How to seam butcher a deer’s hind leg

by John Selick, CEC, CCA

Farm to table. Local. Artisan. Chef driven.

These are terms that dominate the culinary scene today, but were never spoken when I first got into the business. Back then, buzz words had a lot to do with French Cuisine, words like “imported,” “tableside” and “French” dominated fine dining menus. But a change happened a while ago, and American chefs began embracing local ingredients that have defined what American Cuisine is today.

The shift from celebrating imported products to local ingredients like farm raised chickens and pigs has always made me wonder why venison isn’t more prominent on today’s menus. I live just outside of a major American city, and I see deer walking through my backyard all year long but have yet to see any chickens or pigs wander through. Every time I see the deer, I wonder why we don’t utilize this American ingredient more often on our menus. I also wonder what I can do to get the deer to stop eating my flowers.

I’ve actually never been hunting. Growing up in the city never gave me the opportunity to do so. I know a lot of people who do hunt, and they often bring me presents like homemade deer sausage and smokies. The backstraps are the prized possessions. Every hunter keeps these to themselves, but they love to share backstrap recipes. The rest of the animal seems to end up as grind or stew meat.

What if hunters approached the deer with a chef’s point of view? Would there be greater utilization of the neck and hind legs, which offer delicious cuts that are just as good as the backstraps?

I’ve had these discussions with Scott Burgun. He is a chef who cooks American cuisine; his menus feature seasonal ingredients from local farms. He is also a hunter. Our conversations over the years about deer butchering have inspired him to create dishes like venison chops, osso bucco, and sirloin roast for his friends and family. He sources his local products from his supplier for work. We know we should only offer products from reputable suppliers, so is it possible to encourage our vendors to offer a greater variety of local venison products?

Perhaps if chefs were more familiar with the animal, they’d know what they wanted out of it, and what to request from their vendors. So Chef Burgun and I decided to prepare a little demonstration.

Deer Butchering (2)

  1. A boning knife is all you need to do seam butchering of the hind leg. Chef Burgun uses a bone saw for the osso bucco.

Deer Butchering (6)

2. Use basic seam butchering techniques to remove the sirloin.

Deer Butchering (8)

3. Follow the seam to remove the sirloin tip.

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4. After the sirloin is removed from the leg, further removing of fat will be needed.

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5. Remove the silver skin. This steak is best cooked medium rare.

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6. The next cut is removing the top round.

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7. Let your knife follow the femur bone to remove the round.

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8. This cut is often butchered into smaller steaks, but would be great if trussed and used as a roast. It is also an ideal cut to be stuffed and rolled. Hunters traditionally bone out the entire leg and cut steaks from the round and sirloin, and then use everything else for grind or stew meat, but from a chef’s point of view, there is more use from the shank.

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9. The round tip is often used for jerky or stew meat, but is great slow roasted.

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10. This deer is on the small side (a big buck has eluded Chef Burgun once again). The shank is often cut up for stew meat, but braised slowly on the bone makes an impressive osso bucco. The femur can be used for a great deer stock. Any visible fat or silver skin should be removed from the cuts that are used for grilling or roast — they impart a gamey flavor.

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