“HERE COMES SANTA CLAUSE, HERE COMES SANTA CLAUSE” and so on until the children are restless for dinner. ’Tis the season, but let’s prepare something different this year, mixing up a summer salad with winter wild game for a savory holiday feast. You may leave Santa some leftovers should there be any.
4 crappie fillets (6 ounces)
1 large peach or 1 small mango
1 cup prepared salsa, plain or spicy
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ tablespoon honey
Pinch of salt
6 cups lightly packed tender salad greens
(Make multiples of this recipe to accommodate your family and friends.)
Peel and pit peach or mango, cut into ¼ inch cubes. Place fruit in a bowl and stir in salsa. In a large salad bowl combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, honey and salt and whisk together. Add salad greens but do not toss. Preheat broiler. Line baking sheet with foil. Brush both sides of fillets with remaining oil, arrange fish on the foil and broil fish until cooked through. 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 Christmas dish of backstrap, which is the loin that consist of muscles on each side of a deer’s spine. It’s considered the filet mignon cut because the muscles are not weight-bearing and contains less connective tissue, resulting in the most tender cut. The deer family includes moose, elk, whitetail and reindeer among others.
Let me modify that statement: “filet mignon” (French for “cute” filet) is a steak cut whether from a cow, horse, deer or even a chipmunk (if you want to go to the trouble of separating the cute little backstrap). The “cute” cut is taken from the smaller end of the critter’s tenderloin. The backstrap is the whole tenderloin. It runs the length of the back bone the entire length on both sides and is usually harvested as two long cuts. You can buy beef and pork tenderloins at your grocer.
The loin when sliced across the short dimension creates round cuts commonly called “filets” (notice the different spelling of fillets?). Depending on the butcher or grocer, most cross-cuts are called filets mignon, but there is a difference. The shape of a true filet mignon is daintier, juicier, more flavorful and more expensive. When it comes to serving filet mignons in a restaurant, most sell the wider steak that is both cheaper but more presentable.
The four beef cuts in front of the hips are, top to bottom: sirloin, tenderloin, top sirloin and bottom sirloin. Deer cuts are the same except in smaller portions. I expect a chipmunk would offer you the same cuts but certainly not in diet-busting proportions.
I take it for granted that most deer slayers butcher their own kill, it‘s traditional among us purists. We usually whack out the backstrap first, even if the remainder of the carcass goes to a butcher for burger patties. The pleasure of grilling filets of the backstrap is nearly immeasurable. Life is great!
4 2-inch thick filets (the cook gets the “true” filet mignons)
Olive oil – about 3 tablespoons per two pounds
Salt & pepper to taste
Onion powder to taste
Garlic salt to taste
Fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme, oregano: optional
Mix marinade of oil and seasonings. Fully coat filets in a shallow covered dish and set in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Turn steaks at least once. The longer the meat marinates the more robust the flavors.
Preheat your grill to high. For pretty grill marks rotate cuts 90 degrees after about 2-3 minutes. Cook for about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare doneness. Remove and rest a few minutes before serving. Serve steaks with grilled herbed potatoes and the crappie salsa salad.