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Recipe: venison with morel sauce

We received our second shots the day before the anniversary of Kris’ passing. Based on reports from several friends as well as the CDC, I assumed I’d be feeling pretty miserable within 24 hours of my second dose. I bought some flowers earlier in the hopes they would still be bright and perky on May 1.

sunny ranunculus for kris

Because my parents were in town for the past month, our emergence from pandemic isolation has been hastened by their desire to see us. There’s being fully vaccinated and then there is being mentally prepared for the increase in activity and engagement and noise and personalities and driving. And I have to admit that while seeing my parents again has been good, the chaos and stress of stepping back into “normal” life feels anything but normal. It’s not being out of practice so much as questioning if being social is what I enjoy or what society wants me to enjoy. Perhaps Brood X is on to something.

a strawberry mother’s day cake i baked for mom

Per our usually scheduled atmospheric programming, it snowed on Mother’s Day and it snowed some more after that. Any precipitation is welcome in our mountains as we are practically guaranteed a terrible wildfire season in the American West again. The snows and rains made for a cooler, wetter, moodier May, but that hopefully means more mushrooms, more wildflowers, and healthier wildlife here on the Front Range. The western half of Colorado hasn’t been nearly so lucky, but I remain hopeful that the summer monsoons that evaporated the last few years will reappear now that La Niña has officially ended. I love a good Colorado mountain summer rainstorm.

colorado sun and snow in may

signs of life in the mountains: a pasqueflower

deck lounging season has commenced

After taking my parents to the airport last week to catch their morning flight back to Virginia, Jeremy and I stopped to check a morel spot on the plains. We hadn’t paid much attention to the season and we weren’t expecting anything other than a few spears of feral asparagus. But if you don’t look, you’ll never find them. Foraging on the flats is my least favorite kind of foraging because of the ticks and poison ivy and heat and sun and bugs and so many more people, which might explain why I’m so half-heartedly half-assed about the whole endeavor. And to our great surprise, we found a handful of large blonde morels – including the biggest one I’ve ever seen in the flesh!

growing out of the ground like no big deal

approaching child-sized status

My inclination upon finding the first morels of every season is to batter fry them, but that can get a little strange with a morel the size of a guinea pig. The other three weren’t small by our standards, either. Sure, you can cut the big ones up, but half the fun is eating them whole. I flipped through Hank Shaw’s Buck, Buck, Moose cookbook, unearthed a couple of venison backstraps from our freezer (courtesy of our wonderful neighbors), and decided the fate of these precious fungi. The dish is straightforward, quick, and special.

morel mushrooms, venison backstraps, salt, flour, canola oil, butter, beef stock, pepper, port wine, onion

Venison with morel mushroom sauce in the cookbook is slightly different from Hank’s updated web version. The cookbook recipe (this one) works and I’m certain Hank’s newer recipe is just as good if not better, but I didn’t see it until just now. I used fresh morels, but if morels aren’t in season and you have dried morels, Hank has instructions in both recipes for how to use those instead. I suspect you could go with frozen morels, too (I sauté extra morels in butter then freeze them for later use). And if you don’t have access to venison backstrap or tenderloin, beef is a decent alternative.

salt the venison

chopped onion and morels

I seared the venison backstraps rare, measuring the internal temperature at the thickest end to about 120°F (rare is 125°F), knowing it would continue to rise some as the meat rested on a plate. You can shoot for medium rare (final temperature 130°F), but cooking more than that will ruin this lean, tender cut.

sear the meat


Now, don’t wash that pan! All the fond (browned bits in the pan) left from the venison is Flavor Town and we want it in our sauce. Sauté the onions and morels in the same pan. The morels will release their liquid – this is normal. Let the liquid boil off before adding the butter. Cook the mushrooms until they start to brown. At this point, stir the flour into the mushrooms and allow it to cook for a minute. Pour the port into the pan and stir until the port is almost completely boiled away. Finally, incorporate the stock into the sauce, scraping any fond from the pan. If there are juices from the resting meat, stir those into the pan. Let it simmer a minute or two until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency.

