Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who Gave Us Venison

I grew up eating game meat. My dad Frank Addison Albini was a terrific shot with a rifle and had generally excellent hunting skills. While my dad loved hunting and fishing, he didn't romanticize them. He was filling the freezer, not intellectualizing some caveman impulse or proving his worth as a real man. He spent considerable time working on the accuracy of his weapons and hand-loaded rounds for specific game and conditions, because he considered taking an animal with more than one shot needlessly cruel. Everyone he hunted with aspired to his ability.

In large part I owe my adventurous palate to my dad shooting so many different things. We regularly ate elk and venison, but we also had seasons where pop filled all the tags he could get, and he occasionally made excursions to Alaska, so in addition to all manner of fowl, I've eaten bear, antelope, wild boar, caribou and probably other big mammals I've forgotten. My mother handled this Noah's Ark larder with aplomb, happily using game in place of beef or pork in lasagna, ravioli, sausage and wherever else required.

I was reminded of this all when I discovered a parcel of Venison backstrap (loin) in our freezer. Somebody had obviously given it to us as a gift, probably from some fancy food place that sends things in dry ice and styrofoam, and I had put it in the freezer for later use. Sadly, I do not remember the giver, which implies that I failed to thank whoever it was, but perhaps this public humiliation will succeed in sharpening my social graces where everything else has failed. I defrosted a tidy little loin, which is called the backstrap when it's from a deer. I suppose if squirrel meat ever becomes commercial they'll come up with a name for it on a squirrel.

I love the rub Tim Midyette has developed for red meats, and lately I use it whenever I cook anything that walked on four legs. It's a simple dry mix of espresso, sumac, salt and pepper, and it works magic. I hadn't tried it on game meat, but the discovered venison gave me a perfect excuse. I rubbed it into the loin and let it rest while I prepared to sear it.

I only have one skillet, a simple steel line cook's item I bought at a restaurant supply shop 20 years ago. I also have an iron skillet, but it takes so long to heat up that I only use it when I have time to kill or need to make cornbread. Since I needed to make both the venison loin and a sauce for pasta to serve as a side dish, I had to stage the cooking and manage the skillet resource to serve everything at an appropriate temperature. The venison would need to rest after searing, so first I needed to put water on to boil, then sear the venison and let it rest, which would give me enough time to make a sauce for pasta. So I did that.

Venison like most game meats is exceptionally lean, and has to be served rare or it's tough and nasty. With a bigger cut, this can be difficult to judge, but with a little strip of loin like this, you basically just sear the margins and let it rest to come up to temperature. Takes a couple minutes.

The pasta sauce was pretty simple. I blanched white asparagus in the pasta water, then cut some of the asparagus and sauteed it with some leeks and red pepper in olive oil. When the sauce was almost ready, I dropped the capellini in the water. Capellini is a great pasta to serve with something like this because it's delicate enough not to compete with the vegetables and it cooks in a couple of minutes.

I tossed the pasta with the vegetables and plated it with a couple of the spears of asparagus, then sliced the loin and set it on top. I garnished it with some chopped scallions and mint, drizzled it with olive oil and shaved some asiago over everything. I thought it looked pretty good, but when I brought it to Heather her first words were "Why is there penises in my food?"*

She was referring to the asparagus. Because of the shape.**

*That's what she said no kidding.
**They look like penises.


  1. I watched some cooking show on white asparagus -and this area in Germany has this huge FESTIVAL for the harvesting of this local fave. Methinks the symbolism of these sun starved perennial penises might have weighed too heavily on the locals. They were very upset because swarthy brown people were typically the ones that had undertaken the harvesting of their pristine white phallus veggies. Like most of the developed world the natives have long since moved on from actually picking their own produce and enterprising immigrants do it for a fraction of the cost. Somehow this gets in the way of their visions of aryan virgins plucking the fat white joints from the earth. In any event I've never eaten white asparagus but it isn't due to any vegetable based racism or white guilt. Does it taste very different from the green stuff?

  2. My dad has always been the same way Steve. I enjoy fishing, but I never had the "cold weather patience" to hunt bigger game.
    It is with great pleasure that I devour these Kentucky wilderness delicacies, much to my meat nazi vegan friends dismay.

  3. My dad only hunted rabbit and pheasant by the time I was around (he apparently hunted deer when he was younger), so I had plenty of that. However! I have a Special Friend who hunts, so I eat and cook a lot of venison and wild turkey. (And, thanks to his uncle, the occasional rabbit or bear.) You're right about the searing thing, though you can also cut it into thick-ish slices first--easier to control if the piece of meat isn't perfectly rectangular. Anyway, first I caramelize some onions in butter and olive oil and add some garlic at the end until it's soft, take them out of the pan, sear the venison in that pan, take it out and let it rest, and deglaze the pan w/ some red wine and perhaps a tiny touch of butter.

    Other venison dishes we love: (1) venison cheese steaks (caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, and homemade pretzel rolls); (2) venison ring baloney added to a beer-and-mustard-braised-cabbage recipe; and (3) venison bolognese sauce, which rocks the house (the wine and milk in the sauce have the same tenderizing effect). The last is especially handy because of the amount of ground meat that you need to use up.

  4. Tell me more about this rub. I've got what seems like a pound of sumac that could use some meat-time.

  5. The rub is fucking great. Equal parts sumac and finely ground espresso, half their volume each salt and pepper. Wing it from there. I've taken to grinding a dried chipotle pepper, a bay leaf or some cardamom seeds in a mortar and adding that, but Tim adds brown sugar as a kind of cure for ribs and such. Super delicious on steak.

  6. Thanks, going to try it with what i've got on hand, guajillos, espresso and some cardemom. Lately I've been addicted to bistec de puerco con hueso, the delmonico of pig. Perfect balance of fat and bone.

  7. "I also have an iron skillet, but it takes so long to heat up"

    Replace your current cooktop with an induction cooker. Problem solved. If you get a factory seconds induction, a decent but cheap brand name one should cost you about the same as a mid-range gas cooker.

  8. You can also jerk venison loin for 2 days in brown sugar, salt and black pepper for grilling.

    That always turns out great. Some of the pieces will be a bit chewy but I always liked it.


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