Grilled Venison Backstrap
By Vernon Summerlin

Let’s start with light meal of crappies and fruit salsa.

Broiled Crappie with Salsa and Grilled Venison Backstrap
1 large peach or 1 small mango
1 cup medium prepared salsa (or hot salsa if you prefer)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
Pinch of salt
6 cups (4 oz.) lightly packed tender salad greens
4 (6 oz.) slab crappie fillets

Peel and pit peach or mango. Cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir prepared salsa and peach together.
Combine 2 tablespoons oil, lime juice, honey and salt in a large salad bowl and whisk together. Add tender salad greens, but do not toss.
Preheat broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Brush remaining 2 tablespoon oil on both sides of fillets. Arrange fish on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until fish is just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Transfer fish to serving plates and top with fruited salsa. Toss salad and place on plates next to fish.

Grilled Venison Backstrap
Now for a hearty, savory dish. Start by thawing some of that venison you’ve stashed in the freezer. Grab a big chunk of backstrap.
Venison backstrap is the loin consisting of muscles on each side of a deer’s spine. It’s considered the “filet mignon” cut because the muscle is not weight-bearing and contains less connective tissue, which makes it very tender.
Let me qualify that statement.
Filet mignon (French for “cute fillet”) is a steak cut, whether from a cow, deer or squirrel (if you want to go to the trouble of separating the tender squirrel meat). The “cute cut” is taken from the smaller end of the critter’s tenderloin. Backstrap is the whole tenderloin. It runs the length of the deer along both sides of the backbone and is usually harvested as two long cuts. You can but beef and pork tenderloin at your grocery store.
The loin, when sliced across the short dimension roughly creates a round cut. These cuts are called fillets (notice the different spelling of fillets?) but if they come from the small forward end of the backstrap they are considered to be filet mignon. Some butchers in the U.S.A., however, label all types of tenderloin steaks “filet mignon.”
The shape of the true filet mignon can be a hindrance when cooking, so most restaurants sell steaks from the wider end of the tenderloin (not the “mignon”) because it is both cheaper and much more presentable. The tenderloin is the tenderest cut. It is also the most desirable and the most expensive. When you order filet mignon, make sure the butcher or chef gives you that cut.
This cut, however, is usually not as flavorful as some other cuts of beef/deer/etc. (prime rib, for instance) and is often wrapped in bacon to enhance flavor, and/or is served with a sauce.
Cuts in front of the hips of a cow are, from top to bottom: sirloin, tenderloin, top sirloin and bottom sirloin. It’s about the same on a deer except the cuts are much smaller.
I take it for granted that when you butcher your deer, you whack out the long loins and set those aside before the carcass goes to a butcher. Well, that’s my modus operandi; you may butcher the whole deer yourself including making the burger patties.(View a venison butchering video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2UsVd9d8vI) I keep those long loin babies at home destined for my grill. Hence, our backstrap steaks recipe this month.

Grilled Venison Backstrap
4 2-inch-thick venison backstrap steaks

Marinade
Olive oil – about 3 tablespoons for every 2 pounds of venison
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Seasonings – optional (onion powder, garlic salt)
Fresh herbs – optional (rosemary, thyme, oregano)

Mix marinade of oil and seasonings. Fully coat steaks in shallow dish and set in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Turn the steaks at least once. The longer the steaks marinate, the more robust the resulting flavors from the seasonings will be.

Preheat your grill to high. If you like grill marks, rotate steaks 90 degrees after 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the steaks for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium-rare doneness. Remove steaks and rest a few minutes before serving. Serve steaks with grilled herbed potatoes and a fresh green salad.