February 10, 2009
Venison alla pizzaiola
I had my first experience cooking freshly killed meat and it was surprisingly satisfying. A co-worker of the b.f.'s is an avid hunter and fisherman and he recently gave us a cooler full of fresh meat and fish. This is one good thing about living in Tennessee. I know I like to mutter bad things under my breath every time I see those big guys dressed head-to-toe in camo with their bright orange accessories, especially when they wear it to the grocery store or to a football game (I kid you not). I have learned by now that it's just part of living in the South. Like living in Colorado and seeing people in spandex bike shorts eating at the table next to you. It's just a different type of "outdoor look." I prefer the spandex myself.
But I was not going to turn down a cooler full of venison and catfish just because of some little scruple I have about killing animals for sport. Yes, I am against it personally, but I know there are a lot of people out there doing it and if they're going to do it anyway, we might as well pay tribute to the slain animals by preparing and eating them with respect. Plus, I had never tasted fresh venison and was eager to try it.
It was in this frame of mind that I did some research on cooking venison. I had read that it was very easy to ruin it. Since there is very little fat, it is easy to over-cook it, turning it into something tough and chewy. I chose the small steaks for my maiden voyage into freshly killed deer preparation. By the way, this animal came from near Carthage, Tenn., not far from Nashville, and it happens to be where Al Gore's people come from. This deer was killed only about a week prior to arriving on my doorstep, frozen for just a short time.
When it thawed out, the first thing I noticed was the color, much like these cuts reproduced here:
It was a deep crimson and there was a lot of blood that seeped out even while it was cooking. All I could think of was how fresh and natural it looked --nothing like the blandly colored meat from the grocery store or even the organic kind that sometimes seems dry. It was oozing freshness and I couldn't wait to taste it. I discovered a little bit of blood-lust I never knew I had!
As this was a tender cut of meat from the loin or leg, I decided that high heat for a short time was the best way to go. They were very thinly cut, so no pounding was necessary. I didn't want to douse it in sauce, but I needed some accompanying flavors, so I did a quick preparation of "carne alla pizzaiola" which is really just diced tomatoes, garlic, oregano and I added some capers.
I heated the oil in a skillet, addeed some whole garlic cloves to flavor the oil, removed them and when the oil was very hot, I quickly browned the meat for 2 to 3 minutes per side.
I seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper, removed them to a platter and kept them warm while I prepared the sauce: add and simmer briskly one can of chopped tomatoes, 1 to 2 T fresh oregano leaves (or dried is fine too), a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir in 2 T capers, 1/2 cup of white wine, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately over the steaks. The taste of venison was even better than I imagined. It was pure, natural meat that tasted the way meat is supposed to taste. That's the only way to describe it. Thank you, deer.
I served it with a side dish of quick pan-roasted brussels sprouts, which we love with just about anything.
I don't know how many times I'll get the chance to prepare fresh venison like this again (I have a tenderloin in the freezer still and a half-strap, whatever that means). But I could get used to this. Too bad my man will never pick up a gun, which is just fine with me. Thou shalt not kill. But if you bring to my doorstep, I will cook it. And it will be GOOD.