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There’s something both primal and elegant about a frenched rack of venison that will coax oohs and ahhs from your guests as you lay the platter on the table for a festive holiday supper. And best of all for any cowgirl in the kitchen, this lovely rack of venison takes less than a half-hour of oven time, freeing you up to focus on your guests and other tasks.
The roast itself, referred to as the “backstrap,” correlates to a beef tenderloin—from which the filet mignon is cut—and ranks as venison’s most prized cut. For a rack roast, the backstrap is left attached to the ribcage, and the ribs are “frenched,” meaning that the meat is neatly trimmed from the bones. You can easily do this yourself with a sharp knife.
The venison rack shown here is from an Axis deer, which along with fallow deer, red deer, and nilgai are classified as an exotic species in the U.S. and can be legally hunted year-round, unlike our native white-tailed deer that are regulated by hunting season to prevent overharvesting the resource. They’re all delicious, but Axis, with its delicate flavor, ranks as one of my favorites. If you don’t hunt or have access to wild game, you can order ethically harvested wild, free-range venison from Texas’ Broken Arrow Ranch (see sidebar), my go-to resource for special events and large gatherings.
Remember, the key to heightened, melt-in-your-mouth flavor—as it is with prime beef—is the dry-aging process, which denatures the protein in the muscle tissues, making it more tender, while drying the outside surfaces to hold all that juicy moisture in.
Rack Of Venison With Chimichurri
1 (8-rib) venison rack, about 2 pounds
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 ribs celery, to make rack to hold roast
For the chimichurri sauce:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepperDirections:
Two or three days before cooking, thaw a frozen rib roast in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove the roast from its wrapping, pat it dry with paper towels, place it on a rack over a small pan to catch the drips, and return to the refrigerator, uncovered, to dry-age for 24 to 48 hours. (Cook’s tip: Make sure that all containers in the refrigerator are tightly sealed, and the refrigerator is free from any odors that might permeate the roast.) One hour prior to cooking, remove the roast from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Make the chimichurri sauce: Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and process until somewhat smooth, but retaining a bit of texture. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you begin roasting the meat. Serve at room temperature. Yields about 2 cups.
Roast the rack: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Lightly coat the rib roast with a bit of oil, and salt and pepper it. In a cast-iron skillet large enough that the roast doesn’t touch the sides, over medium-high heat, lightly sear all surfaces, using tongs to turn the meat and to hold it in place while searing.
Remove the meat from the skillet and set aside. Fashion a rack with the celery ribs in the skillet, to hold the roast, so that no part of the meat is touching the cast iron. Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the roast reads 125° F. Transfer the roast to a carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Carve into two-rib sections, and serve with the chimichurri sauce.
Where The Deer and the Antelope (Humanely) Play
Love filet mignon and hanker to “up your game” with a frenched rack of antelope? If you’re not a hunter yourself, and don’t know one who will part with a backstrap (and few will), consider ordering this delicacy online from Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, Texas.
Broken Arrow, which built the first government-approved mobile harvesting unit in 1983, innovated a process in which the USDA inspector rides along in the mobile unit as animals are humanely harvested. The two-generation family operation field-harvests these wild, free-ranging animals through partnerships with participating Texas ranchers. By law, native species such as white-tailed deer cannot be sold commercially, so Broken Arrow focuses its efforts on the humane removal of two introduced non-native species of cervids: Axis deer and nilgai antelope, which have proliferated to the point that they compete for scarce resources with native species.
The animals are shot at long range (50 to 200 yards) with a sound-suppressed rifle, instead of being rounded up and transported to a slaughterhouse— an oft-terrorizing experience for wild animals. Not only is this method far more humane, it results in the highest possible meat quality, as the animals do not experience stress. You see, stress causes a jolt of adrenaline to flow into the animal’s muscles and that adrenaline produces lactic acid, causing the meat to become tougher, stringier, and more prone to spoilage.
Currently, Broken Arrow works with more than 100 Texas ranches on more than 1 million combined acres and provides sustainably harvested wild game to some of the most prestigious restaurants in the nation, as well as selling direct to the public. In doing this, Broken Arrow stands at the forefront of simultaneously supporting sustainable agriculture and ranching efforts while ensuring that populations of these non-native species are kept in balance with the needs of native habitat and widlife.
Broken Arrow Ranch – 800.962.4263; brokenarrowranch.com.