Portabello Elk Backstraps with Tapenade Sauce

When it comes to wild game meat, there are few things more coveted than the backstrap on a big game animal.¹  While cuts like the round and the flank are excellent, the loin (the muscle running along either side of the spine on the outside of the animal) is one of the most tender and flavorful cuts of meat and is very carefully rationed by the hunter when sharing with guests and friends.  I grew up hunting, and to receive a package of backstraps in exchange for helping someone out was payment as valuable as gold.  So when it comes time to prepare backstraps – whether from your own hard-earned harvest or the gift of a generous friend – it is important to treat them right.

Gather up:

  • 2 lbs of elk backstraps, sliced across about 1″ thick.  If you don’t have backstraps, you can get by with grass-fed rib eye or New York loin steaks.
  • 4 large portabello mushrooms, stems trimmed level with the cap
  • 1 large Walla Walla sweet onion, cut into 4 thick slices
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into quarters
  • 8 stalks asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (not pictured)
  • 3 tbsp sun-dried tomato tapanede (save the rest for other uses)
  • 1 tsp Frank’s Red Hot
  • About 2 cups of mixed greens

Start out getting everything arranged on trays to make it easier to get them all to the grill (and back off).  In a small prep bowl, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tamari, Frank’s Red Hot, and black pepper.  Whisk to combine well, then transfer 1/4 cup to another small bowl, setting the remaining mixture aside.  Brush both sides of the steaks, the onions, mushrooms, asparagus, and pepper slices with the 1/4 cup of sauce.

Heat the grill up to medium-high (400 degrees) and let warm up while the steaks and everything sit.  When the grill is hot, cook everything directly on the grill, turning once, until the steaks are medium-rare (140 degrees with the quick-read thermometer), the veggies are all tender-crisp, and the mushrooms are tender – about 15 minutes total on indirect heat.  This can be a challenge with the onions and asparagus – use a grill basket if needed.

While everything is cooking, combine the reserved sauce with the parsley and tapenade and whisk to form a thick sauce.  When things are done cooking, place back on the trays and let the steaks rest a few minutes before serving.

If you are looking to get brownie points for presentation, you can arrange the finished meal something like shown above.  At least that’s how they’d serve it in a fancy restaurant somewhere at $50 per plate (they’d probably add a fancy design drizzled on the plate for decoration as well…I’m not about that).

There is a problem (as I discovered when I made this) with serving it like it is pictured.  That problem is eating this, while served this way, is next to impossible.  Cutting the steak without sending the whole thing toppling over or flying across the table is easier said than done.  So, instead, I would recommend placing the steak directly on a bed of greens with a few rings of onion on top and a drizzle of the tapenade sauce over it.  Next to the steak, place the mushroom with the bell pepper and the remaining onion, and another light drizzle of sauce.  And finally, arrange the asparagus (still cut into halves) along side and dig in!

¹The only cut more prized is the tenderloin (running along either side of the spine on the inside of the animal).  For someone to offer to share the tenderloin out of their animal, however, usually involves you packing a substantial portion of that animal off the side of a mountain so remote and so rugged a mountain goat would stop climbing half-way and ask if you were crazy.  I don’t know of many non-hunters that have ever actually had real wild-caught tenderloin – because that cut rarely makes it much farther than the first campfire at hunting camp after a successful hunt.

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