The English translation of carne asada is, literally, “grilled meat.” That description seems much too bland for all this recipe has going for it. The marinade is an explosion of citrus flavor, jalapeño kick, shallot and garlic bite and honey sweetness. While carne asada is traditionally made with beef, venison backstrap is the perfect substitute.
My family of hunters likes to freeze our backstraps in long sections just for recipes like this. If we need to cut them into steaks or medallions, we can always do it after the backstrap thaws. Keeping your venison cuts in large sections like this also helps to prevent freezer damage and keep the meat tasting fresh after longer storage times.
If you are using the backstrap from a doe or young buck, simply pound it flat with a meat mallet to a thickness of about one inch. If you have a thicker backstrap section, slice it in half, lengthwise, then pound to finished thickness if necessary. The one-inch thickness allows the venison’s surface to get a good sear over the hot coals without over- or undercooking the interior.
We prefer an internal temperature of about 130 degrees (Fahrenheit) for a nice rare to medium-rare finish. With a one-inch thickness, this usually means about four to five minutes per side over hot charcoal. If you like your venison closer to medium, simply leave it on the grill for three to five more minutes.
Note that the citric acid in the marinade will cause the meat to turn gray on the surface. The longer the backstrap marinates, the deeper the gray color will penetrate.
Thinly sliced carne asada makes a great taco filling, or you can serve it as a main course alongside sliced avocados, corn tortillas and a relish of grilled corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, crumbled queso fresco and a squeeze of lime juice.
Marinating time: four hours
Grill time: 10 to15 minutes
2 to 3 lbs. venison backstrap (these were from a midwestern whitetail doe)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- ½ large or 1 whole small jalapeño chili pepper, seeded and minced
- ½-teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼-cup fresh cilantro, stems and leaves finely chopped
- 1½ limes, juiced
- 1½ oranges, juiced (save the remaining ½-orange and lime for garnish and squeezing over finished dish)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ¼-cup olive oil
Pound or slice backstrap section into one-inch thickness. Place the backstrap into a glass or other non-reactive dish. In a separate glass or other non-reactive bowl, mix the marinade ingredients, reserving the remaining half of the orange and lime for the finished dish. Pour the marinade over the backstrap, flipping and tossing the venison to coat well. Cover the dish and refrigerate for four to eight hours.
Once the backstrap has finished marinating, move the dish to the counter for 30 minutes to allow the backstrap to come to room temperature. While the backstrap warms, light a bed of coals in your charcoal grill or pre-heat your gas grill on high.
Remove the backstrap from the marinade and place it on the hot grill. Grill four to five minutes, then flip and grill another four to five minutes for medium-rare. Remove the backstrap from the grill to a warm platter and tent it loosely with foil to rest for five to 10 minutes. Slice the backstrap across the grain into thin strips.
If you would like to serve your backstrap with grilled sweet corn relish as an accompaniment, rub two to three ears of shucked sweet corn with melted butter and sprinkle with taco seasoning. Place the corn on the grill with the backstraps and grill for five to seven minutes, rotating often. Slice the corn kernels from the cob, mix in a cup of halved cherry tomatoes, the juice from one lime and a tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro. Add a ½-cup of crumbled queso fresco cheese, if desired. Serve the remaining lime and orange halves in wedges for your guests to squeeze over their carne asada.
As many as one out of every five people in the United States are genetically predisposed to dislike the flavor of cilantro. Their flavor receptors perceive cilantro with a distinct soapy taste. If you, or someone in your dinner party, dislikes cilantro, simply substitute flat leaf parsley or leave it out altogether.
Kentucky native Michael Pendley has been hunting since he was old enough to say the word “rifle.” He’s been writing in the outdoor industry for the past 15 years, and his work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, Modern Pioneer, Petersen’s Hunting and others, though he is perhaps best known for his “Timber 2 Table” column on Realtree.com. When he’s not in the kitchen whipping up something mouthwatering or sampling Kentucky’s fine bourbons, he, along with his wife and photographer, Cheryl, their daughter, Michaela, and their two sons, Hunter and Nathaniel (aka Potroast), along with their basset hound, Blanton, and bloodhound, Teddy, can be found traveling the country and enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer.