The man who got me into hunting, former St. Paul Pioneer Press outdoor writer Chris Niskanen inspired this dish. “I recently shot a 200-pound whitetail (field-dressed) and would like simple recipes on fixing it,” he wrote. This recipe is reasonably simple, but elegant all at the same time.
It’s of Belgian origin and combines the classic flavors of juniper, rosemary and sour cream you see a lot in Northern Europe. I mostly do it with venison backstrap, but would work equally well with filet mignon, pork loin, a bear or deer roast, and possibly even a lighter meat like pheasant. Play around with it.
Belgian Venison Medallions
Nothing goes as well together as wild game and juniper. Something about it transports us into the snowy woods, filled with that nervous anticipation hunters know well and which non-hunters experience most often just before opening a Christmas present. The addition of lard is especially tasty, because everything goes better with lard. I first found this recipe in the Derrydale Cookbook of Fish & Game (1937), but this is an adaptation for modern kitchens.
This dish is excellent with mashed potatoes, polenta, spätzle or neeps-n-tatties (a mix of mashed potatoes and turnips). Need a veg? Try sauteed broccoli raab with garlic.
You’ll want a red wine here, something not too heavy, like a Chianti or a Pinot Noir or a Gamay. If you’re drinking beer, well, a Belgian is the way to go. Try a tripel or a Flanders red if you can find one.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds venison backstrap or loin
- 3 tablespoons lard or butter
- Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 shot of gin (not the good stuff)
- 1/4 cup demi-glace or reduced beef or venison stock
- 1 teaspoon ground juniper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
- Salt the venison and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Heat the lard or butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat and sear the venison on all sides. This should take 3 to 4 minutes on each side of the loin. “Kiss” the other sides of the loin for 1 minute to get a good sear. Remove the venison and let it rest on a cutting board.
- Add the shallot to the pan and saute for 2 minutes, stirring often. Off the heat, add the gin to the pan, then set it back over high heat. Flame it if you’d like. Either way, let it cook down a bit then while deglazing the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the crushed juniper and rosemary, then the demi-glace or reduced stock. Let this cook down over high heat until a spoon dragged through it leaves a trail, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, let any bubbling stop, then whisk in the sour cream. Strain the sauce if you want to.
- To serve, slice the venison loin into medallions. Lay down some sauce, then top with the medallions. You can add some fresh cracked pepper and some pomegranate seeds if you’d like.