Category Archives: Fish Recipes

Venison Royale with Cheese

P1020299(1) I like to celebrate our nation’s independence like any other red-blooded American, with cheap Chinese explosives and grilled ground meat. While the rest of the country is lighting bottle rockets and slapping ground chuck on the grill, I’ll be firing some of the best ground venison to ever grace my table.

I’m cooking my way through last season’s grinds, and I’m currently on deer number 3, a fat doe I shot on my friend Bobby’s farm in the middle of corn country. The all-night, all-you-can-eat buffet of soy beans, corn and alfalfa makes for some huge, if not obese, whitetails. And the fat from these deer is absolutely delicious. Most hunters mistakenly regard deer fat as foul tasting, and thus it is dismissed with the scraps. This holds true for deep woods deer, whose diet consists of acorns and woody greens. But whitetails that roam agricultural areas have a sweet, mild, waxy fat that when mixed with grind make the best damned burger you will ever eat…even Jules Winnfield would agree. I only have 4 pounds of Bobby burger left. I hope he invites me again next season.

Keep your burger simple. They don’t need crap mixed into the meat (see meatloaf), they don’t need to be soaked in beer, they don’t need to be stuffed with cheese, they don’t really need anything more than kosher salt and black pepper. I like a 6 ounce patty topped with lettuce, red onion, dill pickle and a tomato slice from the garden; mayo, ketchup and a dab of yellow mustard.

Venison Royale with Cheese

  • 1 lb ground venison, 15% fat
  • Hamburger buns
  • shredded iceburg lettuce
  • tomato, sliced
  • red onion, sliced
  • dill pickle chips
  • cheddar cheese slices
  • mayo, yellow mustard, ketchup
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  1. Start with a clean grate. Prepare the grill for direct medium heat. Prep the toppings and set aside.
  2. Divide the ground venison into three portions and form them into patties 4-5 inches wide. Make an indention with your thumb on the top of each burger—this will prevent the patty from curling up as it cooks. Do not handle the meat more than necessary unless you like chewy burgers.
  3. Season each side generously with salt and pepper before placing it on the grill. Grill for 4-5 minutes per side with the lid open. If the burger isn’t releasing easily from the grill (and the grate is clean), its not ready to flip. Give it another minute.
  4. When the burgers have about a minute to go, add a slice of cheddar to each. Once they’re done cooking allow them to rest for a couple minutes. Top with veggies and enjoy with some Bush’s baked beans (about the only thing I eat from a can) and corn on the cob. Serves 3. Oh, and a cold beer is compulsory.

 

Thai Red Curry with Bluegill

P1020284(1) I was kind of late to the Thai food craze. A few years ago my wife and I took a rare, much-needed, kid-free vacation to Key West. Around the corner from our hotel was a floating Thai restaurant, a quaint little place moored near a collection of fishing charters. My wife was immediately enamored with the romantic notion of dining on a boat, and I liked the idea as well, just not the Thai food part.

After some bad experiences back in college, I didn’t care for Indian food (still don’t) and I had long associated curries with the stuff. I knew that curries were also a staple in Thai cuisine, and based on the ignorant assumption that all curries were created equal, I had dismissed Thai food long ago. My wife, bless her heart, told me we were going to eat there regardless of my objections and I went along, mostly because she was paying for the vacation.

A rickety set of stairs led us past a window that offered a glimpse into a cramped but bustling kitchen, manned by two chefs and emanating intriguing, unfamiliar smells. I don’t even remember what I ordered, I think it was some bastardized Thai- American dish like phad thai. My wife’s meal, however, I will never forget—red curry with grouper. After she convinced me to take a bite, it was like I was tasting food for the first time. The complexity and the depth of the dish blew me away, it was the perfect marriage of sweet and spicy with a fatty, satisfying richness unlike I had ever tasted. My mission as soon as the plane landed back home was to recreate this dish in my own kitchen in all its glory. The recipe below is as close as I’ve come.

