December 31, 2014 by Anne Tenino
Breakfast for dinner, that’s what I’m giving you. When I was a kid, if we had venison around (not that common an occurrence after I was about ten—my dad didn’t hunt as much as my uncles), we’d have venison steak with eggs and some kind of potato—usually hash browns—for breakfast as a special treat. I’ve made it once or twice for my husband, but venison in our house is even scarcer than it was at my parents’. To get it, I rely mostly on the kindness of relatives (I could have kinder ones . . .). I feel justified in calling it an “entree,” because I was once served a version of it in a restaurant as dinner.
Personally, I like my take on the recipe better than that restaurant’s.
As I said, though, we rarely have it. Most of the time I forget about eating game entirely, but recently, as I’ve been working on my contribution to the Bluewater Bay universe—Wedding Favors, out April 13—I’ve been revisiting those redneck bits of my past. Things like the way some of my relatives speak, and the ins and outs of logging, and the food we used to eat that was a little different from the food my kids eat. (The few times they’ve had venison, I’ve told them what it was afterward. That hasn’t gone over well . . .) I took all these pieces of my personal history and used them to inform the book, especially the character Gabe, a logger who stays in town, working his family’s tree farm, for twelve years before Lucas comes back.
Lucas, like many small-town kids, hated the hick backwater where he grew up, and left as soon as he could. In his case, that was immediately after high school. His best friend, Audrey, left as well, but it didn’t stick with her: eleven or so years later, she returned.
Then, she got engaged to Lucas’s brother.
Because his own life isn’t working out so well, Lucas eventually lets her persuade him to come home and help plan the wedding. Still, he doesn’t believe her assurances that Bluewater Bay has changed (largely due to the television series being filmed there, now), or that Gabe really is a nice guy, not the player Lucas believes him to be.
Since I write romance, we all know what’s about to happen, right? Lucas and Gabe are going to get together, and Gabe is going to reintroduce Lucas to the good things about living in a small town. Things like venison for breakfast.
This is my (and Gabe’s) version of venison steak with gravy.
For two people:
2 venison steaks cut from the backstrap (known as the “loin” in most livestock)
Flour for dredging (about a half-cup)
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp oil mixed with 1 Tbsp melted butter
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
About a half cup thinly sliced mushrooms (best with morels, but regular supermarket ones will do)
1 Tbsp oil for frying the mushrooms
2 to 3 Tbsp flour for gravy (depending on how thick you like it)
2 tsp wine vinegar (I prefer red wine vinegar, but white will do)
1 ½ cups mushroom, beef or chicken broth
Let the steaks sit out for a bit, long enough for at least the exteriors to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, mix the flour with some salt (about as much as you think you’d like; I use about a half teaspoon per cup of flour) and freshly ground pepper (an ⅛ – ¼ tsp is usually good) and pour into onto a wide, shallow plate or dish. Have another plate or dish handy for the dredged steaks.
Get together the rest of your ingredients.
Dredge the steaks, patting them on both sides with the flour mixture. Full coverage isn’t that important, but do the best you can.
Melt the butter in a frying pan large enough for both steaks over medium heat, then add the oil. Dredge the steaks again while waiting for the pan to heat up. When the oil-butter is just shimmering, add the steaks. It should spatter at first, but settle down a little. You want the steaks to brown within a couple of minutes per side, but also release some juice. Once browned, keep cooking the steaks, flipping them at least once more. It’s recommended that venison be cooked to at least medium-well, since it’s a game meat (about 165), but a cut like backstrap is really best if you take it out at about medium-rare (about 140-145). If it’s been previously frozen, or farm-raised, you’re probably safe cooking it to about 140.
Once the steaks are done, remove them from the pan and cover with foil. Heat the pan to medium high, add in the rest of the oil, and then the garlic until it begins to brown. Quickly add the mushrooms, and stir as they fry, making sure to sear each side. When they’re soft (a few minutes, depending on the type), remove them from the pan and place them with the steaks, recovering with foil.
Still on medium-high, mix in the flour with a wire whisk, stirring briskly to make sure it’s smooth. It should emulsify and start fizzing or bubbling. When the bubbling has mostly stopped, add in the vinegar and broth in a thin stream, whisking briskly the entire time. Once mixed in, turn the burner down to medium and, stirring constantly, let the gravy cook a few minutes until it has thickened.
Pour the gravy over the steaks and mushrooms, and serve immediately.