Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Buck Tenderloin

After a slow start to the season, on the last day for shotguns I finally got a deer.  A relatively small nine point buck whose removal was probably best for the Ashtabula gene pool.  What it lacked in looks it made up for in meat, as a direct (read: lucky) shot right to the vitals dropped the thing instantly, ensuring clean meat with nearly nothing ruined by the slug.  The gutted buck, skin and all, went into the freezer, where it will be held for a week or two with several of its departed friends until the hunting group gets together for a sausage making bonanza.  But post gutting and before putting him up, after the sun went down and everyone was drinking beers and trading lies, I reached in and, with just the slightest bit of knife work, removed the two tenderloins.  One I left for the group's host, the other was tonight's dinner.  It's a pretty standard hunting ritual to enjoy the tenderloins fresh, usually grilled that evening, and if you're the slightest bit familiar with deer anatomy, which you are intimately after gutting, removing the tenders couldn't be easier.

This deer is from corn and bean country, and one look inside its belly revealed that this guy was getting fat on corn leavings.  Some folks staring into a half gutted carcass filled with partially digested corn might be turned off of corn for minute.  Me, I immediately thought, "Gee, this meat will go great with grits."  So with grits as the base, the badly pictured meal above was really all about eating the last few months of the deer's life.  Local cornmeal cooked in chicken stock provided a starchy base, and the fall/early winter vegetables are simply roasted parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and little turnips.

For the tenderloin, I cut it in two and seared it all over in a thin film of grape seed oil.  Then the browned but still pretty much raw tenderloin got set aside and some red wine was reduced with thyme and sliced prunes.  Once the wine was cooked down, in went some chicken stock.  The stock got cooked down to a nice consistency and just a little bit of butter got added (this is very lean meat).  Then the tenderloin pieces were cut into largish medallions and added to the reduced sauce along with the resting juices and some salt and pepper.  The thyme stems got removed, and once the tenderloin pieces were warmed through (and still quite rare) everything was plated up.  This is my favorite sauce for deer tenderloin or backstrap (aka loin, depending on who you ask).  Dried cherries in the sauce are good.  Prunes are better.

As for eating a buck, there really was never any question.  For the most part no one in our group is a trophy hunter.  We eat what we kill, and if we have the good fortune of getting a few more deer than we need the meat gets donated to be distributed to the hungry.  I hear people talking about deer being gamey, particularly bucks, and maybe if this was a bigger buck or if it was rutting or something that'd be the case.  But treated well, any deer I've ever had from Northeast Ohio hasn't had the least bit of an offensive gamey taste, or really any gamey taste at all.  And I've had gamey meat to point where it's not enjoyable, just not here.  When the group I go out with hunts we gut quickly and cool the meat down quick, and I'm sure that helps, but it wasn't particularly cool out when I took this guy down and the meat was still excellent.  My thought is that it's just the diet over here--say what you will about monocropping corn and soybeans, I'm not a huge fan myself although I see the economic drivers for it, but I think our deer are the silver lining of that system.  Plentiful, healthy deer with sweet tasting meat.  It's our terroir.

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