Any good Thai cook will tell you that the foundation of a delicious curry is a fresh, homemade curry paste. Unfortunately, some of the ingredients found in such a paste are hard to find, like kaffir lime leaf and galangal. Ready-made commercial pastes are more widely available, and brands like Mae Ploy and Mae Sri are awfully good, they just need a little help. I would have kaffir lime leaves in the recipe if they weren’t nearly impossible to find.

Bluegill compliments the flavors well. MAKE SURE the fillets are completely scale and bone free!

Thai Red Curry with Bluegill

  • 1 lb bluegill fillets
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup sweet peppers, julienned
  • 3 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4-6 tbs Thai red curry paste
  • 2 tbs canola oil
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, prepared
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 limes
  • one large shallot, minced
  • 1 tbs ginger, finely grated
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts
  • handful of Thai or holy basil
  • 4 cups cooked jasmine rice
  1. Prepare the lemongrass: slice the bottom third (the white, root end) of the stalks into thin pieces. Pound the pieces into oblivion with a mortar and pestle or meat tenderizer. Bruise the leftover stalks. Set aside.
  2. Preheat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the canola and a saute the shallot for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the prepared lemongrass and curry paste and saute gently for at least 2 minutes or until the paste is fragrant (4 tbs of curry paste will result in a medium level of spice, 6 tbs will be hot, and any more than that would be considered “Thai hot.”)
  3.  Add the coconut milk and chicken broth and stir in the ginger, fish sauce, brown sugar and bruised lemongrass stalks. Simmer, covered tightly, for 20-30 minutes. Now is a good time to start the rice.
  4. Add the bluegill fillets and cover completely with curry. Simmer until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes, then add the sweet peppers, pineapple, and the juice of one lime. Turn of the heat and let it sit, covered, for a couple minutes.
  5. Serve hot, topped with fresh basil and peanuts with rice and lime wedges on the side. Serves 5-6.

An Ode to Bluegill

There is no fish, pound for pound, that fights as hard. There are few fish that taste as sweet, with flesh as firm and flaky. No fish swims in more states, and there is none more willing to oblige a hopeful angler. I’m talking about lepomis macrochirus, old copper belly, or “titty bream” as they call ’em in the south (a reference to a ‘gill so big you have to hold it to your chest to remove the hook because your hand won’t fit around it). They were the fish that lit the fire in nearly every young fisherman.

If I could, I’d start every morning with a strong cup of coffee and a paddle around a bluegill lake. There is a comfort, a familiarity that fills me when I fish for bluegill. Rising from your seat to peer for the next set of beds, the anticipation when your line splashes down in just the right spot, and the staccato tug of a big bull bluegill bring back my fondest childhood memories. Its fishing at its simplest, its purest. Nothing more than a cheap outfit and a no. 6 hook adorned with anything that wiggles or hops will suffice. There is no pretense involved with bluegill fishing, no expensive tackle, no chartered guide required. Bluegill aren’t the center of billion dollar industries, commercialized tournaments, or ridiculous hype. They’re prolific and industrious, a blue collar-working man’s fish with no pomp and panache. They’re American as apple pie, and I’m considering starting a petition to replace the eagle as our nation’s mascot.

Despite their demure disposition and proletariat mentality, spawning males are certainly one of the most beautiful fish in the lake. Blackish-blue backs give way to fading blue stripes, with undertones of olive greens, purples, and pinks. Their namesake blue gills, punctuated with a dark blue gill flap, contrast with turquoise gill covers and a penny copper chest (yes, bluegill have a chest. And shoulders). When turned in the sunlight, they glean a kaleidoscope of colors.

For table fare, bluegill are tops. You can keep your Copper River sockeye salmon and your bluefin tuna—give me a plate of fried bluegill any day. They have a mild sweetness and a firm yet flaky meat that sets them apart from other panfish. They’re great fried, baked, steamed, poached, grilled, seared, or wrapped in sacred leaves and roasted over the coals of a ceremonial fire. Perfect for soups, bluegill fillets’ firmness stands up to rigors of soup making better than other panfish. I’ve never met a plate of bream I didn’t like.

