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Wild Game Cooking: Have a (Deer) Heart!

Deer hunters, save the heart of that deer you harvest this season! Don’t just toss it in the gut pile for the crows and coyotes to eat, unless it is shot.

Why?

Because the heart of a wild, free-ranging deer is “muscle meat” and is as good as a piece of tenderloin! Master chefs and outdoor enthusiasts such as Andrew Zimmern, Hank Shaw, Ben Ford, Toufik Halimi and Krissie Mason all tout the filet mignon-like succulence of venison heart. Packed with B vitamins and protein, with little fat, and a very mild flavor, venison heart is positively delicious if properly cared for and prepared!

The most important thing to do with a deer heart in the field is to get it chilled promptly. Put the heart in a zip plastic bag immediately after field dressing and then place the bag containing the heart on ice in a cooler. It can stay on ice and remain fresh for about 48 to 72 hours. Once home, the trimming and cleaning process of the heart begins (see recipe below).

Deer heart is actually simple to make, is best eaten fresh not frozen, at least within a couple days of the harvest, and should be cooked medium rare to medium. I’m sure there are as many ways to prepare a deer heart as there are hunters, but here is my Mother’s super-tasty, easy recipe for wild venison heart that has been popular with our Wagner Family for years. I encourage you to give it a try!

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This is a lean, moist deer heart that is ready to eat! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Marge Wagner’s Wild Venison Heart

Trim fat and membranes, wash and clean heart well by hand with cold water (The heart can be kept whole or cut in half lengthwise). Be sure to squeeze it several times to pump the remaining blood out of the valves and arteries. Soak/marinate in a flavorful liquid such as Italian salad dressing or balsamic vinegar in Ziploc bag for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.

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Italian salad dressing is being added to a deer heart in a Ziploc bag for soaking/marinating purposes. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Place in cooking bag and pour one 1 can of cream of mushroom soup or 1 can of cream of celery soup over the deer heart. Then, sprinkle it with 2-3 tablespoons of dried onion soup mix. Pepper to taste. Tie bag shut. Make 4-6 one-half inch slits on top of cooking bag for some air release. Put in cake pan or foil boat. Bake in oven at 325 degrees for two hours. Let rest a bit, slice.

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Marge Wagner (Greg Wagner’s mother) is shown here slicing a deer heart for the dinner table. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska game and Parks Commission.

Serve and enjoy! The heart feeds about two people or can be used as a fun appetizer for your dinner guests.

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Delicious sliced deer heart ready to be consumed! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Interesting fact: Native Americans believed by eating the heart of a deer that the hunter would gain the animal’s strength, courage, and spirit.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media sites, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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