This dish was the focus of Wade Truong’s live workshop at the North American Virtual Rendezvous. We’re bringing you this recipe as a follow up to that exclusive session. We hope you’re inspired to give it a try.
There is something about smoky aromas and flavors that just makes food taste better. Not everyone will agree with this statement, but generally speaking, we as humans love food that has been cooked with burning wood.
With most cooked foods, it's easy to introduce smoke. You simply cook it over burning wood. There are a myriad of devices and tools that will aid in introducing smoke to your food, but it becomes a little tricky when you want smoky flavor without actually cooking the food. Cold smoked foods, like smoked salmon, cheese, or butter, require the smoke to be introduced at cooler temperatures so as not to change the texture of the food.
This smoked tartare is all about mixing two of our favorite things- smoky flavor and raw venison. Tartare, which is basically chopped up meat, is a warm-weather staple in our household. It’s the perfect patio meal on a hot and humid Virginia summer evening when it's too muggy to even think about lighting any burners. The one flavor profile that is missing from uncooked foods like this is the char or smoke flavor you get from some high heat.
We set out to introduce some smoke to the protein without changing the texture or cooking it at all. This can be achieved using a cold smoker, a handheld smoke generator, or simply by smoldering some wood chips in a cold oven with the meat. But as pellet grills gain popularity, we wanted to find a way to use these machines to achieve the results we were after.
The key to this process is keeping the heat low and starting with cold meat. We set our Camp Chef at the minimum temperature (160° F) and moderate smoke setting (5). The backstrap we used for this was trimmed and put in the freezer for 20-30 minutes until the internal temperature got to just above freezing. We placed the backstrap on a wire rack and put it in the coolest part of the pellet grill (in our case, the back left corner of the top rack). Using a probe to monitor internal temperature, we smoked the backstrap for 30 minutes. The internal temperature of the meat never got above 50°F, and it imparted enough smoke to let us know it's there but wouldn't overwhelm the subtle flavors of the venison.
After smoking, we placed the meat in the freezer or a plastic bag in an ice bath to cool it down to near-freezing again. This allows for the meat to be cut more easily and keeps it at a safer temperature.
From here, the world is your oyster. We never measure anything we put in our tartare, but generally we try to add in some different textures and flavors—salt, some umami, and some acid. This particular recipe is based loosely on a Mediterranean fish tartare with some substitutions, as we have been trying to avoid the grocery store these days.
Smoked Venison Tartare
- 8-12 oz venison backstrap or a similarly tender cut
- 1 large shallot, minced (substitute ~¼ red onion)
- Zest of one small lemon (Meyer lemon if you have it)
- Juice of half a small lemon
- 2 tbsp salt-cured capers, roughly chopped (substitute regular capers)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted, chopped (substitute almonds)
- 2-3 tbsp pistachios, chopped
- 2 tbsp olives, pitted, roughly chopped (oil-cured black olives are our favorite)
- 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, shaved thin (use the good stuff)
- 3 scallions, greens only, sliced thin
- EVOO to taste
- Salt to taste
- Egg yolk (optional)
- Start with partially frozen venison. Trim off all visible sinew, fat and connective tissue.
- Prepare your smoking setup—grill, pellet grill, oven, whatever you have. The key here is to keep the heat as low as possible while trapping as much smoke as you can. It’s not rocket science, so feel free to improvise with what you have on hand. If you have a very forgiving family, you can do it in the oven; just place a hot cast iron skillet of smoking wood chips in the unheated oven.
- Smoke the meat for around 30 minutes, long enough to get a little whiff of smoky flavor, but not too long, as it will overwhelm the delicate tartare. Keep your meat in the coolest part of your grill or smoker and try not to let the internal temperature get above 50 degrees.
- When the meat is done smoking, it’s time to get it cold again. Throw it back in the freezer for another 20-30 minutes, or pop it into a freezer bag and submerge in an ice bath. This is done for two reasons. From a food safety perspective, you want to keep it cold if you’re eating it raw. It also makes it much easier to cut the meat into a fine dice without mushing it up.
- While you’re waiting for the venison to chill down, prepare the other ingredients—juice and zest your lemon, chop your scallions, etc.
- When the venison is cold, cut it lengthwise into ⅛-¼” thick slices, then cut again into long ribbons, and then cut crosswise into a small dice. Give it all a quick chop to vary up the texture. Mix in the remaining ingredients, tasting and seasoning as you like.
- Before serving, we like to mold ours into a pretty shape. To do this, find a rounded container and pack the tartare into it tightly, then invert the container onto the plate you’re serving it on. We like to use those little plastic deli containers that come with your take-out orders, because you can squeeze them to pop the tartare out neatly.
- Top with egg yolk if you want a richer texture. Serve with thinly sliced toast, chips or an alternative of your choosing.
Photos By Wade Truong of Elevated Wild
Follow him on Instagram at @elevatedwild