Recipe: Venison Panzanella

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.

by Caleb Condit | Pilsen Photo Co-Op

MORE FROM Caleb Condit |

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.


All of us love a classy steak dinner. Venison backstraps or tenderloins are a great way to share wild game with foodies or wine and dine a significant other. Sure, you could go with the trusty old meat-and-potatoes approach, but sometimes we crave a new challenge. That’s where this dish comes in.

Our wild game cooking content is designed to inspire you to try new things, so don’t hesitate to experiment once you’ve mastered the fundamentals. Just like hunting, cooking is all about core techniques and the rest is personal.


Panzanella is an Italian salad that typically uses leftover bread from the day before. When I lived in Spain it was pretty common to get a loaf of bread delivered to my door every day by the village baker, and Italy is the same way. Those rustic country breads don’t have a long shelf life, so lots of recipes are born from the utilization of leftover ingredients. In this case, the final product is what we know as croutons. If you don’t have any bread lying around or want to save time, feel free to substitute with premade croutons.


When I watched chef Samuel Charles prepare venison panzanella for the first time at Rodina, I noted some specific techniques that he used to cook the steak. First, when searing the meat, he tends to leave thinner layers of silver skin on the outside to protect the protein, as it tends to burn off with the high temperature. Most of us cut off silver skin before cooking because it can produce strong flavors, but in this case the thin silver skin burnt away in seconds with a super hot sauté pan.


Another key to this recipe is basting the steak with butter. I’d seen chefs do this before, and after trying it myself I can see why: consistency. Basically, you sear the steak on all sides after seasoning with some salt and then add a tablespoon of butter to the pan. I like adding a splash of oil to keep the butter from browning too much at high heat. If it’s a single steak in the pan and you have a gas burner, tilt the pan toward you with the steak in the pool of butter and scoop the butter continuously over the steak. The heat will evenly cook the steak on all sides, and the basting keeps the meat from drying out. Add rosemary or garlic to the butter at any point to infuse the steak with those flavors, and I could even see using chopped bacon to add smoky notes. Sam uses what’s called a French steel or carbon steel sauté pan, but I also do this at home in my cast-iron skillet. I’ll often use an instant-read thermometer to get steaks to a perfect medium rare.

Sam also uses hilariously long tweezers to cook with at times. I laughed and asked what that was about, and he mentioned it helps when you have lots of little things to turn over and don’t want to smash them with big BBQ tongs.

Squash is an integral part of this recipe. There’s a huge world of squash out there, so don’t be timid about trying multiple varieties. Acorn squash works well and it’s readily available, but consider “exotics” such as Japanese pumpkins to expand your horizons. Even better, plant your own squash in your backyard for maximum self-sustaining bragging rights. Bake the seeds with a bit of oil and salt, or just use sunflower seeds for the easy way out.

Salt is essential and requires serious forethought. I use Kosher salt to season my steaks. When you venture outside regular iodized salt, the options can be overwhelming. Just use this as a rule of thumb: Kosher salt is for cooking and sea salt is for finishing or adding salt at the table. Kosher salt is very consistent in grain size and flavor intensity, so once you know how strong it is, you can be very good about nailing the saltiness of your food more easily. If you want to get really fancy, try using a flake salt for finishing, as it’s less salty and looks cool.


While this recipe might seem advanced, in the end it’s just a steak salad. If you’re smart enough to harvest a skittish whitetail while balancing on a treestand 15 feet in the air, you can cook a steak with a new approach. I find that hunters and chefs have a lot in common: We both have a lot of respect for our ingredients, try to waste nothing, and prefer to know exactly where our food comes from.

RECIPE (feeds one or two adults)


6 oz. venison steak

1 acorn squash (small to medium size)

3 slices old bread

2 garlic cloves

1 bunch kale

1 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. cooking oil

Juice from one lemon

1/2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt


1. Peel squash, cut in half, scoop out seeds and put aside in a bowl for roasting later. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Slice squash, toss in oil, put onto a sheet pan and roast in oven until a knife goes easily through flesh. Set aside.

3. Wash seeds under water until squash flesh is gone. Toss seeds with salt, sugar and a dash of oil. Bake in oven, set aside.

4. Cube old bread into desired crouton size.

5. Remove stems from kale and tear into half-dollar size pieces.

6. Heat pan on medium, add 1/2 tsp. of oil, add bread cubes and continuously move until each is pan fried. Remove from heat and put onto tray with paper towel.

7. Add kale, roasted squash and croutons in a mixing bowl.

8. Heat pan on medium high, season steak with salt, add oil to pan and sear steak to almost desired temp. Add butter and garlic to pan and baste steak until desired temp is achieved (use an instant-read thermometer and stop cooking at 130-135 degrees if you want medium rare). Remove steak from pan, add garlic to mixing bowl.

9. Toss ingredients in mixing bowl with remainder of oil, juiced lemon and a pinch of salt.

10. Transfer salad into a nice bowl. Slice steak and put over top of salad. Garnish with baked seeds.


Recipe by Chef Samuel Charles



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