I unwrapped a parcel of butcher’s paper and peeled back the edges, revealing an icy rectangle of purpled meat. There was a whiff of frostburned flesh, quickly overwhelmed by the intense, earthy odor of game. No doubt – this was MEAT, from a goddamn ANIMAL that had romped around every day in a forest before meeting its end on a lonely country highway. I stared at it for a few minutes, wondering about the life and death of this particular deer (“young and tender,” according to the letters inscribed in Sharpie on the paper). Here I was, about to cook this thing and feed it to my family. Had it been haunted by some terrifying parasite? What make and manner of vehicle had done it in? Was its ending quick, or did it linger on in protracted agony? My appetite, already blunted by the nonstop onslaught of Thanksgiving dinners, vanished entirely.
But no – I had made the journey to visit the Roadkill King in his Carcosa-esque abode outside of Lecompton, Kansas, just to get this parcel. He had shared his hunt with me, in his words, and it was a generous gift from someone of little means. My father, who has some of the most stringent and inexplicable dietary quibbles on the planet, was looking forward to eating this deer. I would cook this deer. I would swallow my revulsion.
“Marinate it in some buttermilk. That’ll help with the smell.”
Whatever you say, Yellow – I mean, Roadkill King. But my father’s refrigerator did not contain any buttermilk. What was I going to do, run out to the store to get buttermilk in which to soak meat reclaimed from the road? Hell no! I made instant buttermilk by souring two cups of milk with two tablespoons of vinegar.
The King’s instructions had made no mention of time frame, so I turned to Chef Google to help me:
“… the only way I have found to remove the gamey taste is to soak it overnight in buttermilk.”
Overnight?! For fuck’s sake. I told Dad to curb his Bambi enthusiasm and that we would reconvene in the morning.
At sunrise, I crept upstairs, blasted the hood fan on high, and unwrapped the foil covering of the marinade. I did not think it could look any worse than it did than before I put it in the fridge, but no – I beheld in the vessel before me chunks of dark-grayish black masses, suspended in chalky pinkish hell-puke. The horror was overwhelming, but I was too far gone on this deer train. At least the smell had waned in intensity, or my nose was habituating. I plucked each brackish gob out of the brine and dried it on paper towels.
“Roll the meat around in seasoned flour.”
All right, so it seems the Roadkill King has a much better-stocked pantry than my dad. We had no regular flour, only some expired rice powder stuff for frying tempura (Asian family shoutout), so I rolled with that and some salt and pepper. I prepared another bowl with some curry seasoning in the mix, but kept them separate because I wasn’t sure if combining two things that independently smell like body odor was wise (maybe the stinks would just cancel each other out?)
“Throw ‘em in a pan over medium heat, with about 1/8th of an inch of oil.”
Oil! My dad did in fact have oil. Of the extra virgin olive variety, which everyone knows is stupid to fry with, but whatever it was close enough! This deer died to give me sustenance; I could surely withstand a few oil-splatter burns.
“Wait until the flour on top turns red. Flip it over, count to ten slowly. Take it out right away, put it on paper towels to drain.”
How slowly? Am I using the Mississippi counting method? I had some trouble with this step, namely that the meat was clinging to the pan like a second chance at life, and also that the stupid EVOO was smoking hot. Oh, and the heat had reactivated the deer odor, and it was seeping into my nostrils, hair and clothes. I had envisioned serving this on a bed of rice and herbs with maybe a nice side dish, but after frying the last medallion of deer meat, I wanted nothing more to do with it. I ran away to shower and launder all my clothes, and let my stepmom do the rest.
“This would be good in a sandwich,” she said. The dirty work out of the way, she assembled the remains into a quite passable banh mi – using ciabatta I had brought down from Lawrence (Wheat Fields, stop by if you ever find yourself there, no I’m not getting paid for this endorsement), a thin layer of mayonnaise, cilantro, pickled carrots and radish. She wrapped it up and packed it in a lunch bag for me to take to the airport, so that I would have something to eat at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport besides McDonald’s. Later I was grateful for my stepmother’s intervention, and happily munched away while watching people and planes take off, hoping that the smell-radius was minimal (this is why I did not eat it on the actual plane).
Now that I have actually tried deer meat, I can confidently say that I really do not care for it. It’s a lot like beef, maybe, but from a very sweaty cow that had gone way overboard with CrossFit in its life. After steeping it in buttermilk overnight, masking it with seasonings and burying it deep within the forgiving folds of a banh mi, it was … not bad. I did not think it was better than a regular old pork or chicken banh mi. And honestly, I would probably rather forgo eating meat entirely than go through the process of preparing and eating venison again, but – I did not retch it up in the airport.
And, to be fair, this sandwich was a far more tasteful recognition of a prematurely ended life, than the fate that had befallen its counterpart in Baltimore. I enjoyed my visit home, but am happy to be back in my new environs – both locales are lovingly bizarre in their own special ways.
Recipe for Roadkill Banh Mi
(serves four, or however many people you can snooker into eating roadkill)
- venison (preferably locally sourced from a nearby highway), of indeterminate amount. let’s face it, if you are in possession of venison you probably have way too much anyways, so just prepare whatever amount you can reasonably tolerate.
- 1 cup flour
- 2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk and 2 tbsps vinegar)
- one loaf of crusty bread – baguette is preferable, but ciabatta will do in a pinch
- cilantro to taste (omit if you have genetic flaws that render you incapable of liking delicious plants)
- pickled daikon radish
- pickled carrots
- (optional) seasonings for the flour. How about some Old Bay?
Buttermilk brine: gently heat the buttermilk until warm, but not boiling. Add two tablespoons of salt. Stir until dissolved. Let cool.
Venison: Cut the venison into finger length strips. (Don’t cut your fingers; that is not an acceptable substitute). Soak the venison in buttermilk overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, take the venison out of the fridge and let come up to room temperature. While that is happening, in a big bowl, stir a cup of flour with your optional seasonings (or just a pinch of salt and pepper if you want to go old school with your roadkill).
Heat some oil in a saucepan to medium high. When the oil starts to sizzle, take one of the venison strips out of the buttermilk, dip into the flour mixture, and put it in the pan. Do about four – five strips at once (take care not to overcrowd the pan).
When the flour on top is red, that means the devil is pleased. Flip it! Count to ten slowly, backwards. This will spook that Satan right out of the meat. Once you’re done counting, immediately remove the meat and drain on paper towels somewhere away from the portal to Hell.
Sandwich assembly: Cut the baguette into four parts, and slice those parts open lengthwise. Toast these.
Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one side of the baguette. Stuff as many pickled daikon radishes, carrots and cilantro as you like (really, load it up if you are perturbed by the aroma of cooked deer). Load up the baguette with the cooked venison strips. Et voila! Best eaten while sitting in a terminal waiting for a flight to somewhere else.
(Special thanks to Michial “Roadkill King” Coffman, and my dear friend Isa Kretschmer, who helped connect me to Coffman, and also came along for the ride to Carcosa.)
Kim Le is a writer and shiftless gadabout who hails from the distant wheat fields of Kansas. Obsessions include sustainability, extreme DIY and the macabre. Also, she makes sculptures out of food, mostly potatoes. She never updates her blog at http://badmetaphor.net.