Venison Tenderloin with Blueberry Sauce

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Icelandic venison with blueberry sauce recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Venison and blueberry sauce, or huckleberries if you live here in the West, is an ancient and well-respected combination. One that I’d hated for years. Every version I’d had was cloying, sticky, a weird sweet and not very sour flavor that just didn’t suit me. Long ago I told myself that I’d just avoid this particular classic.

And then I read a quirky little book on, of all things, the food of Iceland. Icelandic Food & Cookery, by the memorably named Nanna Rognvaldardottir, has all kinds of cool recipes in it, and you can expect to see some here in the coming months.

Her version of this dish, done with lamb, was the first one I’d seen that was not obviously sweet. Her use of mushrooms in a berry sauce was pretty unusual, too. So I studied the recipe, made a few changes and gave it a go.

I am glad I did. This dish is a knockout.

The venison itself is cooked very simply — just seared medium-rare in a pan with some clarified butter — but the sauce has all kinds of layered flavors. Seared onions and wild mushrooms, a little garlic, wine, stock, the mushroom soaking water, and only then the blueberries. I used wild huckleberries I had frozen, and they are smaller and more acidic than store-bought blueberries. They actually act as a zippy tart balance to the savory sauce, not as a sugary bomb.

One cool option might be to use pickled blueberries, which last forever in the fridge. That adds even more tartness to the dish.

I served this alongside some Irish colcannon, which is a fancy name for mashed potatoes with a green thing mixed in. I used nettles I had from the freezer, but any green will do. Spinach would be easiest, but kale is pretty traditional in Ireland, and the Icelanders eat it, too.

The blueberry sauce is a must-try with your next piece of venison tenderloin or backstrap. It’s a date night dish that takes less than an hour to put together, too.

Venison tenderloin with Icelandic blueberry sauce
4.88 from 57 votes

Venison with Blueberry Sauce and Colcannon

I love this recipe with tenderloins, but backstrap or even a well-cut leg steak would work. And of course this will work with duck, goose, beef or lamb, too. You'll notice I use both clarified and regular unsalted butter here. I like the clarified because it has a high smoke point and is better for searing than regular butter; milk solids burn easily. You can buy it in many markets labeled as Indian ghee, or you can make your own. Or use another fat or oil. As for the mushrooms, I used dried morels. Any good dried mushroom will do. You want that mushroom soaking water, so don't use fresh mushrooms. Port wine can be a nicer kick in the sauce than red wine, but it's strong -- if you use Port instead of red wine, use only 1/4 cup. Finally, remember that this is a savory sauce, despite the blueberries (or huckleberries). If this is weird to you, add some sugar.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 2 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients 

  • Tenderloins from a deer or 1/2 pound venison backstrap
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter, regular unsalted butter, lard, duck fat or vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, peeled and sliced root to tip
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 ounce dried mushrooms, wild if possible, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup venison stock or beef stock
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup blueberries or huckleberries, fresh or thawed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Malt or red wine vinegar to taste
  • Sugar optional

COLCANNON

  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Salt
  • 2 or 3 three tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 or 2 heaping tablespoons sour cream or heavy cream
  • 1 cup chopped spinach or other greens

Instructions 

  • Take the venison out of the fridge and salt it well. Let it set on the cutting board while you rehydrate the mushrooms and boil the potatoes for the colcannon.
  • Put the diced potatoes into a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender. Drain the potatoes and put them back in the pot. Turn the heat to low under the pot and let the potatoes steam for a few seconds.
  • Beat in the butter, sour cream and chopped vegetables. You want nice mashed potatoes with green streaks. Add salt to taste, cover the pot, turn off the heat and set aside.
  • Get a large saute pan and put 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into it. Turn the heat to high and when the butter is hot, add the sliced onion. Saute over medium-high heat until browned along the edges, about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the onions and set aside.
  • Wipe the pan with a paper towel. Pat the venison dry and put the clarified butter into the pan. Set it over high heat until the butter is very hot, but not smoking. Add the venison and sear until medium-rare. If you don't know to tell when the meat is done, use the finger test for doneness. When the venison is done, move it to rest on a cutting board.
  • Return the onions to the pan, add the mushrooms and garlic and saute over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle some salt over everything and add the wine.
  • Boil this down until it's almost gone, using a wooden spoon to stir up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and mushroom soaking water (strain the water if there is any debris in it) and boil this down by two-thirds.
  • Add the huckleberries or blueberries and cook another minute or two, Add black pepper, salt and vinegar to taste. If you want it sweet, add some sugar now; start with a teaspoon or two. Garnish with the rosemary.

