One of the most common sins in meat cookery in general is the overcooking of meats of all types. With wild game, in particular, there seems to be a legion of cooks that believe that wild meat is somehow more dangerous to the eater than domestic and therefore must be incinerated to a uniform gray in order to be safe for eating. That wild harvested game is probably safer than a lot of the meat already in the domestic food supply is lost on many hunters who have had their culinary techniques passed onto them through the generations from an era where refrigeration was seasonal at best and meat often did “go off” and needed to be cooked well done in order to be safe for consumption.
Properly handled, the prime cuts of wild venison and waterfowl can and should be eaten cooked no more than medium rare (the shoulders, neck and shanks of game require long slow cooking). In fact, one of my favorite ways to eat a freshly killed deer is as a tartare — raw minced meat, onions and spices.
Lying inside the carcass along either side of the backbone, the tenderloins of a deer are actually a little on the chewy and stringy side if removed from the carcass right away, yet they dry out and discolor if left to hang with the rest of the animal. My solution has been to remove them while field dressing and then eat as a tartare the next day.
Tartare does not taste like raw meat. Or rather, it DOES taste like raw meat but it does not taste like one would think raw meat would taste like. It tastes fresh and clean with the pickles, onions, mustard and salt adding layers of sour, sweet, and salty to the umami flavor of the meat. The egg yolk adds silkiness to the dish. I my case, the yolk came from one of my own chickens and was laid a few hours before so if you make this at home get the freshest eggs you can. You could also hard-boil the egg and sprinkle the chopped yolk on top of the tartare or simply forgo the egg all together (though that would be a shame). Other variations add Worcestershire sauce, jalapenos, Tabasco, and lemon — all are good. One of my favorite variations is as a kibbeh — raw minced meat with Mediterranean spices and served with pickled vegetables, good olive oil and pita bread.
Could you cook a tartare? Yes, but then it would just be a burger with too much crap mixed in. A good burger has its condiments on the OUTSIDE while a good tartare mixes them in. Take the plunge and try a home-made tartare — it is both refined and primal in nature and good food is all about the contrasts.
***A caveat — do NOT try this recipe if the animal has been shot in the gut since this could contaminate the tenderloins which reside inside the abdominal cavity. Only animals that have been cleanly killed with a shot in front of the diaphragm (the “donor” of the tartare pictured above was killed by a headshot so no worries on that regard) should be considered for a tenderloin tartare. Backstrap or sirloin makes a more than suitable substitute for the tenderloins if they happen to be damaged or contaminated. Most other big game would also make a great tartare but avoid wild pigs, and predators like bears and cougars as they have been known to carry trichinosis. A domestic substitute is naturally beef, though lamb would come closer in flavor to venison in my opinion.
Venison Tartare (serves 1 as a meal and 2 as an appetizer)
Total time: 1 hour Prep Time: 20 minutes
- 1/2 lb. Venison tenderloin (backstrap will also suffice)
- 1 teaspoon capers – chopped roughly
- 2-3 gherkins — finely chopped
- 1 shallot — finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 raw egg yolk
- 4 slices of thinly sliced white bread
- Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel for finishing
1. Place the venison in the freezer for about a half hour while you prep the remaining ingredients.
2. Remove the venison from the freezer and slice into thin (about the width of a pencil) strips lengthwise with the grain. Slice each strip lengthwise again so that you have fairly uniform, long, pencil thick strips. Stack the strips together and now slice across the grain so that you make many tiny cubes. They should be about the size of a pencil eraser but if you want to go finer, make thinner strips.
3. Place the meat in a bowl and add a good pinch of salt and a healthy grinding of pepper. Stir this into the meat mixture with the capers, gherkins, shallots, mustard, olive oil and parsley. Place this mixture into a bowl and return to the fridge to let the flavors marry for at least twenty minutes.
4. Prior to serving, take the bread slices and butter both sides. Fry them in a medium low frying pan, flipping occasionally until both sides are toasted and brown. (Be careful, the toast can go from golden to incinerated in a moment).
5. To serve, mold the meat mixture into a bowl or other container and invert onto the plate — tapping to make sure the meat comes away from the bowl. Make a little well in the center of the meat mound and place the raw egg yolk in it. Finish with the salt and more pepper and parsley if you wish.
6. To eat, break the egg yolk (mine broke on adding it to the top of the mound — aesthetically disappointing but still tasty) and stir into the tartare. Place small forkfuls on the toast and enjoy with a good red wine, hoppy beer, or even champagne.