One of my funniest memories as a child involves a night when my father decided to cook us some steaks. The meat was awful, dry and chewy. Half way through the meal my father told us all that we were eating venison. My mother immediately started crying and yelled out, "You killed Bambi!" We still laugh about it to this day, but until last night, I had continued to refuse to eat venison.
We didn't quite kill Bambi to get the meat. Coyotes did. Living in the "wilderness" of Rhode Island has afforded us the opportunity to meet some amazing friends and neighbors. One such couple, Pete and Paula, recently heard a commotion behind their house in the middle of the night. After their dogs went out to investigate, Pete discovered a recently killed doe.
Given the low temperatures that night, the meat basically sat on ice until he was able to harvest it the next morning. He was kind enough to bring us by an amazing steak, so we gladly accepted it. I have begun to believe that there is no such thing as a "bad" food. Ingredients are what you make of them, and venison is no different. Many of the foods I thought I hated as a child and young adult I have found I actually enjoy when prepared differently. You should never let one bad experience spoil you to expanding your horizons. After tasting how amazing this steak was, I am extremely glad I took the chance on it.
Having no memory of what venison tasted like I had to rely on intuition and my sense of smell to pair the meat with appropriate spices, herbs and flavors. I marinated the steak for overnight to preserve its moisture and infuse it with simple flavors: garlic, sage, salt and pepper. Asparagus seemed to be the perfect compliment, again, simply prepared with just garlic, salt and pepper. I topped off the dish with a balsamic reduction.
Of course, the flavors will only get you part way there. With this meat, as with most steaks, the true key to developing rich flavor is in its preparation and cooking. Venison cooks extremely quickly, hence my father's tough, dry meal. Cooking this steak medium-rare resulted in a steak that melted in my mouth. It was exceptionally moist, perfectly charred on the outside and succulent on the inside. It truly put every beef steak I have had in my life to shame.
As many readers know, Jon has been a vegetarian for over a decade. He refused to eat any meat whatsoever until we started raising our own fowl. Since his objections to eating meat have always been rooted in issues with how the animals were treated in their life, being a part of the birth, life and death of the animals the feed us has helped him reconcile eating some meat.
The venison was no exception, given that it died naturally and was harvested sustainably. I sometimes think he is spoiled, because the meat that we raise ourselves (and this exceptional venison) has provided us with some of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten in my life. The complexity of flavors, based off the diverse, natural diet this deer fed on in its life, came through in the meat in a way that I have never really experienced with other forms of meat. If you are a hunter, or are fortunate enough to be given such a wonderful gift, please try this recipe. I promise you will be glad you did.
Recipe: Pan-Seared Venison Steak
- Venison Steak
- Olive Oil
- Balsamic reduction
- Dry steak with paper towels and liberally apply salt and pepper.
- Place steak into a bag or container, and add olive oil, sage and crushed garlic. Use as much sage, olive oil or garlic as you'd like.
- Refrigerate and marinate overnight.
- Heat skillet over heat until it barely starts to smoke then reduce heat.
- Add olive oil.
- Sear steak for 3 minutes on each side. You may need to put a splash screen over the skillet as the steak will splatter when the blood starts to release.
- Steak will be medium-rare after 3 minutes on each side.
- Drizzle with balsamic reduction.
Number of servings (yield): 2