Venison Backstrap

The hunter's filet mignon.

“He that strikes the venison first shall be the lord o’ the feast.” Shakespeare, King Lear

Though I come from a family of hunters, my experience of venison was for a long time limited to those rusty-red, rock-hard rings of dry-cured meat we called simply “deer sausage.” I never did take a shine to the stuff, the consumption of which calls to mind Linda West Eckhardt’s instructions in her Only Texas Cookbook : “Slice off small bites and chew and chew and chew.”

But now’s as good a time as any to branch out, for in keeping with the tenets of our culinary zeitgeist—organic, local, sustainable—the “other red meat” is experiencing a resurgence of sorts. Texas abounds in the spry quadrupeds, free-ranging their way through hill, dale, and windshield and renewing themselves with twitterpated abandon. Best of all, their flesh is lean and blessedly free of the antibiotics and hormones that riddle much of the rest of our meat supply. 

This recipe, from Jesse Griffiths’s beautiful new cookbook, Afield, makes use of the backstrap, the so-called filet mignon of deer. More than likely you’ll know just where to get ahold of some, but if not, check out Broken Arrow Ranch, in Ingram, purveyor of sustainably harvested wild game to star chefs and novice cooks alike. Or you can take your chances with whatever happens to be in the back of Uncle Fred’s freezer. 

Grilled Venison Loin With Horseradish Cream

1.5 to 2 pounds venison loin, trimmed of silver skin
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons freshly grated or prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons chopped fresh
chives or parsley
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix herbs with the olive oil, then spread all over the meat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make a hot fire in a charcoal grill or set a gas grill on high. Grill the meat on one side, without moving it, 4 to 5 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees to make grill marks and char more surface area. Flip the loin and cook 4 to 5 minutes more. It should have a deep-brown char on the outside but still be rare on the inside. Transfer to a warm plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Mix the crème fraîche, horseradish, chives, lemon juice, and zest in a small bowl and season with salt. Serve the loin, thinly sliced against the grain, with the sauce.

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