Venison Round Steak with Morel Mushrooms Sautéed in Cognac

This was one of the best meals we've ever had, hands down. We had always hoped to go morel mushroom hunting one day and our wish finally came true last week thanks to our good friend Mark Davis, a photojournalist at the Omaha World-Herald. Mark hunts mushrooms religiously each spring and was so kind to share this experience with us. He taught us where to look and how to correctly extract them from the ground. It was an experience that we both relished. 

Although it was hot, the ticks were everywhere, and the brush was thick and unforgiving, we were able to find enough mushrooms for two hearty meals. Lucky us! In some areas, morel mushrooms can go for as much as $40 a pound. And it's no wonder. These meaty, tender mushrooms have a deeply earthy taste that is unrivaled by cultivated mushrooms found in stores. Morels are expensive because they can only be found in the wild, "popping" up in the spring when the weather warms. It also takes a bit of time, hard work and a keen eye to collect this delicious fungi. 

There's nothing new about steak and mushrooms, but instead of cooking our mushrooms in wine, like most, we decided to go with cognac because after all, morel mushrooms are most prized in French cuisine. We find that cognac helps to accentuate and complement the mushroom's earthy flavors. We hope that you all will get a chance to try morels sometime. All the tick bites and being punctured and slashed by thorns in the woods was well worth it! 

Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
- 1 large, whole venison round from a deer's hind quarter
- kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound of morel mushrooms, halved, quickly washed and drained
- pinch of dried thyme, or fresh (use more)
- 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup of cognac, or whiskey
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced

1. Thoroughly clean venison round. To make cuts from the hindquarter tender, it is important to remove all silver skin and fat. Wash under cold water, then dab dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides and allow the meat to come to room temperature for an hour. Do this by leaving the meat on the counter. Cover to keep the flies out. This helps the meat cook evenly. 
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

Then heat an ovenproof or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Dab steak dry with paper towels again and sprinkle some more salt and pepper just before cooking. When the skillet and butter are hot, sear both sides of the steak until browned and crusted, like in the photo, about 2 minutes each side. 

3. Once the other side is seared, place the skillet in a 375 degree F oven to finish cooking. Cook for about 12 minutes for medium-rare-- we had a fairly large round from a big doe. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your steak. 

4. Meanwhile, heat another skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of oil to the pan. Add shallots and cook until just turning brown, stirring often. 
5. Then add morel mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook until mushrooms give up most of their moisture, stirring frequently. 
They will give up a lot of moisture, especially since you had to wash them. To avoid overcooking the mushrooms, momentarily take them out of the liquid and place them into a colander. 
Allow the liquids in the skillet to evaporate almost completely, then place the mushrooms back into the skillet. 
6. Then carefully pour in 1/4 cup of cognac into the pan and allow it to reduce until it's almost gone, which should only take a few seconds. 
Remove mushrooms from heat then stir in the last 1 tablespoon of butter, thyme and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add any juices that collect from the meat after resting to the mushrooms for more flavor. 
7. Once the venison is cooked to your liking in the oven, remove it from the skillet and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, tented with foil. 

Then slice steak against the grain and serve with the sautéed morels. Yum!

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