The December/January issue of Outdoor Life published venison recipes from various chefs. The one that caught my eye was the Grilled Drunken Venison Chops from John Reilly. It just so happened I had a few packs of recently wrapped chops courtesy of a North Carolina doe. The picture in the magazine looked awesome. Why not?
(Real quick, venison chops are a fantastic alternative to just cutting the whole backstrap loin out. Take the entire backbone with backstraps and tenderloins still attached to your local processor. It can be hell on cooler space, but it is worth it.)
Here’s a summary of the recipe:
1 Cup Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs. cracked black powder
½ cup olive oil
1 large shallot
2 sprigs thyme
1 Tbs. crushed juniper berries
Pinch plus Kosher Salt
Mix ingredients (except salt) and marinate for 2 – 12 hours
Grill. Let sit. Sprinkle with salt.
With recipes like this, ingredients are always a problem. I’m not Rachel Ray – my supply of spices like coriander and smoked ragweed is typically compromised. Professional cooks just can’t help but throw stuff like this in, and Mr. Reilly is no exception. Juniper berries. I don’t even know what a juniper is. I assumed some species of fidget bird - which made the berries sound awfully unappetizing for a meal. I asked the produce guy at Publix where I could find juniper berries. He looked at me as if I’d just told him I went speeding through a busy school zone, hit something, and was seeking a place to hide out until the heat died off.
Turns out a juniper is the vital ingredient in making gin, which, knowing the taste of gin, I still believe juniper berries could be bird crap. Just so happens I had a couple bottles of gin, a spoonful of which I could use as a substitute.
(Another aside – though my wife and I are in our 30’s, people come in and out of our home on a daily basis like a fraternity house to grab a drink and shoot the bull. On NFL Sundays it is positively infested with folks. Now, a number of these people, when out of refreshments of an adult nature, would suck the last drops from spent beer cans even if the lids were covered in cigarette ash and snot. I still can’t seem to get rid of this gin, however.)
The next issue was the wine. I’m not sure what Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon is – we had a bottle with a leaping Kangaroo on the front, which true oenophiles would faint in disgust if it were served to them.
So I whisked together all the ingredients and left the concoction in the fridge for about 6 hours. I got the grill red hot. When cooking these thin chops, cook very hot, very fast. The meat was dark purple from the wine. Smelled awesome.
And...they were OK. Carolyn wouldn’t request them if on Death Row. I ate four or five of them. Tender. Not bad, but it received a tepid response. The wine was a tad overpowering; I have had this trouble with other wine-based recipes in the past. Could just be my tastes.
No insult to Chef Reilly. My outcome could be the result of using gin instead of juniper. Or it could be the low-quality wine, wine that should be pressurized and used as insecticide, quite frankly.
Maybe someone can tell me what I did wrong. Mostly, this just illustrates the frustrations I have with recipes you find in such sources.
I shouldn’t be surprised.
Most of these magazines have been showing me how to kill big bucks for years, and I’ve had no luck there, either!