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Horseradish sauce is a mandatory condiment at any steak house worth its salt, as its fiery nature is famous for balancing the flavor of fattier cuts of beef like prime rib. One of my most distinct memories with horseradish involves the famous cocktail sauce at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis. It was there a few years ago that I dipped a prawn into that spicy, lava-like liquid and took a bite, and was immediately met with a feeling that could only be described as someone taking a vegetable peeler to my forehead. But as basketball coach Al McGuire is famous for saying: “A certain amount of pain is happiness.” And this was pure bliss.

The pungent taste of horseradish is actually a result of the plant’s defense mechanism. An oil called “allyl isothiocyanate” is released when the horseradish root or leaves are cut open, creating an adverse reaction for whatever, or whoever, is chewing on it. In ancient Rome, they added raw mustard seeds to cuts of red meat, which also contain allyl isothiocyanate, to infuse spice into each bite. For me, someone who rarely, if ever, spices their wild game with anything more than salt and pepper, horseradish is the only condiment truly worthy of sitting alongside a tender cut of medium-rare backstrap.

While you can keep horseradish root in the fridge for up to three months in the vegetable crisper, it loses its pungency. Unless you plan to (and have the confidence to) plant the root and harvest it later, I suggest peeling it and turning it into coarse-cut horseradish sooner than later. Here’s how.

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How to Make Horseradish Sauce

Ingredients

Serves two to four

  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 ounces fresh horseradish, coarse cut
  • Dash of white distilled vinegar (1/4 teaspoon-ish)
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of kosher salt and ground black pepper

Directions

Peel 2 ounces of horseradish root and chop thoroughly in a food processor. Add the chopped root to a mixing bowl and wait 3 minutes before adding a dash of white vinegar for hot horseradish or add vinegar immediately for mild horseradish. To the same mixing bowl, add 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise, and 1/4 teaspoon each of kosher salt and ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly and place in the fridge until ready to serve alongside venison. 

How to Perfectly Reverse-Sear a Venison Backstrap

A reverse sear simply means that you sear the outside of the meat after you’ve cooked the inside to the perfect level of doneness—in this case, medium-rare. Roasting meat low and slow before searing and carmelizing the outside gives you more control and less margin for error. You could always grill a backstrap until it’s medium-rare, but the outside of the meat will dry out before the center hits ideal temp. With a slow roast or smoke followed by a reverse sear, more meat stays tender and juicy throughout, and you still get that great crust. Here’s how to do it. 

  • Pull a thawed backstrap from the fridge, dust all sides with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and bring it up to room temperature by letting it rest on the counter for 1 to 3 hours. 
  • Slow roast or smoke your backstrap at 200 degrees Fahrenheit with ample airflow to all sides of the meat. This means no baking dishes. I use a stainless steel mesh grate. You want the exterior of the meat to stay dry because it will create a better sear later.
  • Check the backstrap periodically with a meat thermometer until the temperature reads 110, then pull it from the oven. 
  • Lightly coat the meat in a high-heat cooking oil like peanut oil or sunflower oil and sear in a very hot pan on all sides until a brown crust forms. 

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After searing, pull from the pan and allow the backstrap to rest for 5 minutes on a grate, then flip and let rest for another 5 minutes so juices do not accumulate on one side and soften the crust. Carve the backstrap into ½-inch slices and serve with a side of horseradish sauce. 

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