I'm far from a vegetarian—I eat anything when I'm on the clock as a food writer and I love sushi—but most of my home cooking is meatless. I was initially inspired by concerns for my health and the environment, plus it was a way to cut costs when we were living on one income while I was in paralegal school. By now it's more of a habit than a health or financial necessity, although environmental motivations are still a factor.
However, there is one meat dish that's never fallen off the meal rotation: venison tenderloin. My dad is an avid deer hunter, so I've been eating venison my entire life; I genuinely can't taste the gamey flavor that some people complain about with wild meats. It sounds weird to city people like Mike, but I grew up coming home from school to see a field-dressed deer carcass hanging upside in the garage. My dad butchers his deer himself, and my sister and I were enlisted to help package meat as soon as we could write labels ("S" for stew, "H" for hamburger, "T" for tenderloin). Eventually we graduated to weighing out the portions on a manual food scale and wrapping the meat in freezer paper.
It's been well over a decade since I came home to a deer hanging in the garage (although my mom texts me a picture each year, which is a strangely touching reminder of my childhood). These days, I pick up packages of frozen venison at Thanksgiving or Christmas, or my parents bring some down when they come for a visit.
There are many good ways to cook venison tenderloin. My dad's method is to bread it with flour and pan-fry it in oil; after a lot of experimentation I've settled on pan cooking it with mushrooms, garlic, and butter.
Since venison is so lean, it's easy to overcook—keep a close eye on it to gauge the browning, and the best food safety practice is to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (equivalent to medium-rare). The cooking times in the recipe below are for medium-well steaks, which splits the difference between my preference for medium venison and Mike's preference for well-done; subtract 1-2 minutes of cooking time for medium steaks and add 1-2 minutes for well-done.
Make sure to let your venison rest about 5 minutes before serving. I've found that makes a big difference in preserving the juiciness.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 7-8 ounces venison tenderloin
- dried oregano
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to brown and give up their juices, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the venison and sprinkle generously with oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook until browned on the bottom and sides, about 3 minutes. Turn over and cook until browned on both sides and firm to the touch, about 2 additional minutes. The internal temperature should be a minimum 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allow steak to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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