A lot of hunters make the mistake of thinking venison should taste like beef, and they’re disappointed when it doesn’t. But deer meat isn’t beef — it’s deer meat, and it’s supposed to have a different flavor profile than a steak from a corn-fed cow.
Properly handled venison is rich, lean and delicious. Now, it’s true that some deer have a stronger, wilder flavor than other deer, and if you’re not handling animals properly in the field and during the butchering process, you could be screwing it up and introducing a gamey flavor that it shouldn’t have naturally. Then you’re stuck trying to mask that flavor with strong spices (chili, not that I don’t love chili), strong or salty marinades (Italian dressing, anyone?) or the old standby, bacon and A1 steak sauce.
Trust me when I tell you that no one loves bacon more than I do, and a venison backstrap wrapped in bacon is one of the finest dishes you’ll ever eat. But when you truly want to taste and enjoy venison for what it is, here’s a great, simple backstrap recipe that enhances the rich flavor of venison without overpowering it with added ingredients.
Venison Steaks With Garlic Herb Butter
- A section of venison backstrap that’s enough to feed your family, but not so much that it won’t fit in your cast iron skillet.
- Salt; coarser sea salt preferred
- Olive oil
- Compound butter:
- 1 stick of salted butter, softened
- 4-5 tablespoons of your favorite herbs (I like rosemary and thyme), chopped
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or crushed
- Combine ingredients thoroughly. Spread onto wax paper or parchment paper and shape into a log, rolling it in the paper until it’s log-shaped and wrapped. Refrigerate several hours before using.
I like to brine my backstrap in a salt water solution for 8-24 hours prior to cooking, but that’s completely optional.
Clean all silverskin off the backstrap and slice the meat into thick filets about 1½ to 2 inches thick. Place them on paper towels with one cut side down. Dry thoroughly. Let sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before you begin cooking.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and put your cast iron skillet in it. You want this skillet screaming hot! While the oven heats up, rub the steaks on both cut sides with olive oil, then salt them heavily — more heavily than you think you should.
When the oven hits 500 degrees, turn one of your burners to high and put the skillet on it (screaming hot, remember?). Sear the steaks for 60 seconds on the first cut side, then flip. Sear another 60 seconds, and then pop the skillet in the hot oven.
Leave them in the oven for 90 seconds — I’m not kidding about these times; watch them very carefully — then flip the steaks and give them another 90 seconds in the oven.
Pull them out and immediately move the steaks to a plate or cutting board, and cover them with aluminum foil. Let sit three minutes to allow the juices to settle.
While they’re sitting, get your compound butter log out of the fridge and slice off thin rounds. When the venison has rested for three minutes, top each steak with a round of butter and serve with your favorite sides.
These steaks should be perfectly medium rare if you cut them to the proper thickness and watched your times carefully. If you insist that you want them cooked medium, increase the time they spend in the oven by 30 seconds on each side. If you want to go past medium with your venison — well, best of luck to you!