By Michael Pendley
It’s tough to improve on a simple grilled venison backstrap, but this recipe might just do it. We used a ballotine cut of a two- to three-pound section of backstrap, in order to flatten and stuff it with spinach leaves, shredded gouda cheese and roasted red peppers. The roast then gets rolled up, tied with butcher’s twine and grilled to a nice medium-rare before being sliced into colorful pinwheels.
The ballotine cut is simple. Start with your knife parallel to the cutting board, along one side of the backstrap and about a third of the way up. Slice almost through the roast, but not out the other side. Fold the roast open and slice almost through the thickest part again.
Once finished, you should be able to unfold the roast into a flat steak of equal thickness. If you need more surface area, simply cover the venison with a piece of plastic wrap and pound flat with the smooth side of a meat mallet. The stuffing ingredients get layered on top of the venison, then the backstrap gets rolled back into its original shape with the stuffing inside. Besides the benefit of the stuffing ingredients, the method allows you to season the backstrap throughout and not just on the surface.
To tie, simply loop the butcher’s twine around the roll in three or four places, securing each wrap with a simple surgeon’s knot.
1 section of trimmed backstrap, two to three pounds
1 cup baby spinach leaves
½-cup shredded gouda cheese
2 to 3 roasted bell peppers, cut into strips
2 teaspoons Cavender’s Greek Seasoning blend or similar, divided
2 teaspoons each, salt and pepper, divided
4 tablespoons salted butter
2 shallots, diced
¼-cup Kentucky bourbon
3 tbsps. heavy cream
1 tbsp. olive oil
½-tsp. dried tarragon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Start by trimming your backstrap into a flat section as described above. Season the surface of the meat with one teaspoon each of salt, pepper and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. (This is a blend of mostly salt, pepper, garlic, sugar, onion powder and oregano, along with some marjoram, dill and thyme, so if these are on hand in your pantry you can mix this blend by hand or add individually to taste.) Next, spread the stuffing ingredients over the backstrap.
Starting along one edge, roll the backstrap up tightly with the stuffing ingredients inside. Loop a section of butcher’s twine under the backstrap, wrap around the roll and tie off tightly with a surgeon’s knot. Trim off the excess twine. Repeat the process two or three more times over the length of the roll.
Season the surface of the roll with the remaining salt, pepper and seasoning blend. Cover the roast loosely with foil and allow it to come to room temperature while you preheat the grill to high. Place the rolled backstrap on the grill and sear for four minutes.
Rotate the rolled backstrap one-quarter turn and grill another four minutes. Repeat the process two more times until the roll is seared on all sides. Remove the roll to a warm platter and tent loosely with foil to rest.
While the backstrap grills, heat a pan to medium-high. Melt the butter and add the diced shallots. Sauté the shallots, stirring often, until they soften and begin to take on a golden color. Stir in the bourbon and remove the pan from heat. Stir in the cream, tarragon and a few grinds of black pepper.
To serve, remove the butcher’s twine and slice the backstrap into pinwheels roughly half-inch thick. Plate two or three medallions and top with the bourbon cream sauce, or slice the entire backstrap, arrange back on a platter and pour the sauce down the center of the medallions. Serve with roasted winter vegetables or potatoes and a spinach salad.