The Best Backstrap Ever…

My whole life one creature has reigned supreme in the diet of my family, the Mule Deer. I have consumed more mule deer meat than any other wild game animal, by a long shot. Taco meat, hamburgers, meat loaf, stuffed peppers – all using venison. Don’t forget the steaks, the roasts and stews. Mule deer is a very known quantity in my house.

As such I fantasize about other deer meat, mostly elk. But it has been told to me, over the years, that whitetail deer meat is the bee’s knees. Yet, I somehow have escaped eating whitetail for my whole life, not to my knowledge has whitetail meat ever passed over my lips. I have this belief that eating it will somehow make me a convert and I will never mule deer hunt again for meat. It scares me. I am not against sitting in tree stands looking down but I like spot and stalk hunting too much!

But in the fall of 2012 I was given, as Dr. James Swan puts it in his famous book In Defense of Hunting, the sacrament of wild game meat. My buddy, Leon Reams, handed me a back-strap from a button buck whitetail he had taken in northern Idaho. He exalted the qualities of the meat to me, the tenderness, the flavor, ect. I argued that a young mule deer would taste just as good. We did not see eye to eye on the topic.

I decided, then and there, that I needed to settle this whitetail vs mule deer edibility discussion. As a chef that does frequent product demonstrations I have developed the ability to blind “cut” products against each other with relative ease.

However, to properly compare the meats I needed a similar piece of mule deer back strap. Cutting a button buck whitetail against an old and sage brush fed mule deer was a not fair comparison. Conveniently, I tagged out on a spike mule deer that was living in my uncles corn field.

Full disclosure time, I was actually duck hunting when my buck jumped up at about 4 yards from me, my son and my dog. He did not make it past 5 yards. Size two steel at that range is lethal to just about anything. This buck is known around the house as “the duck buck.”

With my battling back straps in the freezer I needed to set up a panel of judges to compare the meat. I figured the panel should be a diverse group of individuals. Hunters, non-hunters, foodies ect.

First on my list is a friend and fellow writer Guy Hand. Guy is the former food critic for the Idaho Statesman, a radio show host for a program called “Edible Idaho” and is now the editor for Edible Idaho South Magazine. The second person on my panel was Ryan McDaniel; a fellow hunter and best man in my wedding. Third was Bowhunter Sean Cook, a backcountry bull buster. Fourth was Karin Raffo a wild game novice but huge foodie. Fifth was Kelly Grindstaff the Executive Chef of Red Fish Lake Lodge.

Each team member was given a sheet with a grading scale from 1-10 on the following areas – appearance, color, smell, texture, taste, “game” flavor and overall impression. A notes section was also provided.

The comparison was blind, none of the participants knew if the meat was whitetail or if it was mule deer until the tasting was finished (well, Sean knew the difference. A lifetime of eating both whitetail and mule deer gave it away. He kept quite about it, however.) The meat was pan roasted in canola oil and only seasoned with salt and pepper. Each loin was served at medium rare. The meat was served hot, side by side, allowing a direct comparison between the meats.

This all seamed quasi-scientific enough to settle the debate for me, for now.

The Results –

The long and short of it is the whitetail we ate was better tasting than the “Duck Buck” mule deer. My worst nightmare had come true. I could find a better meat but I would have to leave the high dessert that I often hunted. It is time to venture into the forest. Maybe even sit in a tree stand, but I am afraid of heights.

In almost every category the whitetail measured higher than the mule deer. The only time that the mule deer performed better than the whitetail was when overcooked. Below is a breakdown of the scoring for each animal.

Mule Deer Whitetail
Appearance 8.2 8.2
Color 7.8 8
Smell 6 7.4
Texture 6 9.2
Taste 6.2 9.4
“Game” 6 6.4
Overall 6.4 9
Overcooked 5.6 5
Average   Score 6.53 7.98

Most notably was the comparison of textures of the whitetail meat vs the mule deer. It was common consensus that the whitetail had a much finer grain to the meat and that finer grain meant a tenderer chew. The mule deer had longer and tougher strands that Ryan McDaniel noted “are ideal for longer cook times, like braising or stews.”

Chef Grindstaff thought that the whitetail was definitely a better “introductory” deer meat than mule deer. He noted that whitetail was more like a meat he would want to serve in his restaurant and is better suited for medium rare cooking than the mule deer.

Across the board whitetail was considered better meat for the table. It really was the Bee’s Knees of small deer meat. Next cutting – elk vs moose. (Anyone have any moose meat I could cook?)

The Perfect Backstrap (Whitetail or Mule Deer)

1ea 12oz section of back strap

Kosher Salt

Fresh Cracked Pepper

1 T canola oil

1ea Digital or Probe Meat Thermometer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To get a tender and juicy backstrap I recommend that most home cooks stop cutting it into steaks. Cook it like a roast and then slice it into medallions. One whole chunk of meat will holds its moisture better even if it is slightly overcooked. A single steak that is over cooked basically becomes a hockey puck.

To increase the tenderness of a backstrap make sure to completely peel off any silver skin with a sharp tipped knife. Slid the knife directly under the silver skin and then turn the blade up at about a 20 degree angle, slide the knife under the sliver skin leaving meat behind. (See photo) Removing the silver will increase the tenderness and palatability.