sauté the morels and onions

add butter

stir the port into the pan

pour in the stock

sauce is ready

Slice the venison and serve it with the morel sauce. This goes well with potatoes and seasonal greens. Honestly, I could skip the venison altogether and just eat buttery mashed potatoes with the morel sauce. Here’s the thing: unless you live in a magical world where deer season and morel season coincide (as far as I know, deer season is in the fall and morels pop in the spring) you’ll either have to have frozen venison or dried/frozen morels. Either way, this is a meal worth making and enjoying, so start planning now.

served up for date night

rounded out with foraged feral asparagus, mashed potatoes, and frozen foraged black morels

Venison with Morel Sauce
[print recipe]
from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. boneless venison backstrap
2 tbsps canola or grapeseed oil

morel sauce
2 cups chopped fresh morel mushrooms*
1 cup minced onion
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup port wine
1 cup venison or beef stock**
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

*Hank addresses how to prepare the sauce using dried morels in his recipe.

**In Hank’s book, Buck, Buck, Moose, this recipe called for 2 cups of venison or beef stock, simmered down to 1 cup, which is what I used and it was great. His updated web version of the recipe doesn’t reduce the stock, so I imagine it works just as well and requires less effort.

Remove the venison from the refrigerator and pat it dry. Salt the meat well and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat the canola or grapeseed oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Pat the venison dry again and when the oil is hot, sear the venison on all sides, about 2 minutes a side until the interior is your desired doneness. 125°F for rare, 130°F for medium rare, and 140°F for medium, but rare to medium rare is the recommended doneness for this cut of venison. I used a thermometer inserted in the center of the thickest part of the backstrap to measure 120°F assuming it would continue to rise a few more degrees while resting. Remove the meat from the pan and allow to rest.

Make the morel sauce: Add onions and morels to the same pan and allow the morel liquid to boil off. Place the butter in the pan and sauté until the mushrooms and onions begin to brown. Sprinkle flour over the mushrooms and stir until the flour begins to bubble. Stir in the port and deglaze the pan (scrape the flavorful fond or browned bits off the pan and into the liquid/sauce). When the port is nearly boiled off, incorporate the stock into the sauce. Let it come to a boil for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens. Pour any accumulated venison juices into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve sliced venison with morel sauce. Serves 4.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

bacon-wrapped venison and garlic-herb butter pheasant and morel vols au vent seared duck breast with morels and asparagus morel bourbon cream sauce

5 nibbles at “emergence”

  1. Mary-Karen Euler says:

    Am savoring this posting, Jen, for so many reasons. That cake is astounding in its beauty! And I can’t even imagine the delight of coming upon those ginormous morels! Also, I greatly appreciate your artfully worded feelings & thoughts about beginning to socialize anew and the possibilities of re-choosing certain aspects thereof, rather than just jumping back into previous patterns. While I’m beginning to feel relief on a few fronts, I’m also mulling over some of those “roads less taken”…

  2. Marissa Drake says:

    I am so thankful to see this post. I was just thinking about you and really truly wondering how you were, and if you all were well. I try to hold you every May in my heart, even though I don’t really know you. A transition we are all on the edge of embracing, hopeful. Much love.

  3. Rich Hilson says:

    Sounds wonderful, but for the past few years I have been unable to find morels in any store.

  4. Rose says:

    I so enjoy reading your posts. The recipes, the love of Colorado, the love of family, the photography, the dogs, your personal insights… I truly appreciate the effort to continue this blog at even a reduced pace given the times that we live in . For myself, being an introvert, I know that I will remain even more so as the days pass by. I relish my small circle of friends and my family and that makes me happy. Although I share my life with a very picky eater, this recipe sings to me. It’s something I would try if I were cooking for myself. That said, I hope I never have the chance to try it.

  5. jenyu says:

    MK – I hear ya. There are definitely those out there who are proceeding with caution. Others… not so much!

    Marissa – Thank you for your kind sentiments ❤️

    Rich – They exist in dried form, but Whole Foods occasionally carries them fresh in spring (natural morels) and late summer (burn morels).

    Rose – At least you know the recipe is out there. Maybe one day you can take some inspiration and perhaps create a dish that you and your picky eater would both enjoy :) xo

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