Venison Tartare

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A bowl of venison tartare with an egg yolk.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Beef or venison tartare is the “trust fall” of the culinary world: Raw meat and a raw egg yolk. If your ingredients are not impeccable, things can go very, very wrong. But done right, this is at once a primal and exciting little appetizer.

Tartare is all about texture. Raw meat has a savory slipperiness that causes many people to argue within themselves. It seems so wrong, almost dangerous, yet something deep within you urges you to take another bite. It’s our inner hominid talking.

Beyond the meat, the silky richness of the broken yolk acts as a sauce, flecks of herbs or other flavors sparkle here and there, and the decided crunch of raw shallot punctuates each bite.

I know what you’re thinking: No way I’d eat raw venison! It’s not a crazy concern. But here’s what you need to know to eat raw venison (deer, antelope, moose, elk, etc) as safely as possible:

  1. Shoot straight. Seriously. If’ you’ve gut-shot the animal, think twice about making it into tartare or carpaccio. E. coli, both the really nasty o157 variety as well as the nasty-but-non-lethal o103 strain exist in venison (and all other ruminants). It mostly lives in the digestive tract. So if you break that tract and get gut gunk all over the inside of your deer, you better cook it well.
  2. Cut cleanly. This is an extension of No. 1. If you break the guts while eviscerating the animal, it’s nearly as bad as gut-shooting it.
  3. Freeze your venison first. Should the venison have any larval parasites, and parasites such as tapeworm and toxoplasma gondii (which causes toxoplasmosis) are know to exist in deer. Freezing the meat below 0°F for at least two days will go a long way toward making any raw meat you eat safer.
  4. Avoid any possible cross-contamination. Your venison might be perfectly fine, but if you have a dirty cutting board or knife or even hands you can wreck the whole thing. Sanitation is very important when serving raw food.
  5. Keep cool. Just as sushi should be served cold, so should tartare. Work quickly and keep the venison in the fridge when you are not cutting or mixing it.
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Even so, this is not a 100 percent risk-free recipe. But then again, neither is a trip to your neighborhood sushi bar. Or your breakfast — you are far more likely to get salmonella from eggs than you are from getting sick from raw venison, if you follow the steps above. Needless to say, your egg needs to be of the finest quality to use for tartare.

So if you’re still with me, let’s make tartare.

Some people, notably Wisconsinites, seem to like their beef or venison tartare ground. I don’t. I prefer it minced, which I think has a better texture. Use a large, very sharp chef’s knife to mince the venison. Take your time and don’t chop it like you would herbs: It will get all stringy.

My advice if you are going to make this recipe for more than four people is to cut the venison into manageable pieces first, then keep them all in the fridge. Mince one piece at a time and then return it to the refrigerator: This keeps everything cold.

After that, personalizing your venison tartare is all just a question of seasonings. Mine are woodsy, with juniper and caraway. The garnish is wood sorrel, which tastes lemony; it’s a hat tip to Chef Rene Redzepi of NOMA, who uses wood sorrel in his tartare.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>