Wyoming mule deer backstrap steak and Montana cherries are a fantastic combination. The sweetness of the cherry sauce perfectly complements the earthiness of the venison. You can use any sweet red cherry variety for this recipe but the cherries from the Flathead Valley in Montana are absolutely amazing!
What are Flathead Cherries?
Flathead cherries come from the Flathead Valley in Northwestern Montana. They have a very short growing season and are known for being some of the most coveted cherries in the US. They are usually only available for a month or so in July/August. While the cherries grown there are not their own species, there is something about the soil and climate there that produces the absolute best cherries! Plus, you cannot beat the gorgeous Northern Montana views. You don't have to travel to Montana to get them, but if you ever get the chance, you should definitely plan a trip. Flathead cherries are frequently sold at roadside stands in surrounding states which is where I'm lucky enough to find them!
When are cherries in season?
Cherries are mostly grown commercially in a few places in the US - Michigan, California, and the Northwest. Cherry season generally only lasts a few months, from May-August with the first cherries available in California and the last ones available in the Northwest. Flathead cherries have the shortest growing season which is part of why they are so valuable!
How to pit cherries:
Cherries are such a treat but there is always the age-old question of what to do with the pits. Sure, you could buy a fancy cherry pitter. But, you probably have everything you need in your kitchen already to pit cherries pretty easily! All you need is a glass bottle with a narrow opening (big enough for a cherry pit but not big enough for the cherry to fall through) and a wooden skewer. Follow the steps below for perfectly pitted cherries!
How to cook a venison backstrap steak:
Venison steaks can be cooked a variety of ways. But, the most consistent way for me to produce the best results is by using a cast iron pan. I like to start with my pan on medium-high heat and let it heat up until it's almost smoking. I always use lard as the fat to cook my wild game in. The crust that forms from cooking the steak in lard in a cast iron pan while still keeping the inside tender and juicy is pure perfection. I put a generous amount of salt and pepper on the steak to season it. Add as much salt as you think it needs, then add a little more because some will come off in the pan. That little bit of extra salt is the key to a flavorful steak. Then, cook the steak for 3-4 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 120°F for medium-rare.
You can also do a quick 30 second (or less) sear on the sides that don't touch the pan to brown them as well. But don't go too crazy or you'll overcook the steak. Let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes or however long it takes to cook the cherry sauce. Slice it up and serve. It's sure to be some of the best steak you've ever tasted!
How to make cherry sauce for steak:
Cooking steak in a cast iron pan leaves a lot of delicious flavor in the pan. So now is the perfect time to make a cherry pan sauce with all those delicious meaty flavors! Start by adding some butter to the pan to release anything stuck to the pan from your steak. Add in some diced shallots and thyme sprigs and let them soften. Then pour in a hefty serving of cream sherry and let it simmer for a bit. Next come the cherries, balsamic vinegar, spicy brown mustard, and some salt and pepper. Let it do it's thing for about 10 minutes or so or until the sauce has thickened and reduced by half. Give it a taste and try not to eat it all before you pour it on your steak!
Putting it all together:
Backstraps and cherries: it's a combination you might not have thought of but one you'll never forget after you try it! The sweetness of the cherries and cream sherry simmered with earthy thyme and shallots is balanced by tangy balsamic vinegar and spicy brown mustard. Drizzle the cherry sauce over a perfectly cooked medium-rare venison backstrap steak for an elegant meal you'll never forget!
Venison Backstrap with Flathead Cherry Sauce
- 1 lb venison backstrap (or other steak cut)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon lard
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
- 2-3 thyme sprigs
- 1 cup sweet sherry
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard
- 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cherries, pitted and halved
- Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Season steak all over with salt and pepper.
- Add lard to pan and swirl to coat pan. Add in steak and cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 120°F for medium rare. Remove steak to a plate to rest.
- Turn heat down to medium. Add butter to pan and swirl to coat pan. Add in shallots and thyme. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until shallots are starting to soften and thyme is fragrant.
- Add in sherry to deglaze the pan. Bring to a simmer and add in mustard and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine then add in the cherries. Simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce is reduced by half, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat.
- Slice steak into ½" slices and serve with cherry sauce on top. Enjoy!
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