Before Christmas, we had a wonderful treat when our good friend, Chef Ian Thomlinson, came over and cooked venison tenderloin steaks for us, with a delicious green peppercorn sauce. If you have the venison, terrific, but if not, a good quality beef version will be just the ticket.
Ian studied cooking at Sault College and then apprenticed at the Constellation Hotel in Mississauga, before spending four years at the Windsor Arms, one of Toronto’s premier restaurants, where he worked closely with Michael Bonacini prior to returning to Sault Ste. Marie.
Ian’s method is classic: author Bill Buford, in his memoir, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, describes how Chef Alain Le Cossec of the cooking school L’Institut Bocuse taught him the technique to cook steaks in a cast-iron pan. The butter must be at just the right temperature –it must “sing”: too hot and it will steam and burn, too cool and the meat will stick to the pan. When it froths up, you have a brown butter mousse, and in go the steaks.
The process of spooning the butter over the steaks is called “Rissoler” so that you are sautéing the meat with direct heat from below and cooking it from above by ladling the butter over the tenderloin. Perfect.
Here, then, is Ian’s Venison Loin with Peppercorn Sauce for Four.
Read through the whole recipe before you begin!
Ingredients - Part I - The Meat
- 8 3 oz. pieces of loin, about 3/4” thick, at room temperature, patted dry.
- Course ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp. butter
Ingredients – Part II - The Sauce
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 oz. brandy
- 3 oz. white wine
- 6 oz. whipping cream
- 1Tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 4 Tbsp. green Madagascar peppercorns in brine, rinsed (available at Paesano’s)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- The liquid on the plate from the steaks.
Preheat a large cast-iron pan (10” to 12”) on medium-high heat. Season the loin steaks with salt and a generous amount of pepper, or to taste.
Add the oil to the pan and swirl gently to coat the surface. Heat until it begins to shimmer – not smoke! – add the butter to the side of the pan where the oil gathers and pools.
When the butter has melted, swirl the pan for a moment: the butter should brown quickly and sizzle… or sing!
Add the steaks to the pan, arranging them slightly apart, not crowding the pan, and cook for about two minutes a side using the method described above, listening to the butter. Make sure to adjust the heat to maintain the sizzle, but not have the butter burn. As Ian explains, the meat “must brown, not boil.” When they reach your desired ‘doneness’, remove the tenderloin to a plate. (Medium rare is when an instant-read thermometer reaches 140°F.)
Having removed the meat from the pan, drain the fat from the pan and leave it off the burner. Add the butter and shallots and stir for one minute; then, return the pan to the burner. Add the brandy carefully, and the white wine to deglaze the pan.
Add the cream and bring to a boil, adding the liquid from the plate. Simmer one minute and remove from the heat. (This may look runny and thin at this point, but that is to be expected.)
Add the remaining ingredients and stir them in to combine. Return each piece of meat to the sauce, turning them a couple of times to coat thoroughly. Place the pan back on the burner for one minute, and then serve with your choice of side dishes.
Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2019 is an Australian wine crafted with the North American market in mind. Until Feb. 28, it is $3 off at $21.95. Formerly found in Vintages, it has migrated to the general list. A perfect wine for steaks, it is a deep dark wine that is medium-full in body. The impact is lush and juicy with rich dark fruit, silky tannins, and great balance and length.
Chile’s Ravanal Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, $15.95, can be found in Vintages. Critic James Suckling included it as #91 in his top 100 Chilean wines for 2019, giving it a 93. It has some complexity and elegance with good concentration and persistence. Flavours of ripe strawberry and plum are accompanied by the suggestion of mint.
Also on sale until Feb. 28 on the regular list is Gallo’s Apothic Dark, $14.95 - $2 off. With 8 grams of sugar per litre, it has a nice, smooth effect – not sweet at all. The grapes resemble a field blend, including Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even a northern Italian grape Teroldego, among others. Impressions of plum and dark berries are accompanied by chocolate and coffee notes, which lead to a long smooth finish.
Final Let’s Eat Column
It has been decided that this will be my final column in the Let’s Eat features, but I will be returning to write a once-a-month on wine for sootoday.com beginning in March.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to check these recipes out. I hope they have led to some tasty dining for you. Thanks to all who have provided recipes, and in particular to my wife, Sue, for all her work shepherding me through the process.
If there is anything, in particular, you would like to read about as I go forward, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 20 Vintages Release
Quinta do Crasto Finest Reserve Port, $17.95 is ready to drink, described as “juicy and forthright, with plum cake and blueberry paste flavours, laced with a streak of cocoa” – 89, winespectator.com.
Wolfberger Brut Crémant d’Alsace, $19.95, has earned high praise from tastings.com for its “tangy, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity medium body” and “lime-pineapple sorbet and minerals finish.” - 94.
Alvi’s Drift Signature Viognier 2019, $13.95 from South Africa’s Western Cape took Double Gold at the 2019 Gold Wine Awards. Expect some real elegance here in a white wine carrying peach and apricot notes along with some cashew nuttiness. It has a lush texture and is long on flavour.
Ontario’s Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay, $17.95, $2 off until Feb. 28, received a 90 at the Decanter World Wine Awards. On the LCBO site, one customer has reviewed it, giving it a 92, saying it features “buttered toast, lemon, lemon meringue, peach, pear, golden apple, pineapple, ginger, dill, oak spice & marzipan.”
Pierre Sparr Grande Réserve Gewurztraminer 2018, $19.95 impresses Natalie MacLean who detects “rosewater, lychee, pink grapefruit, citrus pith bite and a smattering of sweet spice” on a wine that is lush and unctuous. – 91.
Casa de Cambres Reserva Red 2016, $14.95, from Portugal is #20 on the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buys of 2020. Good now but capable of aging, it has “great richness” with “ripe black fruits and generous juiciness.” – 90.
Bollato di Guarini Negroamaro/Primitivo 2018, $17, may be late-arriving, but when it does get here should be delicious. Luca Maroni gives it one of his zany astronomical scores – 97 – calling it a champion with “majestic pulp [and] fragrant density” and marked by sustained freshness and amplified sweetness though it is categorized as ‘extra-dry’ by the LCBO.
Sidewood Shiraz 2017, $19.95, would be a good one to compare to the Gnarly Dudes mentioned above. Australia’s senior wine writer, James Halliday, remarks that it is “seriously satisfying, every aspect explored and finessed, ripe black fruits the core.” Calling it a special value, he suggests that it could keep until 2045! – 97.
Catena Lunlunta Old Vines Appellation Malbec 2018, $22.95, is Vintages’ “Wine of The Month” It was rated 91 by the Wine Spectator – “Suave and well-spiced, with juicy richness to the zesty raspberry tart and plum pastry flavours…Chocolate and freshly ground nutmeg notes show on the finish.”