All you vegetarians out there look away. But you carnivores stay with me. Even if you’ve never eaten venison and don’t plan to. This recipe can easily be made with beef tenderloin as well. Truth be told, I’d don’t go searching out venison. It always comes finding me. The first time was many years ago on my way to work when a deer hit my car. I was determined to catch the train and continue my commute to New York, so I called my husband to alert the police. It’s a long story, but bottom line is my husband did in fact alert the police but also obtained a “permit to possess an accidentally killed deer.” I guess you know where this is going.
Yes, he and our son heaved the carcass into the trunk of the car and took it home, a deed I didn’t find out about until a few days later when “Sal the butcher” called. Sal had butchered the beast, but before doing so, it had to be gutted, he told them. Though neither my husband nor my son had ever performed such a task, my son was certainly savvy when it came to surfing the web. A few clicks pulled up the very useful “How To Field Dress A Deer.” A corner of our backyard served as the gutting ground, followed by a drive to Sal’s shop, resulting in a winter where venison made a frequent appearance at the dinner table and a springtime where the daffodils in that corner of the yard never bloomed so profusely.
Sounds appalling to some I know, and I was freaked out when I first found out what they had done. But little goes to waste in our house – from leftover bread crusts to rinsed-out baggies. And you should know that my husband is a scavenger who pulls cast-offs from other people’s trash and turns them to treasure. At one point we had seven working lawn mowers in our garage, all rescued from someone’s garbage. So after the initial shock subsided, I came to the realization that leaving the freshly killed deer on the side of the road really would have been wasteful. Besides, what creative cook doesn’t want to experiment with new and unusual ingredients once in a while?
Thankfully, Bambi and her ilk don’t come crashing into my car on a regular basis. But my hunter-gatherer brother does head to the Pocono Mountains each year to hunt with his buddies. The irony is that his wife is a vegetarian, so I’m the lucky recipient of his bounty – or at least some of it.
This year he brought me a couple of venison tenderloins – the filet mignon of the animal - as well as a whole leg that I’ll braise and post about later. This is the same recipe I made years ago with the road kill deer my husband and son seized. At the time, I called a few friends to invite them to dinner without telling them what I planned to serve. I just asked them if they had “adventurous” appetites. To a person, they said “yes.”
Fast forward to the dinner party, where I prepared the venison in a red-wine reduction sauce with porcini mushrooms, accompanied by polenta and sweet and sour red cabbage. I do not exaggerate when I say people were asking for seconds. It was not an inexpensive meal though. I figured after paying for the car repairs from the deer damage, the venison cost me about $85 a pound. Are you game? Let me know and I’ll steer my car in the right direction. You just have to pay my deductible.
Start by marinating the venison tenderloins in some good red wine and other ingredients (recipe below).
Drain the liquid from the meat, and chop up some vegetables. Put everything in a saucepan, add a few more ingredients and cook down, reducing the liquid. Strain out all the veggies and herbs, reserving the liquid.
Pat the meat dry, then place in a cast iron or other oven-proof skillet along with some butter and brown it on all sides. Place the skillet with the meat in the oven and roast for about eight minutes for medium rare.
Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan and add the porcini mushrooms and a few other ingredients and let it reduce further.
Pour around the meat and serve.
Venison Tenderloin cooked in Red Wine with Porcini Mushrooms
venison tenderloins (I had two that weighed about 11 ounces each – enough to serve about six to eight people)
for the marinade:
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (take your pick – anything from an expensive bordeaux to a less expensive merlot or shiraz will do)
8 juniper berries
a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic
Let the meat marinate a couple of hours, or overnight preferably. Drain the marinade and set aside. Pat the meat dry.
1 1/2 cup minced onion
1 or 2 carrots, chopped
3 T. olive oil
1 cup chicken or beef stock (I prefer chicken, but you may like the more robust flavor of the beef stock)
dried porcini mushrooms
4 T. butter for sauteeing venison
juice of one lemon
2 T. brandy
2 T. butter
1/4 c. cream (optional)
a few drops kitchen bouquet
salt and pepper
Pour the olive oil into a skillet and saute the onions and carrots until soft. Pour in the reserved marinade, making sure to add the juniper berries and other ingredients. Add the chicken or beef stock. Let this mixture cook down and reduce a bit on medium high heat, for about 15 to 20 minutes. The liquid will not be really thick yet. Strain out the vegetables, but reserve the liquid.
Place the butter in a heavy skillet or cast iron pan. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the juice of one lemon. Saute the meat in the skillet, turning on all sides until it’s browned. Put the entire pan into a 350 degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on whether you like your meat medium rare or medium. Remove from the oven and keep the meat covered on a warm platter while you finish the sauce.
Deglaze the bits of meat that remain on the inside of the cast iron skillet, by straining the liquid from the porcini mushrooms into the pan and adding them to the pan, scraping up the bits on the bottom. Add the porcini mushrooms as well, and all the liquid from the first pan (the one with the marinade and chicken stock). Cook it at high heat until it reduces. Lower the heat and add the brandy and two tablespoons of butter. If you want a creamier sauce, add 1/4 cup cream. Add the kitchen bouquet to get a darker color sauce. Taste the sauce and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.