by Krissie Mason
The thing about hunter harvested venison backstrap is that it tastes amazing when it’s fresh, and when it’s cooked right. Right? Organ meats, on the other hand, have gotten a bad wrap in the past, and are the most often discarded parts of the animal. I got to admit, I’m not a big fan of organ meats. I wasn’t raised eating them, and I don’t have an unabashedly courageous palate, but with combo Master Chefs and Outdoorsmen like Andrew Zimmern, Ben Ford, Hank Shaw, and Toufik Halimi, all promoting the filet mignon like succulence of charred rare venison heart, I hiked up my britches and decided I had to give it go.
The first weekend in November was the Minnesota Whitetail Firearms Opener. As luck would have it, my brother bagged a large doe just before dusk on the first day and saved the heart.
Most important thing to do with venison heart if you want the best bite possible is get it chilled promptly. Wisely, my brother had put the heart in zip plastic bag immediately after field dressing and stashed it, blood and all, on ice in a cooler. Important: Don’t freeze it, just chill it. A heart on ice can remain fresh for culinary purposes for 48-72 hours.
Once home, I washed it under cold water to get most of the blood off, and then submersed it in ice water. While submersed you want to squeeze several times to basically pump the remaining blood out of the valves and arteries.
Next, you want trim off the valves and connective tissue. You can save that and throw it in with the meat that’s being ground into sausage, brats, or wieners. For my step-by-step photo gallery on how to trim venison heart head over to OutdoorLife.com
Outdoorsman and French Master Chef, Toufik Halimi, offered to prepare venison heart bruschetta to demonstrate how easy it is to cook, and how sublime the bite when done correctly. The recipe could easily be made in deer camp, but we ended up making it in the kitchen due to the first Winter Storm of the season slamming into the State and dropping over 16 inches.
Whitetails in Minnesota have a plentiful food supply with nitrogen rich alfalfa, stands of corn, and dropped grains readily available, so the gamey flavor of venison here is diminished. With that in consideration, Toufik chose simple and readily available ingredients that enhance the slight rustic gaminess.
Man, I got to tell you, this was off the hook! The whisper of game flavor in the seared heart was mouth watering; the robust olive oil, the onion, mustards, watercress combined to produce a flavor fusion and depth I have not experienced with venison. Superb! For those who are wondering, the texture was not weird AT ALL. Not “livery”, and not sinewy, or chewy. It is clear why heart is often likened to filet mignon. The key, like all the chefs emphasize, is searing rare to medium-rare at the most. Oh, and yeah, it doesn’t hurt when a Master Chef is in the kitchen.
Pictured: Author, Krissie Mason.