Venison Carpaccio with Juniper Berry and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Recipe by Jen

Carpaccio is an Italian dish made of raw meat pounded thinly and usually served as an appetizer. It's seasoned with a vinaigrette made of olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar, then served with mixed greens on top with Parmesan shavings. It is typically made with beef or veal, but fish such as salmon or tuna are also common. Venison is also not unheard of, and since we're hunters, I knew I had to try it one day with deer-- not without apprehension, of course. 

When I'm at a restaurant, I don't usually think about the possibility of getting sick. If you go to a restaurant that knows what it's doing, the chances of getting sick from eating raw food-- that's meant to be eaten raw-- is actually pretty slim. But at home, making this dish with the deer we harvested ourselves, I have to admit that I was a little nervous. I ate venison carpaccio for the first time last night, and even though it was delicious, I couldn't fully enjoy it. I ate each bite slowly, carefully, and gingerly... waiting for any adverse reaction from my gut. But after day two of eating this raw venison dish, I'm happy to say that I'm still here, and that my stomach hasn't balked one bit. And I should've known. Rick and I are always careful when processing deer meat. After all, I would sooner trust meat that came from an animal that either Rick or I killed and processed ourselves than going to the store to buy some random piece of meat of unknown origin and history. This is especially important if you're going to eat it raw. 

Rick gutting out a deer solo for the first time.
We can't stress this enough, but when it comes to wild game, the more care you take in handling it in the field, the better your final dishes will taste at the table. Once that deer hits the ground, you need to start thinking about gutting it out and cooling it down as soon as possible. A lot of people will shoot an animal, parade it around all day in the back of their pickups-- under the sun, I might add, and wonder why their deer tastes so bad afterwards. If you did the same thing to a cow, it would taste "gamey," too, or whatever you want to call the taste of poorly handled meat. I've eaten a lot of deer that Rick has shot, and I don't think it's gamey at all; I also have a very sensitive palette. The same goes for all other wild game, including birds (except wild ducks ;-) ). So if your deer tastes nasty, you should probably rethink your methods. 

Before processing, wash your hands thoroughly and avoid cross contamination between your gut pile and meat. If you want to make this dish, we suggest cutting out the backstraps first and immediately packaging and freezing it (if you're not going to use it right away) before working on the rest of the deer. You also want to avoid accidentally cutting into any stinky deer glands, especially the tarsal gland on the deer's hind legs. If you use the same knife to process your deer, it will ruin your entire batch of meat and can also make you very sick. According to the QDMA, the tarsal gland produces a bacteria that can cause illness and infection in humans: 
To learn how to properly clean and process deer, there are plenty of resources online that can help you. 

You also want to use good judgement. If you take your tenderloin out of the freezer and it doesn't look or smell fresh enough to eat raw, don't. You can try again with the next deer you shoot. And don't even think about using the inside straps for this recipe. The outside loins are perfect for carpaccio because not only are they tender, they are also located on a part of the deer that has zero contact to any inside organs.

So, if we haven't scared you away yet, here's how to make this dish. It's a wonderful new way to enjoy venison in its pure, raw form. It's just like eating sushi, except with red meat. If you're game, try serving this to your loved ones the next time you're having Italian night at home. 

Disclaimer: Prepare and consume this dish at your own risk. You should always know where your venison came from and how it was handled before eating any raw meat. If you get sick, it ain't our fault... Bon appetite!

Servings: 4 appetizer portions
Prep Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour (plus 1 hour if your meat is not frozen)
- 1 pound of venison loin, thoroughly cleaned of all fat and silver skin 
- 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs. of brown sugar, packed
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 17-20 juniper berries, crushed
- 2 tbs. of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. of kosher salt, plus more to taste
- freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- handfuls of arugula or mixed greens
- Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, shaved
- crusty bread, optional

1. In a large bowl, combine oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, garlic, juniper berries, parsley, pepper and salt to taste. Set aside.

If you can make this a few hours ahead of time, it will allow the garlic and juniper berries to better infuse into the oil and vinegar.
2. If your venison loin is frozen, remove it from the freezer and let it sit for 10-20 minutes at room temperature or until it's soft enough to cut through with a knife. If not frozen, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for about an hour to firm up. Cut into uniform 1/4 inch thick medallions across the tenderloin. Slightly frozen meat is easier to cut. 

2. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on a clean, flat surface. Place one medallion in the middle and another sheet of plastic wrap on top.

Then carefully pound the meat with the smooth side of a mallet, being careful not to tear the meat-- which I did repeatedly. Do it until you can see light shining through it. 

Store this piece in the fridge to keep it cold while you lay down more plastic wrap to flatten the rest of the venison medallions. 

This may take some time and patience...

3. Divide the meat evenly among 4 chilled plates. The easiest way to keep the meat together is to peel off one layer of plastic wrap, lay the meat side down on a plate the way you want, and then peel off the top layer of plastic wrap.

Give the vinaigrette another whisk or shake and drizzle it over the meat. Then add a handful of greens on top and shaved Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, followed by more vinaigrette if desired. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the vinaigrette, optional. 


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