Maureen Fraîche

Mixing Business and Pleasure in the Kitchen

Pan-Seared Venison Backstrap in Merlot-Dijon-Cream Sauce

Venison with Merlot-Dijon-Cream Sauce

God bless the hunters in my family.  Last time my folks came out to visit, my step-dad lovingly brought me several cuts of both elk and deer meat.  Needless to say, I was way excited, especially when I saw one of the packages was labeled backstrap.  For those of you unfamiliar with venison, the backstrap is a long muscle that runs down the length of the deer’s spine, also known as the tenderloin.  So basically, backstrap is the filet mignon of venison.  Because it is a muscle that is rarely used, it is exceptionally tender and also happens to be very lean.  On top of all this, venison–like other wild game–is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention iron, zinc, B vitamins, and a host of other nutrients.

This particular prep is incredibly delicious.  It’s an adaptation from Wolgang Puck’s Pan-Seared Beef Filets in Port-Dijon-Cream Sauce, which can be found in Wolfgang Puck Makes it EasyI received an autographed copy from my in-laws and have loved everything I’ve tried thus far.  With each recipe, Wolfgang tries to bring the big, complex flavors of restaurant cuisine to the home cook with his own tricks of the trade.

When I first made this recipe, I used top sirloin and because I don’t keep port on hand, I reached for the merlot.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.  Pan sauces really work wonders for seared meats.  The basic method is to first sear your meat on both sides in a super hot pan that’s been drizzled with a bit of oil.  If you have a pan that isn’t nonstick, USE IT.  You’ll get a much better sear this way.  Once nicely browned on each side, the meat is removed to a plate and the pan deglazed.  This is done by pouring in a liquid–in this case, wine–and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon.  These little bits, also called fond, are full of flavor.  Plus, by doing this simple step, you’ll actually be making your clean-up much easier.  No crusty pan to scour later!  Once deglazed, other ingredients are added, such as cream, herbs, butter, or other seasonings to create a delicious sauce for serving.  Trust me, though it may seem like a little extra work, you’ll not only save on the clean-up but you’ll also impress anyone at the table that night.

Pan-Seared Venison Backstrap in Merlot-Dijon-Cream Sauce
Serves 4


4-6oz venison backstrap (tenderloin) filets, trimmed of any fat (or beef filets)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup merlot
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped

Pat your filets with paper towels to dry and then give them a good sprinkling of salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat a heavy skillet over high heat and drizzle in the olive oil.  As soon as you see the slightest wisps of smoke, carefully add your filets.  Cook undisturbed for 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare.  For well done, turn down the heat a bit and cook for a couple more minutes on each side.  Transfer the steaks to a warm plate and cover loosely with foil to keep them warm.

Return your skillet to high heat and pour in the merlot to deglaze the pan.  As the merlot bubbles away, use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Turn the heat down a bit now and once the liquid is no longer boiling, stir in the heavy cream.  Simmer briskly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Whisk in the mustard and, piece by piece, incorporate the butter.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Transfer your filets to serving plates.  If any juices have accumulated on the holding plate, please feel free to pour and stir them into the pan sauce.  Spoon the sauce over the filets and garnish with the chopped parsley.

Nutrition information per serving (6 ounce filet of venison with 1/4 of the pan sauce): 510 calories, 29 g total fat, 11 g saturated fat, 1 g carbohydrate, 52 g protein

For a lighter meal, remember that the venison alone is a lean choice.  By cutting down to a 4-ounce portion and using just 2 tablespoons of pan sauce, you’ll clock in under 300 calories for the dish.

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