It’s hard to believe, but the sound of whitetails stepping in dry leaves is about to be replaced by that of reindeer hooves clicking on rooftops.
As an avid hunter and father of seven children, I have mixed feelings about this time of year. On one hand, in late season whitetails tend to be on fairly predicable patterns. On the other hand, I have to buy so many presents I can’t afford to go hunting half as much as I want. Regardless, there’s one great bonus all successful deer hunters can enjoy at this time of year: fresh venison for their holiday tables.
Through my journeys as a professional chef, I’ve found many folks aren’t familiar with how to properly handle wild meats. If you have any doubt as to what you should be doing, follow this general rule: Don’t do anything to your venison you wouldn’t do to a cut of expensive beef.
In stating this, I’m sure to start quite a few disagreements, but I stand by my statement. It really is that simple. And especially so for holiday meals. Keep the recipes on the mild side; you want to complement those wild flavors, not overpower them.
The two holiday venison recipes I’ve created for you have very appealing flavors and dress up quite well. And that second point is nearly as important as the first; people absolutely eat first with their eyes. When it comes to holiday meals, you want everything to look as great as it tastes. Some people who dine with you over the holiday season might not be accustomed to eating venison, so the better it looks, the more likely they are to want to sample it.
Of course, when they try it, it needs to be tender and not overly gamey. So use the best cuts from the right deer. Obviously, the backstraps and tenderloins off a young doe are the absolute best. Save the meat from that rutting buck for your own use later.
The simple fact of the matter is that if you don’t share your bounty with loved ones, you’re missing out on one of the most rewarding gifts we hunters can pass along. For that reason, I chose these two simple but extremely appealing recipes for you to make for your family and friends this season. But don’t take my word for it — give them a try and let us know how they go over at your own holiday table.
Venison Gorgonzola Salad with Fried Eggplant Croutons
2 pounds whole venison backstrap
(marinated in buttermilk, fresh
basil and garlic for 48 hours)
3 oz olive oil
1 teaspoon each pink sea salt, white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, granulated garlic and granulated onion (mix together)
2 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon basil powder
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese crumbles
1 stick salted creamery butter
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
1 head iceberg lettuce
1 head romaine lettuce
8 oz spring mix
balsamic vinegar to drizzle on top
dried apricots, dates, prunes, cranberries
2-3 cups shredded carrot, cabbage, veggie blend
1 cup pickled banana peppers
Pour olive oil in Carolina Cooker cast iron skillet, heat over medium heat. Rinse off marinade and pat dry backstrap with kitchen towel. Roll venison in seasonings listed up to, but not including, cheese. Place in skillet and cook for 1 1/2 minutes on each of the 4 sides for medium rare, 3 minutes on each side for medium well to well done. Let sit 20 minutes, then slice 1/3” thick.
In separate saucepan, melt butter. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add cheese. Cook for about 3 minutes, then add white wine.
Tear lettuce into 1 1/2” squares and place in large bowl. Add all other vegetables, fried eggplant croutons (recipe below) and sliced venison on top. Pour on Gorgonzola sauce and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Fried Eggplant Crouton ingredients
1 eggplant cut into 1” cubes
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
Sprinkle eggplant with salt, then roll in bread crumbs. Heat olive oil in skillet and fry eggplant until golden brown on top.
Venison Pot Pie
2 lbs venison stew meat, cut into 1” cubes and rubbed with 2 teaspoons basil paste and 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup green peas
1 cup diced, canned new potatoes
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons beef base paste mixed in 1 cup water
3 bay leaves
1 cup green onions
prepared pastry dough
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 9” pie pan and set aside. Place cast iron skillet on stovetop with 3 tablespoons of butter ready to melt.
Let venison sit, uncovered, until no longer cold to the touch. Mix in next 7 ingredients with the flour, then roll venison in seasoned flour to coat.
Heat butter in skillet over medium heat. Then add venison and brown on all sides, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add onions, carrots, celery, potatoes and garlic. Cook until softened, stirring, about 6-8 minutes.
Add wine, peas, beef base paste (broth) and bay leaves, then bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat 20 minutes. Add green onions last.
Once done, transfer mixture to pie dish. Cover with prepared pastry dough and cut 8 small slits in dough. Bake 20-25 minutes, until top is golden and juices are bubbling out.