Perhaps best of all, one can keep a mess without contrition. Bluegill are prolific spawners, and in many cases bringing some home for the dinner table may benefit an ecosystem. ‘Gills are an important cog in the aquatic food chain, a staple in the diet of so called “game fish.”

So if you’re a bass fisherman that’s “outgrown” bluegill, or a weekend warrior who thinks they no longer have the time, do yourself a favor: sharpen the fillet knife, dust off the ultralight and rediscover the fish that started it all.

Backstrap Spring Rolls

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This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a serving suggestion. Spring rolls are synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine, but a version can be found in most Asian countries, each putting their own spin on this (usually) healthy appetizer. Rice wrappers are filled with fresh vegetables, seafood or pork, and are deep fried, or in this case, eaten fresh. Local ingredients always dictate fillings, and mine are no exception. The smokiness of the grilled venison contrasts nicely with the fresh vegetables.

Rice wrappers aren’t too difficult to find. Most large grocery chains stock them, and any Asian market will have a few varieties. For some reason, instructions for use are seldom listed on the packaging and the internet is full of awful rice wrapper-handling advice. The rolling technique is not unlike rolling a cigar—too loose and it will fall apart, too tight and the wrapper will rip.

Roll your rolls on a nonporous surface because rice wrappers are delicate and have a tendency to stick. Its not a bad idea to lightly grease your workspace with a touch of canola oil.

I like to eat them with a sweet chili sauce. The recipe I use can be found at shesimmers, the best Thai cooking resource on the world wide web.

Backstrap Spring Rolls

  • Several leaves of green leaf lettuce, cut into long strips
  • half of a sweet pepper, julienned
  • a medium cucumber peeled and julienned, firm, white outer part only
  • one avacado, sliced thin
  • one grilled backstrap (preferably from a young deer)
  • rice spring roll wrappers
  1. Prep the veggies beforehand and refrigerate. Grill the backstrap to medium rare and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice thinly.
  2. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and form an assembly line with your fillings. Lightly oil your rolling surface with a dot or two of neutral tasting oil.
  3. Dip a wrapper in the bowl of water so it is completely submerged and quickly pull it out. It will still be stiff to the touch but will soften over the next 30 seconds. Lay the wrapper on the oiled surface and place a few strips of lettuce along the bottom, followed by the sweet pepper, cucumber, avacado and finally the backstrap. The fillings should lie tightly next to one another, do not stack them.
  4. Lift the bottom edge of the wrapper over the fillings and tuck the end just underneath the backstrap. Fold the sides to the width of the fillings and gently but firmly roll the wrapper into a cigar shape.
  5. Repeat until you run out of fillings. Slice the rolls into inch wide pieces with a sharp, thin knife.
  6. Serve with sweet chili sauce and those chop sticks you have in your silverware drawer for some reason. Makes 5-7 rolls, feeds 2-3.

Perfect Fish Sandwich

 

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I love a good fish sandwich. And when I say “fish sandwich,” I’m not referring to one of those scary, square-shaped mystery-fish patties that pop up on fast-food menus around Lent. Batter fried, greasy, and squashed between two sad buns with a schmear of tartar sauce, they are truly an abomination to the fish sandwich. The Filet O’ Fish from Mickey D’s even features a slice of melty, iridescent yellow “cheese product.” And don’t get me started on jarred tartar sauce. Think Elmer’s glue with old, weird tasting bits of pickle. And just how the hell does a square fish swim, anyways?

A good fish sandwich starts with a quality bun and a fresh, flaky white fish. In my neck of the woods I like to use fillets from slab crappie or walleye, but any white fish will do. Dill pickle slices and a spiked Hellman’s take the place of the Elmer’s glue, and lettuce n’ tomato top it all off.  And what about cheese, you say? Not on mine. Ever.

