Project Wonderful

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chicken Fried Unicorn with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Unicorn? Yeah, that's what I call Axis Venison.
Sorry little fella, them's the breaks.

Axis - also called Chital (Latin name Axis Axis) - are a type of deer native to India and Sri Lanka and were introduced to Texas back in 1932. They are prolific to the point that there is no seasonal hunting restriction on them, but around Austin, they are not too easy to find, which is why I call em Unicorn. And when a friend of mine gifted me a beautiful section of Axis backstrap last Winter, I knew I needed to make something special out of it.

Axis are are not only one of the best tasting and most tender wild game meats in the world, they're also the leanest of all mammals (99.8% fat-free). Of course, the dish I decided to make completely ignores that fact.

Normally I like to sear venison in a hot pan with balsamic vinegar and some shallots, then finish it in the oven for a few minutes. This time I went with a chicken-fried style and served it with a mushroom cream sauce that was mind-blowingly good.

For the Unicorn:
2 lb venison backstrap (tenderloin will also work) cut into 1/4" slices
10 oz of whole milk (get a pint. You will use the whole thing in the recipe)
6 tablespoons of vegetable oil (maybe more. It depends)
2 cups of flour
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

For the Sauce:
1/2 of a medium sized yellow onion, finely diced
1 portabello mushroom
1/4 cup of white wine
1 tablespoon of dried sage leaves
3 tablespoons of flour
6 oz of whole milk.
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of water (as necessary)
salt and pepper to taste

To cook up the backstrap, first remove the silver skin. This is a nasty strip of connective tissue found in most animals that doesn't break down in the cooking process and is pretty-much inedible. (Ian Knauer from has a simple technique to remove silver skin from meat.)

Once the silver skin is removed, cut the backstrap into 1/4" slices and place them in a bowl. Cover the slices with about 10 ounces whole milk and let them sit in the fridge for about an hour. The milk helps make the meat even more tender. (It sounds weird, but trust me, it works)

When ready, heat vegetable oil in a pan under medium high heat until the oil shimmers. This is how you know its the right temp.

Make a dredging bath for the venison by mixing two eggs and a splash of milk in a bowl.

Take each venison slice, dredge it in flour, dip it in the egg/milk bath, then dredge it back into the flour again. Bang off any excess flour and place it (carefully) in the pan. Let it fry for about two minutes, then turn it over and cook about two minutes more. Pull it out of the pan and let it rest on a dish with some paper towels.

Once all the meat is fried up, turn your attention to the the mind-blowingly good mushroom cream sauce...

Normally I would want to use the same pan, but the oil and leftover flower is just too much for this sauce so I dirtied up another pan. It was SO worth it.

Saute up some finely diced onion until they are translucent. Add a portabello mushroom cut into small chunks add a little salt and continue to saute.

When the mushrooms have reduced, add 1/4 cup of white wine and let the mixture simmer till the wine gets absorbed.
Pro Tip: NEVER use so-called "cooking wine." Only use wine you're willing to drink.  If it aint' worth drinkin', it aint' worth cookin'. 
Add 1 tablespoon of dried sage - I like to place the sage in my palm and crumble it between my hands over the pan.

Add 2 tablespoons of flour and stir to coat the ingredients.

Stir in the remaining milk and let it return to a simmer.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter right at the end and stir everything together.

You may need to add a little water at the end to make it the right consistency and add the salt and pepper at the end to taste.

Drizzle the sauce over the venison when ready to serve, along with the veggie of your choice (I had some frozen Brussel sprouts, so I steamed them till tender, then tossed them in a hot pan with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar (because I love olive oil and balsamic and cant get enough of it)

By the way, I apologize that there are no pictures in this post. I'm finding it difficult to take pictures of the cooking process for some dishes. Such was the case with this one. My hands were covered in a combination of deer blood, egg yolk and flour and wholly not appropriate for manning any type of camera. I'll try to enlist someone to take pictures for me next time.

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