Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oh Deer! Roast Venison Loin

One of my recent "manias" some would say, has been to learn to work with game. I've been reading French cook books again and pouring over the Gastronomique's recipes for venison. I've always, well, usually enjoyed the venison as prepared in local restaurants. But I've never prepared it myself.

One of the major limiting factors has been access to good meat. I'm not a hunter, not even on TV. I have one friend who is an avid hunter and has offered to prepare a meal, but, I want the raw meat! Just recently I asked him and his wife how they prepare their venison and shared my ideas on cooking. And then they asked, "do you want to try and make something?" Heck yeah! Thought you'd never ask.

On Sunday I was the proud owner of a 2 pound backstrap! Now I just needed to figure out what exactly that was and how it was to be prepared. My recipes were for tenderloin or haunch, not for this. First order of business was becoming familiar with how a deer is broken down. The backstrap, it turns out, is what you and I would call the loin. It runs down the back, on the side of the spine. My piece was about 4 inches in diameter and covered in a silver skin.

Knowing that venison is lean and should be cooked and eaten without delay, I decided to cut the piece in half. This will give me a chance to use the other piece with another recipe, leaving a nice little roast for just the two of us. I then used my knife to peel the skin off.

The recipe I used is one that I had used before on beef tenderloin. The recipe and cooking instructions can be found here on Serious Eats' site. It's a nice spice rub consisting of instant espresso powder, cumin, corrriander, pepper, cumin and ancho chile.

Once you rub the spice mixture on your loin "roast", you put it in a low oven (300) for about 35-40 minutes. You want to get it to 120 degrees inside for medium-rare, 130 for medium-well. A thermometer is a must here!

Don't worry, I didn't forget to sear the meat, and I do know that you have to be careful about over-cooking venison. That's why I was nervous about this project and also why I wanted to tackle it! Rest assured I got you covered on this one, just follow along now.

When your meat is about ready to pop from the oven, get a nice skillet heated. Pull the roast out, add your oil, bring to just about smoking. Add a big pat of butter and the meat to the pan. Sear it on all sides; about 2 minutes should do it. Then remove to a plate and tent with foil. You are going to want that to sit about ten minutes to rest and get just a few degrees hotter.

Meanwhile the fun start for you: make the sauce. You won't find this in the Serious Eats recipe, but here's what I did. (Remember I was using 1 pound of meat, the SE recipe is for about 5 pounds.) Drop the heat on the pan you just used to medium. Add 1/2 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of beef broth (careful about liquid hitting a hot pan!). Scrape-up the fond with a wooden spoon. Add 1 tblsp. of butter, any drippings from the roast, (peek-and-see if you can get some out of your foil-covered plate), salt and pepper. Reduce until you have a nice and rich'll know when!

Ok, let's take a look at our roast. First of all, it has a beautiful dark crust. Underneath, as you can see in the photo is a perfectly cooked roast: medium to medium-rare from butt to center. This works great if you have guests with different preferences.

Taste? Amazing! You guessed it.

My wife and I were very happy with the results. It was definitely venison, but not overly gamey. The crust provided a very nice balance without being overpowering or distracting. The sauce was rich, complex...meaty; again complementing not masking or overpowering the beautiful piece of meat. A side of perfect mashed potatoes, and a syrah to drink made for a perfect meal.

Now, on to the next piece of meat. I'm thinking a nice venison daub. But, what happens when I run out of meat?