I like my sandwich with some fried potatoes and coleslaw. I know fries are the ubiquitous choice with fish, but YOU try making a good batch at home. Its a pain in the ass. Instead, take some Yukon golds to the slicer side of a cheese grater and voila: perfect fried ‘taters too.

Fish Sandwich and Fried Potatoes

  • 3/4-1 lb pound of white fish, preferably a half inch or thicker
  • One egg, beaten
  • Fish breading (if you’re not using my recipe, Andy’s Red Breading is a fine choice)
  • Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 10 drops of Tabasco Sauce
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 Bakery buns
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 or 3 Yukon gold potatoes
  • Peanut oil
  1. Combine the mayo, Tabasco, lemon juice and djion mustard and refrigerate.
  2. Pour a 1/4 inch of oil into two cast iron skillets and heat to around 375° F. While the oil is heating, slice the desired amount of potatoes using the slicer side of a four-sided cheese grater.
  3. Once the oil is at the desired temperature, add the potatoes and fry until light golden brown, turning once. They will stick together. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of paprika.
  4. While the potatoes are frying, quickly bread the fish using the egg and breading, then fry in the opposite pan. Drain on paper towels.
  5. To build the sandwich: toast the buns lightly and smear with mayo. Put some dill pickle slices on the bottom bun, followed by the fish. Sprinkle with some Old Bay seasoning, then top with a thin slice of tomato and some crisp lettuce.
  6. Wash down with cold beer. Serves 2.

Rapala Fillet Knives

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I’ll make a bold statement: for the money, there is no better knife than the Rapala fillet knife. Specifically, the Fish ‘n’ Fillet series, sometimes called the Finlander. I use them for fillering everything from bluegill to catfish, to carving roasts and de-boning deer. They’re my desert island knife.

Every Wal-Mart and self-respecting sporting goods store from California to Maine carries them. They just might be the most prolific fillet knife in the world, and for good reason. They blades have the perfect amount of flex and a pronounced point that makes them down right surgical. Like most fillet knives, the blades are stainless steel, which is usually a bear to sharpen. Rapalas, however, are an exception—I’m able to stroke a dangerous edge with a diamond stone and a finishing stone. The handles are just the right size, and the balance is superb.

They’re available in 4″, 6″,  7 1/2″, and 9″ blade. I use the 4″ for filleting panfish and anything that requires finesse knife work. The 7 1/2″ is ideal for catfish, carving roasts and boning out deer.

Their only knock is a weak tang. Fillet knives get wet, and moisture finds its way into the space between the handle and the tang and will slowly rust the metal. Half way through a mess of bluegill, while flexing the blade to remove a fillet from the skin, your concentration will by broken by a “snap” and suddenly you will be holding a handle without a blade. This has happened to me twice with knives I used countless times a year for over a decade, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a huge design flaw.

The smallest model runs about 14 bucks, the largest about $30. Do yourself a favor and buy a couple.

Grilled Catfish Tacos with Chipotle Sour Cream

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This is quite possibly my favorite way to prepare catfish and there is no food that says “summer!” better than fish tacos. Grilling skinless fish fillets correctly can be a challenge, but a few preparations and a thin, wide spatula will make the task much easier. Do it correctly and your reward will be juicy fish with a slightly crusty sear.  A warm breeze, cold booze and a plate of grilled fish tacos makes for a beautiful summer evening.

