The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Making Venison Prosciutto

April 4th, 2011 · 17 Comments · Posted in Recipes

Brined venison for prosciutto

Here’s a leg of venison looking like a mummy, all wrapped in cheescloth. In fact, this venison ham has been embalmed–so to speak–having cured for two weeks in a brine of salt, sugar and spices. This is one of two legs we received as a gift from neighbors who own a farm in Virginia. I was desperate for ways of preparing all that venison. The meat curing project I’m currently involved with–Charcutepalooza–came along just in time.

Regular readers will recall that I turned one of those venison hams into pastrami. My wife had some for dinner last night with sauerkraut and smothered in Swiss cheese. A couple minutes under the broiler and it’s come out better than your favorite deli pastrami-on-rye, except there’s no rye.

In my search for recipes involved cured venison I ran across an intriguing reference to venison prosciutto as described in The Hudson River Valley Cookbook, by a chef named Waldy Malouf. Normally prosciutto is made with a pork ham by covering the meat with a thick layer of coarse salt, then hanging the pork to dry for a year or two. Drying the ham results in that rich, dark meat we love sliced paper thin and wrapped around a piece of ripe melon.

After buying a copy of the book online at Amazon, I found that the method described by Malouf for venison is much different from the traditional pork prosciutto. The venison is first cured in a brine for two weeks, then wrapped in cheesecloth and hung to dry for just three weeks. Since I’ve never attempted this before, I have no idea what the final product will be like. I am flying on shear trust of Chef Malouf at this point.

Remove thigh bone from venison leg

First, remove the hip and thigh bone and trim off the shank bone up to the point where the meat starts. Then mix a brine consisting of 3 gallons of water, 2 pounds of kosher salt, 1 pound sugar, 2 sliced carrots, 2 large sliced onions, 6 sliced cloves garlic, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 6 bay leaves, 8 whole cloves, 2 tablespoons juniper berries slightly cursh and tablespoons black peppercorns. Boil the brine ingredients for 1/2 hour, then cool and refrigerate overnight.

Put the venison leg in a bucket or other suitable non-reactive container and pour the brine over it. Weigh the meat down with a ceramic plate so that it is completely submerged. Refrigerate for two weeks.

After the venison has cured in the brine for two weeks, remove the meat and wash it thoroughly under cold water, then soak the meat in cold water for 30 minutes. Pat the venison dry with paper towels, then rub it all over with a mix of 1/4 cup juniper berried, crushed and chopped, and 1/4 cup pepper corns, ground. Wrap the venison in multiple layers of cheese cloth (I used three packages), then tie securely with butchers twine at 2-inch intervals. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together and tie those off as well.

Hanging venison in back stairwell

Hang the venison in a cool, airy place for 21 days. I chose our back stairway leading to the garage, the same place I recently hung our pancetta. This is the kind of thing that should be done in cool weather, not the dead of summer.

I wish Malouf had explained why his venison prosciutto is made this way, instead of with the method used for pork hams. Three weeks of hanging to dry is a lot less than a year or two years. Perhaps one of our readers can illuminate.

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  • Mosaica

    I can’t WAIT to hear how this turns out! We have a lot of deer up here, and I occasionally run into some. Figuratively speaking 🙂

  • Ed Bruske

    Mosaica, hopefully we’ll be alive to tell about it.

  • Josh Marshak

    I am very interested in how this specific recipe turns out. I have seen it before and noted it with some apprehension as well, due to how it differs from tradition pork prosciutto protocols. I would be quite interested to know how it turns out.

  • nanook

    the hanging time is less because of two reasons one the lack of fat content in order for it to dry and two muscle denstity of deer is less thus the ability for air and salt to penetrate easier

  • Craig

    I am curious as everyone. Wondering if it wasn’t good- since nothing has been posted since April of 2011. I plan on trying this next year- regardless!

  • Ed Bruske

    It was raw–not prosciutto. I would not rely on this recipe. Procede at your own risk.

  • Meg Szczygiel

    Thank You for sharing this recipe. It turned out great!! Delicious. Top notch. We hung it on the side door of our fridge.

  • Eric

    I saw this same recipe with an additional smoking step at the end. It’s an old Scandinavian recipe.

  • Mark Constantino

    Turned out great! I unwrapped it after three weeks and it looks just like the images that I viewed online.

  • david

    I have just been given a hind leg from a samba deer and that sounds great so i will give it a go. I also buy a Venison salami at the Queen Victorian Market in Melbourne Australia and is delish. All the left over meat i will make a roasted root vegetables and Venison pies,

  • Janice knighten

    I am so doing this. this is my try new things year. My dandelion wine is working as I type.

  • Frank macera

    @ed bruske, all prosciutto is raw….it’s a crudo salumi, italian for raw cured meat, other famous raw cured meats, bresaola, pancetta, soppressata, cappocollo, cacciatore, ganciale, lardo, lardone, spalla, speck, and culatello just to name a few. Long as it’s properly cured, no black or green mold it is safe to eat raw. That prosciutto you wrap around a melon or that other Italian cured meat you like is most likely wrap, the salting and drying is what makes it safe, and I think I saw someone ask why lard is used, it’s to slow down moisture loss and to prevent cracking. Us Italians use black pepper cause the belief is it keeps the flies off our prosciutto.

  • Jared White

    I’m planning on giving this a go as soon as I acquire a deer. Do you think hanging in my attic would work? It’s your typical well ventilated seasonal temperature attic.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Ed Bruske

    Can’t say, Jared. Never done that. Use your best judgment.

  • Aaron

    Looks like an interesting method. I am starting a venison leg today. Has anyone else completed this recipe? Any advice or follow up from the original post?

  • paul

    I have just taken out an experimental venison leg steak of the salt tub I have had it in for the last 5 weeks . the smell is good, sweet salty with a good crust on it . I will be hanging it until the end of winter ( July) . I am aiming to wash the salt off with some good red wine vinegar and re hange for a day or two to dry . can any one see a problem with this method .

  • Trevor

    I would imagine the time difference is largely due to fat content in the meat and getting water out of it to prevent it getting rancid. Normal prosciutto is also freshly salted when hung after the initial weeping is accomplished.