After peeling a little salt and pepper might be all the meat will need before cooking. Rub salt liberally over the meat and then use fresh cracked pepper, not the fine ground stuff they sell in tins at the grocery store. Salt and pepper enhance flavor for most cuts of meat, use them liberally.

Heat a medium sized oven proof sauté pan on medium high for about 3 minutes. Add the canola oil, the oil should almost be smoking, and brown the backstrap on all sides. Place the pan and the backstrap into the oven.

Depending on the size of the deer killed the amount of cooking time will vary each time. That said the meat should be cooked to temperature and not time anyway. Heat the meat, via the oven, until it is 115 degrees F on the thickest part.

When it reaches that temperature remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meat to a plate. Let the meat “rest” for about 5 minutes before slicing. This will allow the juices to settle and gives much moister piece of meat. Resting the meat will also allow for what is called Carry Over Cooking. Meat does not stop cooking immediately when it comes out of the oven, on average it gains 17-22% more degrees. So a backstrap removed at a rare temperature, ie 115 F, will finish cooking itself after a few minutes out of the oven to about 125 F, a perfect medium rare.

Slice the backstrap into ½ inch medallions and serve with your favorite side dishes.

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Rabbit Roulade

Ok, so today is the day that I do my first culinary competition of the year. My nerves are shot and I am an emotional train wreck.

I have been haunted by my lack of Gold Medals in this competition for the past 10 years. (It is a point based system not a ranking system, last year I had the highest number of points but still only a silver medal) So today, in just a few hours, I am going to do my best at getting gold.

Below is the recipe for my Rabbit dish. It might seem, to the lay cook, to be missing some instructions. This recipe is written for the professional chef. If you have any questions about how to debone a rabbit feel free to ask them!

Take care and much love,

RDK

Fried Rabbit Roulade with Pumpkin Puree, Grilled Squash and serrved with a Mountain Dew Ponzu Sauce.

Rabbit Roulade

1 ea whole rabbit

1 cup cooked rice

½ cup cooked chorizo

1 ea cooked and chopped rabbit liver

2 ea green onions

2 tablespoons chopped mint

Salt and pepper

Breading

1 cup flour

1 cup panko

2 ea eggs

De-bone the rabbit saddle. De-bone one rabbit back leg. Lay rabbit saddle and other meat flat on cling wrap. Lay in thin strips the rabbit leg down the center of the de-boned rabbit saddle.

Combine rice, chorizo, mint, liver and green onions in a small bowl. Mix well, season with salt and pepper. Add half of mix to the center of the de-boned saddle.

Roll saddle around mix, leg meat and into the cling film. Make a roulade

Poach roulade for 12 minutes.

Chill roulade in ice bath.

Remove roulade from cling film and coat in flour. Then roll in whisked egg, then in panko. Then roll again in egg and then again in the panko. Double batter.

Fry the rabbit for 7 minutes. Let stand for 4 minutes before slicing.

Mountain Dew Ponzu

1 12oz can mountain dew

¼ cup soy sauce

2 green onions, sliced

¼ cup sweet chili sauce

Boil all ingredients until syrup thick. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.

Grilled Vegetables

1 ea yellow squash

1ea zucchini

1 ea red pepper

1 ea red onion

Rough chop the vegetables in baton-ish shapes. Large enough to grill. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Grill on one side of the vegetable, then flip after 2 minutes. Cook on the other side for 1 additional minute and serve hot..

Pumpkin Puree

1 ea sugar pumpkin

¼ cup brown sugar

1 12oz can coconut milk, perhaps less

1 tablespoon red curry paste

Pinch cinnamon

Salt

Pepper

Half pumpkin. Core and remove seeds. Sprinkle brown sugar in exposed flesh. Season with salt and pepper. Roast, until fork tender, in 350 degree oven.

Remove from oven, let chill for 10 minutes. Remove flesh from the skin, add to blender. Add the curry, ½ the coconut milk, cinnamon and then puree. Adjust with coconut milk to desired consistency. Reserve and serve hot.

Garnish

1 ea lime

Mint leaves

Slice mint leaves, supreme lime. Zest lime, juice lime, toss all together. Use as garnish.

The Duck Buck

Not every shot rings as true as a hunter would like. It is a sad thing, to injure animals. But, alas, it happens.

That was the case with my “Duck Buck” this year. While out jumping ducks on a creek my good friend winged a small mule deer buck with his 7mm. Post shot we looked extensively for evidence of a hit on the buck. Not a drop of blood, nothing to indicate that he was hit. We called it a miss and he went home.

This buck was put down while the dog, boy and I went looking for some ducks. He has two names now – “The Duck Buck” and/or “Ryan’s Buck.” Not the biggest but it will be some fine eating corn fed organic gub.

Fortunately, I decided to walk the other side of the creek for a duck with my young son. A rooster pheasant jumped and I took a shot over the corn. When I did the buck jumped up only 4 yards in front of me! It was clear that the buck was injured and I recognized the horns as the buck that had been shot at earlier. Armed with nothing but some size four steel shot I raised the buck to the ground.The buck had been hit in the hind leg and suffered from considerable blood clotting. It was sad to see the buck suffering for that long, but I was happy to put it down.

The next thing I knew I was giving an impromptu lesson on gutting a deer to my recently graduated from Hunters Education son. It was a truly impactful experience for him, I could see his eyes light up when we I made him name certain organs. I made him hold the heart, keep the legs up while I gutted. He helped drag the buck as well. In a few years I will be helping him. I can’t wait!