Grilled Catfish Tacos with Chipotle Sour Cream

For the fish:

  • 2 lbs of fresh catfish fillets (fillets from smaller cats work better)
  • 1 tbs chili powder
  • scant 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Olive oil for coating fish, oiling grate
  • green leaf lettuce
  • avocado, sliced thin
  • tomato, diced
  • lime wedges
  • Six flour tortillas

For the Chipotle Sour Cream:

  • 2/3 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1 minced chipotle pepper in abodo, plus 1 tsp sauce
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • salt to taste
  1. Combine the sour cream ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  2. Prep the coals for direct medium high heat. Mix the dry spices together and prep the toppings.
  3. When the coals are nearly ready, brush the fillets liberally with olive oil, then apply the rub.
  4. Once the coals are hot, preheat the grate for at least five minutes. Coat a piece of paper towel with olive oil and brush the grate. Place the fillets on the grate and DON’T TOUCH THEM for at least two or three minutes. They will release from the grill once they’ve begun to form a crust.
  5. Carefully slide your wide/thin spatula under the fillets and flip carefully. Its helpful to have a second spatula to facilitate the flip. Some bits and flakes from your fillets will stick to the grate. This is normal.
  6. Grill the other side for a couple minutes more. Grilling times will vary with the size and thickness of the fillets. If you must grill the fillets in batches, make sure your grate is brushed clean between groups.
  7. When the fillets are done, warm the tortillas shells on the grill. Tear the fillets into chunks and squeeze some lime juice over the top. Pile on some avocado, lettuce, tomato, and a couple dollops of sour cream. Serves 3.

 

 

Fillet a Catfish

Catfish can be a tricky subject to butcher. There’s the old-fashioned method involving a penny nail and pliers, where the fish is nailed to a tree and its skin pulled off like a glove—except that it never works that way. It rips off in tiny, uneven pieces, leaving you with a carcass that looks like its been picked over by a murder of crows. I’ve even heard of anglers using compressed air to loosen the areolar tissue that binds the skin and the underlying muscle, but that sounds cumbersome and unnecessary to me. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but there’s only one good way. Just fillet the damn things.

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  1. You’ll need a sharp fillet knife with at least 6 inches of flexible blade. Flip the catfish on its side and position it so the barbs on the pectoral fins are hanging off the edge of the cutting surface and the catfish is lying flush (the pectoral and dorsal barbs are coated with a nasty toxin that stings like hell when it penetrates skin—avoid them). Start with a small incision where the skull meets the flesh. Cut straight down till you feel bone. P1020162
  2. Turn the blade parallel to the spine and slice towards the tail. Cut slowly along the back, feeling the bones the entire way. Notice I made a semi-circular cut around the dorsal spine. There is a bony knob here that is exclusive to catfish and it can be a pain to cut around. A little practice makes perfect. P1020164
  3. Continue the cut along the back, feeling the rows of bones as you go. The tip of your blade should be scratching the top of the rib cage. Lift up the freshly cut flesh as you go. P1020167
  4. Once the cut along the back has passed the dorsal fin by a couple of inches, you will be clear of the rib cage. Slowly and carefully—while still maintaining contact with the rows of bones along the spine—punch the blade straight through to the bottom of the fish. Ideally you will just miss the rib cage.P1020171
  5. Continue the cut along the spine and rows of bones until you reach the tail fin. Leave the now-hanging fillet attached. It will help support the fish while you cut the remaining side. P1020176
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 for the other side. When both sides are filleted you’ll have something that looks like this.P1020179(1)
  7. Place the catfish on its stomach, its tail facing you. Cut along both sides of the rib cage until the fillets are freed from the fish. When you’ve finished this step, it should look like the picture in the upper left-hand corner. Discard the carcass.P1020186
  8. Now for the tricky part. Cut down at a slight angle at the tip of the tail until you feel resistance. DO NOT cut all the way through the skin on the other side. Wiggle your blade into position between the skin and the bottom of the flesh.P1020188
  9. Flexing your blade slightly, cut away from yourself along the imaginary line that separates the skin and the flesh. P1020189
  10. Half way down the fillet it may be necessary to grab the skin to keep it stationary while you make your cut. Catfish skin is REALLY tough. P1020191

When you’re done you’ll have something that looks like this, Actually,you’ll have two things that look like this.

