I believe you’ll enjoy this month’s recipe. It’s my version of something I remember enjoying most of my life.
During my childhood, this was usually served using beef, and it tastes pretty good that way still, but it’s much tastier and better for you when the featured ingredient is some of the tender venison you harvested during the past deer season. This is comfort food. Something similar, but featuring beef, is on the menu at just about every home-cooking grill or restaurant across the south.
January is a mixed month for sportsmen across the Carolinas. Several hunting seasons are still going strong, and fishing should have made the transition from fall to winter. January typically has the coldest weather of the year, and I usually features a stew or hearty soup that really warms cold sportsmen. This does that too, but in a slightly different way, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
It also helped that I had several packages of venison cube steaks left from last year and didn’t want to mix them with this year’s venison, so I have been cooking this about once a week. It requires a little more attention than simply putting it in a crock pot and walking away, but I’m working on that and am getting close to a recipe good enough to share. Meanwhile, you’ll have to settle for this — and if this is settling, you won’t mind it a bit.
Venison cube steak
I was a youngster when I first had cube steak, served with lots of gravy on a big serving of homemade mashed potatoes, complete with the lumps that gave it away. There were vegetables and bread, but they weren’t nearly as important. Vegetables were tolerated because they were required for kids, and the bread was just a pusher to try to get all the meat, potatoes and gravy on the fork and sop up any leftover gravy. This was probably my original “clean plate” meal, and I remember seeing grown men sneak a quick lick of the plate on numerous occasions.
While the recipes were similar, my aunt’s was slightly different than ours, and my grandpa’s was still a little different from either. Some included broth instead of water, the amount of pepper, black pepper only or some white pepper, mushrooms or not, and I’m sure there were more. The bottom line is, they were all delicious; it was a meal that was often requested.
This is a natural for cooking venison. The quick sear is to hold in the natural juices, and baking it slowly in the gravy keeps it moist on the outside while enhancing the flavor and tenderizing it. It should be just shy of falling apart and cut easily with the edge of your fork.
There are many ways to prepare this; most are pretty similar. Some like to simmer the steaks on the stove top, but I like baking so the heat is applied evenly. This also helps keep it tender, and when you start with a tender piece of venison, you should prepare it to accentuate that tenderness. I consider this a responsibility.
I believe you’ll enjoy this version. In addition to being melt-in-your-mouth tender, it has a nice flavor that is robust without being spicy. Many will want to serve it covered with lots of the gravy and more gravy heaped on mashed potatoes; it tastes good that way — really good. However, for those like me who have become more health conscious, my suggestion is cooking it in the gravy to get some of that good flavor, then serving it without piling it on so there are less calories, carbohydrates and cholesterol.
It’s really good served this way too.
TIP: Baking applies the heat evenly to cube steak, and it helps keep the venison tender, which is a key to this recipe.
TIP: Quick-searing meats like venison holds in the natural juices and makes for a tastier result.
4 venison cube steaks (4 to 6 ounces each)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp beef bouillon (granules)
1/2 tsp coarse-ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Sprinkle of onion powder Onion salt may be used
Light sprinkle of salt (optional to taste)
Sprinkle the salt, pepper and onion powder on both sides of the steaks. Put the flour evenly in a shallow dish or on wax paper and press both sides of the steaks into the flour. Pour the oil into a cast-iron pan and heat stove top to medium or medium-high.
Once the oil is hot, put the steaks in the pan and cook until lightly golden brown (approximately two to four minutes per side). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add water to the pan to cover most (3/4 to 7/8) of the steaks. Stir in the beef bouillon until it is totally dissolved. Sprinkle in 3 rounded teaspoons of the flour remaining in the dish or on the wax paper and stir to mix. Bring to a boil and stir thoroughly.
Remove from the burner, cover and place on middle rack in oven. Bake 11/2 to 2 hours until tender. It should cut with a fork. Check occasionally and stir and spoon some of the gravy onto the top of the steaks. Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.
Many people believe the way to serve this is with mashed potatoes, especially home-made, with lots of the gravy heaped on top. That certainly is good, but those of us who want the flavor but want to eat more healthy, it also serves well over wild rice with a minimum of gravy. I know it isn’t quite the same, but it tastes good, and your arteries and cardiologist will thank you.
Vegetables are a must; I like steamed or roasted broccoli, but it also does well with steamed or stewed squash. A good, hearty wheat or rye bread adds a little extra taste and helps get the last morsels and gravy off the plate. This might be a good meal to skip dessert.