Are you savory? Or are you sweet?
Though there are plenty of double-tongued eaters among us, my experience has been that most people bite the fork on one side or the other when it comes to preferred flavors for their meats. Savory smacks my taste buds where they live, so I’ve always been scotch to walk on the honeyed side of wild proteins.
Early this fall, before the trees were unbuttoning their leaves and sending them sailing in the breeze, I came across a piece of top round venison in the freezer at my brother’s. It was a big, handsome-looking steak from last year’s harvest. Knowing he would need to make room for the promise of this season’s bounty, Randy was generous in his offer to let me take it off his hands—but challenged me to try something new. The result? A sweet maple-seasoned marinade that produced not only a cast-iron seared, caramelized crust on a butter-tender, eye-popping, sub-primal cut of venison, but also an epiphany for my savory-prone taste buds. This recipe is equally suited for other species, particularly big game like moose, elk, bison, and antelope. Here’s how to make it.
Vermont Maple Seasoning Marinade
Enough for approximately 1.5 pounds of meat
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon fennel
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon sage
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
5 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 jalapenos quartered lengthwise
Mix all ingredients into a paste. If desired, add more seasoning according to what your taste buds are telling you. Halve the mixture and massage into meat tissue on each side of the cut. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate anywhere from 2 hours to 24 hours.
When you are ready, heat the griddle to medium high. You don’t want it too high, or your brown sugar and maple syrup will burn. When the griddle is hot, drizzle some olive oil on the pan and lay on the steak, searing the first side. Don’t flip-flop the meat from one side to the other. Leave it alone.
After about 5-7 minutes, turn the meat and allow it to char for another 3-5 minutes. The absolute best way to serve this cut is medium rare to rare, so don’t ruin something you worked so hard to harvest by overcooking it.
Throw on the jalapenos, seeds and all, and char. A bite of one of these—along with a jigger of whiskey—will warm you like nothing else when you come in from your deer stand.
Remove the steak and jalapenos. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Slice thin and devour. Stay tuned and prepare this succulent recipe as the hero ingredient in a few forthcoming recipes. What’s up next? A VBLT sandwich with a delicious mayo spread, and venison sliders with super slaw.
Photographs by the author