many folks have central European roots.
It’s very easy to make, and extremely tasty. First, I diced up several handfuls of cabbage and a small red onion. Then, I threw a half stick of butter into a deep-sided frying pan and sauteed the smoked deer bacon bits to release the flavors. Next the onions were dropped in to become translucent, and the cabbage followed shortly thereafter until it was well wilted and glazed with all the other ingredients, as well as some fresh ground black pepper.
In a separate bowl, a bag of egg noodles was brought to boil according to packaging instructions and drained of its water. Then I combined the pan of meat and sauteed veggies with the noodles and mixed thoroughly before serving.
The Table Takeaway
This meal was one of my favorites of the entire year. Not only do I love haluski to begin with, but it was super fun to try making something I had never attempted before in the deer bacon and have it turn out surprisingly well. I’m always looking for unique ways to utilize less popular cuts, so this was really cool to make use of something that often ends up being ground or thrown in the scrap bucket.
It really wasn’t difficult to do- just took some extra time, which was time well spent based on the results. The smokiness and saltiness of the cubed bacon blended perfectly with the rich flavor of the butter and onions, while the unique taste and texture of the red cabbage balanced it out and brought it all home.
I highly recommend it if you have access to a smoker and want to try something different with this year’s deer harvest. You won’t be disappointed.