Dear Deer

On a recent trip to a local market, and thanks in no small part to the random peregrinations through the store which the company of a small boy can engender, I happened upon a certain freezer compartment stuffed full of various exotic game meats- many of which are responsibly farm-raised in the vicinity. I was pretty excited, and loaded up our basket with several different cuts from several different beasts: venison, elk, bison, and quail- and for reasonable prices. They all went in the freezer upon our return, banked against future dinner-time time shortages, impromptu entertaining, or other such eventualities. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

And yet today, upon defrosting a hunk of deer in a bowl of water, I noticed that somehow I had unwittingly bought a 1 lb. piece of venison loin for $32. After a quick re-check, all the other cuts in the freezer were in the $10 per lb. range, but somehow the much pricier loin had slipped into the basket unnoticed back at the market (I am not someone who pays 32 bucks a pound for much of anything in this world.) And the resulting sticker chagrin got me all motivated to treat this piece of meat in a manner befitting its station.

So I took the loin and cut it apart into its component muscles, removing all the silverskin as I went. The result was a perfect tenderloin about an inch and a half around and six inches long, and, uh… the other part, which was amazingly enough the same length but flatter and a little unkempt post-butchering. It occurred to me at this point that the two pieces could be prepared in two completely different ways, thus wringing more value out of the pound of flesh.

So the second cut went in a marinade of white wine, pepper ketchup from Reuben night, soy sauce, mulberry syrup, balsamic vinegar, apple juice, 5-spice, and smoked paprika to sit for an hour or so while I dealt with other things, like the tenderloin. Seasoned with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and herbes de Provence, and then vacuum-sealed, it got dropped in a 52˚ C water bath. The very last of our now-bolting overwintered kale from the garden, chopped fine, had a pleasant wilt in a pan with a smidge of minced guanciale, onion, garlic, and chicken broth until soft but still bright green. A little bit of leftover quinoa commingled with a bit more, freshly made, and then had a toss with olive oil, herb and allium pesto, and peas to make a kinda pilaf. Once cooked through, the tenderloin got a quick sear in a shrieking hot iron skillet. And last, the marinated cut- after a deglazing swab of the same skillet- got all simmery with the marinade until the meat was just cooked through and the sauce was sticky and bubblicious.

The result was pretty good- very good, even, and yet I wish that I had figured out how fancy this was a little earlier; the plate was missing one more element to elevate it to another, more expensive-tasting place. Having said that, I am very glad that I took the extra few minutes to give this accidental purchase its intentional due. The tenderloin, with a little bitter green mash on the side, was meltingly tender, with a lovely gamy character. The second half, liberally doused with marinade reduction sauce, had almost a spare rib flavor, with a buttery, rare bite swaddled in an Asian-inflected sauce that straddled hoisin and barbecue. And quinoa pilaf with pesto and peas is a new staple as of right now.

If it had been less hot today (we’re in day three of temps well into the 80′s) I would have gone for a rich, funky red, but given that I was still sweating after my shower I opted instead for a well-chilled Château de Roquefort Corail rosé. These Southern French pinks are no-brainers from here on out on warm days; they go with everything from austere vegan slaws to decadent, overpriced venison steaktaculars- and this one, at a mere 12.5% alcohol, and elegantly endowed with ethereal strawberries and herbs, is sympathetic to one who (hypothetically) toiled all day and then accidentally put away pretty much the whole bottle while cooking, then eating, and finally writing about it all.

3 comments to Dear Deer

  • Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

    Nice dish! That one sauce may be a tad overwrought for my tastes, but hell — it still looks good. I tend to do venison loin uber simple: Salt, and then at service a little black pepper and maybe some celery seed.

    But $32 a pound?! Christ, I should start ranching deer…

  • Heather

    I have a hard time believing that you wouldn’t notice that the bill was so high, but that’s just me.

    A-once-in-awhile splurge never hurt anyone, and you’d never get something that good for that price in a restaurant.

  • peter

    Hank: Well, half was simple, and half was saucy. It worked out pretty well.

    Blanche: They got mixed up while I pawed through the bin, and somehow I ended up not seeing. But it was money well spent, in retrospect.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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