And just a reminder, sharp knives cut careless fingers, as do catfish barbs, gill plates and fish spines. In fact, I’ve received more cuts from latter two than I have from a fillet knife. Right after I shot this post, a gill plate made the one below.

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Catfish and Canoes

As l drifted off to sleep, serenaded by the throaty bellow of the bullfrogs and the gentle rock of the waves, I pondered how it was that I arrived here: curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor of my canoe, a dirty life jacket propped beneath my head.

I’ve always preferred the road less traveled. A 50 horse Johnson and a crowded boat ramp is not my idea of a good time. I like the long way, the muddy route, the steep climb. A righteous day afield means grimy clothes and aching muscles. I like a little Huckleberry Finn in a day of fishing.

My usual harder-than-hell-to-get-to catfish hole hadn’t been producing. In the backwaters of a reservoir, it’s a sharp, rocky point that juts out and nearly touches the bend in a creek channel. Yeah, prime stuff. Its the kind of place you’d see diagrammed in Field and Stream with the title, “Catch Spring Cats Now.” Recent deluges had sent the water levels into wild fluctuation and the catfish on the move. Two trips to the not-so hot spot had seen few bent poles and zero catfish fillets. I needed to find smaller water.

My plan B when Field and Stream ain’t happening is a 100 acre lake nestled between the sprawling valleys of an old state forest. Its here that I find myself on a Monday night, the chorus of nature’s nightlife and the sway of the boat coaxing me to sleep. I had arrived on the scene hours earlier, with little more than my canoe and a couple of beers to keep me company. I was going to catch some catfish and spend the night in my boat, but just as importantly I was going to take beautiful pictures to chronicle my experience. I loaded the Wenonah with haste, inventoried my gear, and stepped back to take what would have been a beautiful picture of the loaded canoe, juxtaposed against the choppy lake. But, like a moron, and many morons before me, I Forgot the Batteries. Specifically the camera battery, which was still sitting fully juiced on the charger at home, happily sucking electricity and running up my electric bill.

So there would be no pictures. After a 15 minute paddle I reached my destination, a seemingly nondescript point with little cover other than a shallow weed line. I wedged the canoe over some bullrushes and went about setting my lines for the evening. Small water catfish tend to run smaller, so I down-sized my hook to a 1/0 and clamped on a split shot. There would be no monsters caught this evening, but I was fine with that. Two pounders make fine meals.

The bite didn’t pick up till dark. In the meantime, I made myself comfortable by wedging my dry bag against the back of the canoe and propping my feet up on the yoke. I cracked open a beer and waited for a rod to double, swatting the occasional mosquito. Two bass, not ten feet from the boat, treated me with a display of courtship for the better part of the evening. The male had carved out a nest in the thick weeds, and occasionally the female would emerge from the bullrushes to drop her eggs. They swam in circles around the nest, fins shimmying, their bodies tilted in an intimate dance of procreation. It was one of those seldom-seen moments in nature, the kind that leaves you with a feeling of privilege and a memory you’ll never forget.

Once the sun dropped behind the trees it was difficult to keep two lines in the water. Twice I had doubles. While fighting a fish in one hand, the beam of my headlamp would catch the other rod being waylaid by a hungry cat, requiring a desperate lunge with my offhand to keep my pole from skiing across the lake.

After eight fish I decided to call it a night. With my sleeping bag unfurled along the bottom of the boat and my rods stowed safely atop the yoke and the seat, I slipped off my boots and slithered into the embrace of my mummy bag. I had no idea what time it was and it didn’t matter, I had forgotten tomorrow way earlier. I had no where to be in the morning, no obligations, no appointments. For the moment, life was a simple summation of fish and sleep. It was quiet except for the bullfrog baritone and a radio playing in a distant campground, sending out a song I couldn’t quite make out. The stringer, tied to the seat of the canoe, scratched softly on the sides of the gunnels as the catfish did their signature roll. I hoped no snapping turtles would eat them before I could.

