For many Mainers, November passes as a down month with plummeting temps, somber grays, browns and conifer greens, and oblique sun angles with long shadows even at noon. Despite it all, deer hunters love this month of woodland quiet. Many birds have flown south, and the open landscape with leafless trees makes year-round fauna more furtive. Most mammals prove nocturnal anyway, but this month they really turn into night owls.

The one upside to this time of year involves long days afield filled with anticipation of seeing deer at any moment, and venison for winter can mean leisurely evening meals. After the sun sets in late afternoon, the full darkness, warm, well-lit kitchen and candlelit dining room make the world feel cozy and festive as we prepare and serve meals.

Many folks dislike venison, but I suspect they have eaten poorly prepared dishes. Well-prepared venison can reach gourmet heights; simple recipes rank as comfort dishes – like venison chili or venison in a red-wine sauce over linguine.

Here’s another fun recipe that kids love – breaded venison cutlets from a young, tender deer. With a sharp knife, slice steaks or boned cutlets into thin pieces, lay them on a cutting board and pound the meat with the edge of a heavy saucer, which breaks fibers down for added tenderness.

Then gather the following: Two cutlets per person, 1 cup of flour, 1 to 2 cups of bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste, 2 lightly beaten eggs, 4 tablespoons of butter, preferably clarified, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Put the butter and oil into a heavy skillet and place on a low heat. Next, pour the flour into a paper bag, beat the eggs in a bowl and put the bread crumbs onto a plate. Add salt to taste for all three ingredients and put pepper in the flour. I like dill or crushed rosemary in the bread crumbs.

Turn the heat to medium-low to medium, hot enough so the butter/oil bubble. Flour the meat and shake off excess. When the pan is hot enough, dip the cutlets into the egg, roll in breadcrumbs and cook on both sides to a golden brown. If the cook clarifies the butter, it is less apt to burn.

Swedish potatoes make a good side dish that children love. First, gather elongated baking potatoes such as russets, a sharp French knife and two wooden spoons. Peel, wash and dry the potatoes and lay one at a time between the spoon handles. Make very thin slices across each potato, and the spoons stop the knife from going all the way through. When cooking, the slices flare outwardly and brown well on the edges – fancy.

Place potatoes in a metal baking dish, baste with melted butter and dill, salt and pepper to taste and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the slices brown to golden. (Baste lightly with butter as it bakes.) This is such a simple recipe, but it requires practice to perfect the right thinness of the slices so the potatoes spread out well and brown. Serve the cutlets and Swedish potatoes with Brussels sprouts or frenched string beans, French bread and a Bordeaux Graves.

Here’s an interesting recipe I learned in my teens while watching the “Galloping Gourmet” on TV. Lay tender venison slices 1/2- to 3/4-inches thick on a cutting board, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and then pound the seasoning into both sides of the meat. Next, dust with dill.

As the venison lies on the board and warms to room temperature, place a sauteing pan over a medium-low heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and clarify. Next, as the clarified butter bubbles, put the steaks into the pan and cook 41/2 minutes per side for rare, 6 minutes for medium and 8 minutes for well. I do not recommend eating venison rare – but I do it.

Salt pounded into the meat gives it a buttery-dill taste. Because of the clarified butter and medium-low heat, the steaks may look more poached than sauteed, but the taste will make diners forget.

Whether someone cuts up a deer or buys beef or lamb, here’s a tip:

Cuts from lower legs, a hindquarter or forward shoulder tend to be tough because they are locomotion muscles. Meat along the backbone stays tender – better for breaded cutlet or any recipe requiring a quick cooking time. Tough meat needs long simmering times to break the fibers down.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

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