Given the widespread social isolation caused by COVID-19, there’s no better time to tap into your supply of wild game meat and have some fun in the kitchen.
Anyone who’s spent any time in Iowa knows that one of the most argued about and hallowed foods is the pork tenderloin sandwich. Restaurants across the state claim to have the best tenderloin sandwich. Its most common form is a piece of meat pounded super thin, breaded, fried and haphazardly put on a bun about 1/4 of the size of the fried meat, with a couple of pickles and some mustard for good measure. Being that Iowa is maybe the tenderloin capital of the world and has some of the best whitetail hunting around, Samuel Charles, the chef at Rodina in Cedar Rapids, tossed this idea my way and it just made sense to give it a try and share the results with you all. (Spoiler alert: Sam later said it was maybe the best food he’s ever made).
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FANCY VENISON MEATBALLS & MASHED POTATOES
With all my recipe articles, I want to share a bit of cooking knowledge that goes beyond a recipe and helps you learn to improvise so you can expand your abilities and tailor things to your taste. For example, this recipe calls for pickles, so use your favorite brand or, even better, make your own pickles. The recipe incorporates mayo, but I’d encourage you to try putting some mayo in a blender and adding different flavors. My favorite is to mix a cup of mayo, a garlic clove, and a can of chipotle peppers that you can get at any grocery store in the Mexican section. If you use the whole can it’ll get really spicy, so start with a small amount and go up from there. In the case of this dish, Sam chose to add just a touch of paprika to the mayo, but that modest addition really tied the whole thing together. Remember, you can always keep extra sauce in the fridge for burgers, fries or sandwiches that you decide to make later.
Sam emphasized that freezing the raw, breaded piece of meat before frying really helps the bread crumbs hold on. This will result in less smoke in your kitchen and a tastier end product. You could tenderize a pile of meat and get an assembly line going to freeze a bunch of these, putting wax paper in between each for easy separation before cooking.
Instead of using tenderloin for this recipe, we also wanted to find a way to utilize the top round steaks from the back leg of a deer. They’re decently tender, but not quite as good as the backstraps or tenderloins, so this recipe is a great way to use top rounds. No matter what cut you choose, slice the steaks an inch thick and then pound thin. This could become part of your meat processing assembly line if you roll your own at home, or just make sure top round steaks are included in your order if you’re working with a commercial meat processor.
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Because you’re using venison, you don’t have to cook it as long as you might pork, and Sam recommended trying to stay at or below 145 degrees, which is pink in the middle as you see in the photos. An instant-read thermometer is akin to using a rangefinder while hunting—no guesswork when you’re shooting for perfection.
RECIPE (feeds 2 to 4 adults)
1 lb. venison top round steak
1 pinch salt
3.5 cups breadcrumbs
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup flour
8 pickle slices
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 tsp. mayo (optionally with paprika/seasonings)
4 tsp. mustard
Romaine lettuce leaves (optional)
1. Butterfly steak round, then cut into (four) quarters.
2. Place each quarter in a square piece of plastic wrap toward one side. Fold wrap over to cover meat.
3. Using a meat hammer, or a sturdy small pot, pound meat to desired thinness.
4. Set up a three-stage breading station (in this order: plate of flour, shallow bowl of eggs, shallow bowl of breadcrumbs). Remove meat quarter from plastic wrap, lightly coat with flour. Transfer meat to eggs and submerge. Coat with breadcrumbs. Once covered in breadcrumbs, set aside (for best results, lightly freeze; the bread crumbs will adhere better when frozen and not simply fall off and burn in your oil).
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat sauté pan on medium with enough oil to fill bottom of pan.
6. Pan fry breaded meat to golden brown, remove from heat, sprinkle with salt, and put onto cookie tray. Repeat process with all pieces of meat then place in oven. Cook in oven for 5 minutes, then remove and check internal temp to see that it’s at or around 145 degrees. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon if you have it on hand.
7. Lightly toast each bun, then spread mayo onto bottom bun and mustard onto top. Place cooked meat on bottom bun, top with two pickle slices and some onion slices. finish with top bun. Lettuce optional.
Recipe by Chef Samuel Charles