After a relatively good night of sleep, I was awakened by the first rays of the morning sun. Despite my crusty eyes and sore muscles, I set a couple lines before departing. Within minutes both rods had doubled and a limit was mine. As I paddled back to the truck, I wondered how much longer I’d be able to traverse this path less traveled, this rustic and romantic way of fishing to which I’d grown accustomed. At what age would my body reduce me to outboards and modern convenience, when would it send my mind the ultimatum? I’m not getting any younger. Things I could do ten years ago without consequences now mean stiff joints and aching muscles. So for now I’ll enjoy every minute of my fleeting youth and continue to channel my inner Huck Finn, one fish at a time.

Perfect Grilled Backstrap

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Grilling is the best way, the only way, to cook a venison backstrap. The smoky sear that only comes from a hot fire and the toothsome, unmistakable twang of wild meat strikes a primal chord with my taste buds. Its something cerebral, something in my subconscious that registers “meat… plus fire…equal…good.” Its evolutionary, an acquired predilection.

I prefer my backstrap grilled whole. Many favor slicing the loin against the grain into medallions, but I say nay. Its difficult for anyone but the most seasoned butcher to cut slices of consistent thickness and its much harder to manage a grill crowded with thin, quickly cooking pieces of meat. And of course there’s the presentation: vivid grill marks gracing a slab of perfectly seared meat…well, food doesn’t get much sexier than that.

As for seasoning, a ‘strap needs nothing more than olive oil and a good dry rub. Even a simple rub down with kosher salt and cracked pepper is sufficient. And please resist the urge to use a marinade. They have no place in deer loin perfection.

Lastly, for the love of God, REST YOUR SEARED MEATS! Everyday, in backyards all over America, there are well-meaning Dads hovering over grills, plucking hunks of seared meat off the grill before stabbing them with a knife “to see if they’re done yet.” This is the worst possible thing you can do to your steak. The juices that make meat so darn tasty are still circulating within, and a puncture will drain it of this deliciousness. You will be left with dry, tough venison. Rest your meat, its not optional.

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Perfect Grilled Backstrap

  • 1-1 1/2lb section of venison backstrap
  • 2 tbs olive oil, plus extra for the grate

Cowboy Coffee Rub:

  • 1/2 tbs ground dark roast coffee
  • 1/2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  1. Remove your venison loin from refrigeration and allow to come to room temperature, 30 minutes to an hour. It should be free of silverskin. Ready your grill for indirect high heat, about 500-550°F. If your grill isn’t equipped with a thermometer and your too lazy to dig through the kitchen drawer for one, you can perform the hand test. Hold your hand 3 or 4 inches over the grate and if you can count to three before yanking it back and saying “oh sh*t that’s hot”…its perfect.
  2. Once the coals are ready, mix the rub ingredients together well. Oil the loin liberally, then massage in the rub. Dip a paper towel in olive oil and brush your grate.
  3. Place the loin on the grill so it bisects the grate at a 45° angle. Sear for 2 minutes, then rotate the loin 90 degrees so the hot grill creates an X-shaped pattern on the meat. This creates the so called “killer grill marks.” Sear for 2 minutes more.
  4. Flip the backstrap over and repeat step 3.
  5. Once the loin is seared on both sides, move it over indirect heat, close the lid and roast for 4 minutes. This will yield medium-rare on an “average” backstrap. This cooking time will obviously change with the size of the animal. A yearling may only require a quick 3-4 minute sear on each side, whereas that 12 pointer you shot may take a much longer roast. Learn to do the finger test. It changed my life.
  6. Once the loin is cooked to your liking (don’t cook venison past medium), let it rest for 5-10 minutes in loosely tented foil. Carve like a roast or serve in hunks like a steak. Potatoes and corn on the cob are good sides, or serve with some sauteed morels for a meal that would turn any Bon Appetit-reading-hipster-foodie green with envy.