Sunday, October 24, 2010

Seared Venison and Wild Watercress with Elderberry Sauce

     Autumn has brought us little rain and no snow yet.  The field behind our home is abundantly brown, crested with evergreens on the rising foothills.  Cottonwood leaves blaze colors of amber to orange, widespread as wildfire.  Pale straw crunches underfoot among cactus so withered, only needles and the hope of a drink remain.  Crispy sagebrush and large ant hills prevail in a rocky landscape arid and unforgiving like this.  The small forks of Clear Creek are dry now, causing the main flow to provide the only water for miles.  Well, almost the only water.  A small, unexpected, freshwater spring can be found far off in the middle of the field.  Actually two semi-warm springs bubble up from the earth year-round.  It is not easy to spot from afar, but is plain as day once you are upon it.

The draw coming from the spring.

The source of the spring and our dog, patiently waiting in the far back left.

     Many little critters call this oasis home.  Migrating sandhill cranes and geese often stop and feed on the bioavailability this little bit of water provides.  The pronghorn antelope, whitetail and mule deer slake their thirst and eat grass from this geological irrigation system.  For me, however, the patch of wild watercress centered in the heart of the spring is superlative.

Bright green watercress in abundance.

     Watercress is a wonderful little leafy green with tremendous texture and a crisp, peppery bite.  Because this is grown wild, it must be cleaned thoroughly.  I submerge and rinse at least three times, then spin it dry.  I most often use it in salads or cold appetizers for its mild, spicy flavor and wonderfully vibrant color.  Usually dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt, watercress also makes a lively garnish among dark, robust flavors.
     I still have some venison from Jim, the war veteran and whitetail hunter who parks his camper across the creek and uses our access to hike in and out from his tree stands throughout the season.  He donated one of his does to us for allowing him to pass through.  Archery hunting is the only kind allowed on this land as it is part of the Veteran's Home of Wyoming.  Although this was not my kill, I am happy to have such sustenance provided for me.  I cleaned, skinned and cut the meat myself, storing most of it in the freezer and grinding all the trim for chili, meatloaf, and breakfast sausage.  The round (leg) provides several nice steaks or a couple of good sized roasts.  This deer was not very big, though, making it incredibly tender.  I decided to sear off some 8 ounce steaks with a generous amount of freshly cracked pepper.  This was served on millet cooked like pilaf (browned in oil with aromatics, then simmered) with crimini mushrooms alongside the simply dressed wild watercress (as described above).  Millet is a healthy, old-world grain similar in flavor to quinoa or bulgur.  A red wine sauce made with homegrown dried elderberries, which happen to be hugely popular among the local deer population, provides a sweet, velvety completion to the dish.
     Altogether, the millet, mushrooms and red wine are the only products not foraged, hunted or grown on this land.  Not only was this a delicious dinner, but local, seasonal and inexpensive to boot!

Elderberry Sauce

1 750ml bottle red wine Pinot Noir, Syrah, or light bodied Zinfandel
3/4 cup dried elderberries (2 cups fresh)
1 quart veal stock
2 Tbs butter

*may need an additional 2 Tbs sugar if using cheap wine

Reduce veal stock to 1 pint.
Add wine and berries, reduce to 1 pint.
Taste, add sugar or salt if necessary.
Fold in butter to warm sauce just before serving, stirring till emulsified.

Crimini Mushroom Millet

1 cup millet
1 small spanish onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water, plus additional 2 Tbs water
2 Tbs olive oil, plus additional 4 Tbs olive oil
7 crimini mushrooms, halved

salt and pepper to taste

Add millet and 2 Tbs olive oil to pan on medium heat stirring constantly.
Lightly brown millet till tan in color, then add onions and garlic.
Add 2 cups water, stir once and cover.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

In separate, smoking-hot pan, add the remaining olive oil and mushrooms.
Saute till brown, season with salt and pepper.
Add 2 Tbs water.
Toss together with cooked millet and serve.


Sear seasoned venison in hot pan on high and finish in 500°F oven for 5 min.
Let rest at least 5 min before slicing across grain.


  1. Johnny - Another gem of a blog... I'm hungry! Miss you guys and I really think this is an awesome outlet for you, you are an amazing writer! keep it up as I keep checking daily anxiously awaiting your new posts!


  2. Thanks Raven! I would love to mail you guys a big venison loin, but I haven't been hunting this year. Maybe Don Meade can provide a supply :)

    Thank you Trev! I've got something sweet coming up next! We miss you guys too!! Hopefully we can get together for Christmas this year and make some delicious happen for the whole family to enjoy.

  3. WOW the venison sounds delicious!!! I think we're going to make delicious happen with the venison this weekend. Wish you were closer. Miss you both and love you very much.

    Your biggest fan,

  4. Thanks Dad! I am actually smoking some venison pastrami today. I'll be sure to post the results as soon as possible. We miss and love you too! We will probably see you next month some time!

  5. You quack me up. Hey where'd you get the Auzzie accent. I thought the video was great!!! Thanks again for putting a smile on my face and making my mouth water.

  6. John,
    seriously? Really? Your blog, and your photos, and your FOOD! It's incredible. By the way, I'm back in Wyoming on Friday. WOO! I will be in Sheridan for a few days. Could we do a joint blog post? You cook, and blog, and me blog about visiting you and eating your food? Think about it.

    Hope you are well,


  7. That sounds fantastic! Maybe we could even do a couple of courses. The bridge construction here is underway so things are a bit messy, but I think it would be really fun! Let me know what day is best for you and if you want to bring any friends so I have a total number.

    Oh, and thanks for the compliments!! They mean a lot coming from such a wonderful photographer :)