Notes

I served this with a really good Spanish red wine, but any full-bodied red will work, or if you are a beer drinker, a malty Scottish ale or porter is the ticket.

Nutrition

Calories: 597kcal | Carbohydrates: 60g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 86mg | Sodium: 151mg | Potassium: 1431mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1931IU | Vitamin C: 24mg | Calcium: 60mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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57 Comments

  1. The recipe would be easier to follow if the steps for the meat were separate from the potatoe instead of woven together. I look forward to trying it today.

  2. This has become my go to victory meal (for hard-earned tenders). Works well with both blueberries and huckleberries. Very easy to make and will not disappoint!

  3. WOW- this was amazing!! I had to make a few small substitutes based on what I had at home, but it turned out sooo great. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I wanted to thank you for this recipe, Hank. It was outstanding and probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had the pleasure to make. I bought Buck Buck Moose and look forward to making many more meals from it. I also can’t wait to make this for friends and family, as I’m sure it will cause them to rethink how they view venison and wild game. Keep up the great work!

  5. Absolutely loved the venison with blueberry sauce………luckily I was trimming a fresh killed deer, my blueberry bush had ripe berries and I also had potatoes and onions from the garden…..perfect timing!

  6. It is my 60th birthday and I wanted to make a meal to celebrate my fabulous life with my father who is a World War 11, Korea, Vietnam veteran who has Alzheimers..I stumbled upon your recipe and all I can say is WOW!! Pops isn’t a fan of venison and after he did everything but lick the plate I told him what I had made with your help. He smiled and I cried! Thank you for making this meal more than dinner!

  7. absolutely wonderful!! followed this recipe and it did not disappoint…
    my son and his mate shot the dear just a week ago and it wasn’t gammy at all…I’m a venison convert…

  8. Made this last night with medallions. Used blueberries and blackberries from the freezer. Doubled sauce using 2 pkgs of mixed dried mushrooms from trader joes. Outstanding. I never write on Web sites but am compelled to say thank you thank you thank you Hank. My husband’s family keeps us well supplied with venison and I always have a freezer full. While I have always been comfortable cooking venison you have taken me to a whole new level. Thank you for making me look good!!!

  9. What a fantastic recipe! My brother gave me a backstrap and I made this for a friend and myself. It was so delicious!

  10. Put down my first ever deer last week and made this dish tonight. This was absolutely amazing! Kids cleaned their plates and were looking for more.

    I love this website!

  11. My husband brought home two elk a couple weeks ago. I’ve been following your recipes and finally get to utilize some of them. I made this one last night. Holy Fancy Elk Dinner! I made it for my mom, my husband, and a close friend. (I obviously doubled the recipe.) I used Chanterelle and Oyster Mushrooms. Wowser’s! I gotta admit, I was skeptical before and during. I tasted the sauce as it was reducing down, prior to adding the blueberries and red wine vinegar. I wasn’t so sure but a little voice told me to keep on going. It was DELISH! I wouldn’t alter anything in this recipe. Thanks so much!

  12. I’m curious why you don’t use venison fat for searing the meat or sautéing the onions. Would the flavor be too strong?

    And, I’m happy to hear my namesake in Iceland is cooking up tasty meats!

    1. Nana: I don’t keep venison fat separate, like lard or duck fat. You could use rendered venison fat to do this, but too much venison fat can leave a waxy coating in your mouth. A little is good, though.

  13. I’m right there with you on too sweet blueberry sauces and can’t wait to try this! I have a feeling I’ll be unable to resist adding dry sherry, I’m convinced that it does something magical to mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms.

    Going on my first hunting camp trip next week with hopefully my first deer and have been doing some shopping & prep ahead of time (such an optimist). Can’t wait to try out a bunch of these recipes. Love everything about your site, and was really glad I read your post on deer fat BEFORE processing next week, although sounds like our wild Southeast Alaskan deer aren’t likely to have the sweet fat of a deer gorging on alfalfa or corn.

  14. I’m with Will – we raise and butcher goats for our freezer and I’ve been stuck in a curry goat rut. Your recipes have opened up a whole new world of goat stroganoff and goat carbonnade. Thank you for helping me transform this healthy meat into something my whole family enjoys and doesn’t get bored of!

  15. Over the last week, you’ve been responsible for some amazing meals on my table – venison carbonnade, bambi stroganoff, pheasant chilindron with a jar of preserved sweet peppers… This looks like another winner… So thank you in advance! Now I just need to find another deer… Might try this with cranberries if I do.