We have a dear friend who is a hunter. We tease him, good-naturedly, because we aren’t hunters. But we have benefited over the years from his hobby, his passion. This is one of those times.
In November of 2011 our friend Kenn, who lives in Washington state, was back in town to go hunting in Wisconsin with his son. He used to live here and was part of our food group so he called to see if we were going to be around on his way back to the airport. It was great to see him and catch up on the news of his family and his life in Washington. Before he left he gave us a venison loin and charged us with sharing it with Barbara and Michael, the other couple who was part of our group back then.
The hardest part of this mission was to find a date to get together. Retired people sure are busy. But last Thursday worked for everyone.
Curt immediately started thinking of ways to cook the meat and we talked about what would be good accompaniments. Pre-dinner munchies were easy. Our venison supplier had also sent at Christmas one of those wonderful Cougar Gold cheeses from Washington State University, once again with the directive to share. We coupled the cheese with crostini and pan-roasted olives.
I love cauliflower and that was my vote for the vegetable. We had recently bought yellow beets at the last Winter Market so Curt voted for those. We roasted them together and everyone was happy.
A salad of mixed greens with a simple vinaigrette rounded out the meal. We asked our friends to bring a light dessert.
So Kenn, here is what Curt did with that wonderful loin.
Curt writing from here on –
Pan-roasted olives came from an aside on some cooking show on TV (sorry, I don’t remember the actual source). I didn’t have the recipe but I figured how hard could it be? I started with a mix of brined olives from our local cheese monger, Nala’s. I tried to select for variety of type (black & green) and size, eventually ending up with 5 or 6 different types of olives. The procedure is pretty simple. Drain the olives and put into a wok-type pan on medium heat with a little fresh, good quality, olive oil. Add a measure of drained, pickled cocktail onions. Pan roast/fry for about 20 minutes until the onions start to show a bit of browning and the olives are a little shriveled. Remove from the heat and add some good balsamic vinegar and the zest from half of an orange. Serve warm.
Seared Loin of Venison with Pontak Sauce
I’ve not cooked a lot of venison. Not being a hunter, I’m at the good graces of Kenn to occasionally gift me with some. This latest gift was serious (a whole strap or loin – what one calls it appears to vary considerably) and a challenge. The loin (and most venison) doesn’t have much fat so cooking it inconsiderately could lead to a dried out piece of meat and a waste of a living creature. Scanning the net, the consensus seemed to be to cook it hot and short. Sear the meat over high heat, but not for very long.
The day before our dinner, I sliced the loin into 1-1/2″ thick medallions which I salted with 3/4 tsp. of sea salt per pound and put into the fridge to rest (you can salt and rest meat for up to 3 days without worry and the longer the better on a very thick piece of meat, like a roast).
Salted and ready for the fridge
On the day of the dinner I took the meat out 2 hours before dinner so it could come to room temperature. Just before cooking it, I liberally peppered the pieces with freshly ground black pepper.
Cooking was quick and simple. I heated a pan on high, added a little olive oil, and immediately dropped in the loin pieces. Three minutes on the first side – turn and reduce the heat to medium and another 4 minutes on the second side for medium rare. Remove the meat to a platter to rest for about 10 minutes. Slice on the bias for presentation and serve with pontak sauce.
Whoa! What’s that? Pontak sauce? That’s what I said when Kenn mentioned he was opening a bottle of his pontak to check its progress. A search of the internet told me that pontak is a traditional English sauce for game meats based on elderberries. So, I guess, if I was going to cook venison I might as well go all out and come up with the appropriate sauce to accompany it. Now, I had done this research last fall and one of the things about pontak that keeps coming up is that it is best if left to age for 7 years! Well, that wasn’t going to work for an early February dinner. I eventually managed to find dried elderberries at a local home-brew shop and made a modified batch in December in anticipation of our dinner (I’ll post a recipe separately). If I was lucky my pontak would have 7 weeks to age – not 7 years!
The end result was worth the effort. The venison was so tender it was hard to believe it was from a wild game animal. The pontak was flavorful and spicy, a bit like Worcestershire sauce.
Venison, roasted vegetables and mixed green salad
Thank you Kenn, your friends appreciate your generosity and raise a glass of Petit Syrah to you!