Travis Rathbone

Photo by Travis Rathbone

My favorite venison meal was a roasted backstrap I made from a deer that my ice-fishing buddy had shot earlier in the year. I cooked it on an old propane stove in an ice shanty simply by searing and basting with lots of butter, maple syrup, and coarse black pepper. The lean meat is awesome rare and has a slight iron taste that I really love. Venison makes me think of autumn. That’s where this dish comes from.

Editors’ Take: This isn’t your “grizzled uncle’s” backstrap recipe (see “The Tribute,” opposite). This dish is something much, much more. More complex. More challenging. More delicious—no offense to your uncle.

Ingredients — Serves 4

Venison and Marinade:
2 lb. venison loin (backstrap), cleaned of all sinew and cut in two even chunks
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. coarse cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp. grapeseed or canola oil
1⁄4 cup red wine
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup beef or chicken stock
2 tsp. butter Salt and pepper, to taste

Roasted Pears:
2 ripe red Anjou pears (or other firm ripe pear)
2 tsp. grapeseed or canola oil
2 tsp. sugar 1 sprig rosemary (roughly 2 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pickled Golden Raisins*:
2 Tbsp. mustard seed
1⁄2 cup white wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄2 cup golden raisins

*Raisins may be pickled one day ahead


1. Marinate venison in olive oil, thyme, and black pepper for 2 hours to overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a heavy-bottom sauté pan over high heat until smoking hot. Add grapeseed oil and sear venison on all sides until brown.

3. Flip meat over and place pan in oven. Cook until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees, about 6 to 10 minutes. Move venison to a plate, and tent with foil.

4. In the same pan, add red wine and red wine vinegar. Reduce over high heat until thick and syrupy. Then add stock to pan and reduce until syrupy. Add butter to pan and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Core pears and cut into eighths. Toss them in a bowl with oil and sugar to coat.

2. Toast rosemary sprig in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until you hear a popping sound, being careful not to burn the leaves.

3. Add rosemary, salt, and pepper to pears and toss briefly. Transfer to an ovenproof pan and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until tender and golden.

1. Place mustard seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they start to pop. Remove from heat. Let mustard seeds cool in the pan, shaking gently every minute or so, until toasted and fragrant.

2. In a small sauté pan, combine vinegar, water, syrup, and toasted mustard seeds. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent burning.

3. Put raisins in a heatproof container and pour vinegar mixture over top. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate.

Serving Tip: Cut venison on an angle and place on plate. Arrange pears alongside. Drizzle raisins and their sauce over all.

Paul Kahan is the executive chef/partner of three acclaimed restaurants in Chicago: Blackbird, avec, and The Publican.