December 01, 2009
The Tribute: Behold, The Backstrap
By T. Edward Nickens
Thoughts on eating venison from Editor-at-Large T. Edward Nickens.
Sure, the tenderloins are a more immediate delicacy, but they are a fleeting pleasure, really, small and flirtatious and destined to leave you wanting more. It is the longissimus dorsi muscle—the vaunted backstrap—that aids the deer in its soaring bounds, its nitrogen-powered, zero-to-see-ya-later speeds, and its incomparable edibility.
The backstraps lie just to the sides of the transverse processes of the vertebrae. They are easily freed of gristle and connective tissue and are perhaps the leanest meat on the carcass. They can be removed with a paring knife and cut with a fork. Like good rice or stone-ground grits, backstraps are both step-side pickup and Lamborghini Murciélago: They can stand alone on a plate, seasoned with little more than flame and pepper, or serve as a canvas for individual expression.
Every serious deer hunter has a secret preparation—a coveted recipe handed down by a grizzled uncle or stumbled upon thanks to just enough beer to make you forget the strictures of culinary decency. I’ve had backstrap slathered in mustard and Coca-Cola, split like a pig and stuffed with tomatoes, and stewed with onions by a Cajun spiritualist.
And each time, it was delicious. I’ve also had backstrap bad many times, but the sin was the same: overcooking. Do with the backstrap what you will, but serve it as rare as you can get away with. That way you may very well eat in one sitting as much backstrap as a single human being can stand. But never so much that you are not wanting more.