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Culinary Creations: Something for the hunters

“Guess what? I’ve got a FEVER, and the only prescription is more COWBELL!” That classic line from an all-time great Will Ferrell SNL skit comes to mind every time I hear the word fever, and I still laugh out loud picturing Christopher Walken deliver the line with his trademark pauses and emphases.

Just to be clear, I don’t really have a fever. But this time of year, especially in this part of the country, thousands of men and women develop a fever. They get the urge to grab their favorite rifle, lace up their boots, strap on an orange vest and head into the woods. The only cure for this fever can’t be prescribed by a doctor. You can’t find it at Rite-Aid or CVS. There is no home remedy that you can read about on the internet. Heck even a cowbell won’t do you any good. No, the only cure for this fever is found in nature, deep in the woods.

The fever I speak of is, of course, metaphorical, but “Buck Fever” has gripped me, along with countless thousands of other hunters who love deer season. For generations of families in central Pennsylvania, deer hunting season is a way of life, a time to drop the hustle and bustle that has become life in the 21st century and get back to the roots of their ancestral survival.

My family is no different than many others when it comes to hunting season traditions. I have been blessed to share hunting season with three prior generations of Groves, as I am old enough to remember being with my dad, grandfather and great-grandfather as we anxiously awaited the first day of buck season at our cabin in Liberty. Now, full disclosure, I haven’t been hunting since I was in high school, but that has more to do with the busy life of a chef and the fact that I have never really been a fan of eating venison.

To be fair to venison, as a kid I only really ever saw it prepared in either hot dogs or bologna. I don’t mind the bologna or hot dogs now, but I still prefer them made with the more traditional meats.

I have been a chef for over a decade now but have hardly ever prepared venison. In restaurants, it is illegal to serve meat that hasn’t been inspected by the USDA, so it is nearly impossible to serve something that you hunted and killed yourself. Farm-raised venison is widely available through most food-service providers, but it just isn’t popular enough to put on an everyday menu.

It’s crazy to think about, but it took one of my longtime friends, Jordan Allison, to get me to realize that venison could easily be given a chef’s touch that could elevate it from the hot dog and bologna quagmire it is stuck in. Although Jordan is not a professional, he is an avid hunter, fisherman and now amateur chef. While at home during lockdown, Jordan taught himself how to make the classic Vietnamese soup pho, and he blew my mind when he told me he made venison into a classic old school tableside dish.

Steak Diane has been around since the 1940s. Like any dish traditionally prepared tableside, the recipe calls for adding flammable alcohol, which will need to be flamed off. But don’t be scared: Just follow my instructions for flambé, and you will be sure to enjoy your dinner with both eyebrows still intact.

Flammable liquids aside, the dish really lends itself to the flavors of venison, so replacing the traditional beef tenderloin with venison tenderloin is a seamless transition.

So this hunting season, if you’re lucky and bag a buck, break away from the same old boring bologna and hot dogs in your kitchen with this flaming chef-inspired dish. Cheers!

Venison tenderloin Diane

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 ½ pounds venison tenderloin medallions, pounded to about ¼-inch thickness

Kosher salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

2 small shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ pound button mushrooms

½ cup brandy

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup demiglace (preferably veal, can be found prepared in most grocery stores)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped

2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 dashes Tabasco

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Liberally season both sides of the venison medallions with salt and pepper. Add the butter and oil to the hot pan. When the butter is melted and is starting to pop and sizzle, add the meat to the pan and sear in batches. Be sure that you don’t put too many pieces in the pan at once and overcrowd the pan. Overcrowding the pan will prevent the meat from searing properly.

Once all the venison has been seared on both sides, set aside and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until they start to caramelize, then add the button mushrooms and cook until they are softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the hot pan from the heat and add the brandy. While making sure to keep the pan away from you and not under anything flammable, use a long match or stick lighter to ignite the brandy. When the fire dies out, return the pan to the heat and add the mustard, cream, demiglace, Worcestershire, scallions and parsley. Whisk to combine sauce and cook until the mixture comes together and starts to reduce. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Return the venison to the pan, coat in the sauce and simmer until the meat is fully reheated, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Culinary Creations is a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business & Hospitality and its Le Jeune Chef restaurant, a column by Christopher R. Grove, executive chef at Le Jeune Chef. Watch for Grove’s culinary tips and advice the last Wednesday of each month in The Taste.

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