By Tim H. Martin
Tim Martin celebrates his fine Illinois buck with Gary Clancy and Alex Rutledge (right.) We can thank Alex for the recipe; delicious and simple grilled backstraps.
Via Alabama, via Illinois, Via Missouri, via Louisiana...
For those who love to eat wild game, hunting lodges can be far better sources for collecting recipes than cookbooks. Where else do you have full access to a chef or cook who specializes in preparing local game, along with a gathering of people with cooking knowledge from various parts of the world? This traveling venison tenderloin recipe is a prime example of cultures intertwining in hunting camp.
Illinois may have been the place I scored the recipe, but the Land of Lincoln certainly wasn’t its birthplace. It made this page via an Alabamian who bowhunted in Illinois, who met a Missourian while hunting in Illinois, who got it from a Cajun guide while hunting in Louisiana. I have no idea where the Cajun guide got it, so if you see this recipe on the back of a Campbell’s soup can, please don’t cancel your Buckmasters subscription.
In my mind’s eye, the Cajun guide got it from a grizzled old suspender-wearing uncle who lived in a cabin down by the swamp. He probably concocted the recipe somewhere between cleaning catfish, cooking crawfish etouffée and rowing a pirou to his secret Spanish-moss-hidden deerstand tucked somewhere deep within a foggy bayou. Whatever the origin, I think we can all agree, when it comes to cooking wild critters, few can out-do the good folks from Louisiana.
TV personality, hunting expert and all-around good fellow Alex Rutledge is the Missourian in this equation. In October of 2005, I had the pleasure of sharing an IMB Outfitters camp with him as well as a group of outdoorsmen from the hunting industry on a writer’s hunt in Kinderhook, Illinois. Alex was there to film a TV show, introduce new hunting products and demonstrate buck-calling techniques. Not only did he teach me a few sweet tricks that I’ve used in the field, but also a couple of good 'uns for the kitchen.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the night he cooked this venison tenderloin recipe was the eve before I shot a gnarly-horned Illinois monster. I also didn’t realize that if not for his tips from that day's in-depth grunt-call lesson, my 13-point giant might’ve ended up on the end of someone else’s arrow.
On the second day of our hunt, one of the writers arrowed a fat doe as it fed alongside a cornfield. Alex asked permission from the camp cook to allow him to grill the doe’s tenderloins as an appetizer. The cook had been slaving away on an elaborate supper all day and was hesitant to allow an outsider into his kitchen, but after Alex pulled out the southern charm, he reluctantly agreed.
With permission granted, Alex began stuffing the backstraps with fixin's and made a bee-line for the grill. Just before supper, he returned to the dining room with a beautiful tinfoil presentation of grill-marked meat, peppers, onions and mushrooms, hoisting it like the Super Bowl trophy. Alex was met with a mob of forks, excited groans and, if memory serves, applause.
The problem was, the Cajun-injected loins were so popular among the writers that everyone ate their fill before supper! Subsequently, the backstrap became the evening’s main entrée, inadvertently of course, but much to the cook’s chagrin.
Alex is a sensitive, caring person and I’m certain he regretted the sight of the cook’s lower lip poking out for the remainder of the evening. The poor man stood in front of the serving table, unsuccessfully attempting to entice a single taker to try his potatos au gratin and zucchini soufflé. He was a rather big fellow and stood glaring, with jaw clenched, beside a mountain of uneaten pork cutlets. I think I even saw his biceps twitch whenever Alex walked by.
Later, Alex apologized profusely to the cook and kept his nose out of the kitchen for the remainder of the hunt. That was probably a wise decision, because, had Alex gone back, he may not have emerged without a broken appendage or two or three or four.
I have many wonderful memories of that hunting trip, not just because of the great food, but mainly because of the lasting relationships made with the people there. But another reason I will never forget Kinderhook is because I bagged the biggest buck of the bunch, and so far, the best of my career; a 255-pound 13-point corn-fed monster. It hangs in my office at Buckmasters as a daily reminder of how truly blessed I am.
So remember, a successful hunting camp is one in which you make lasting friendships and add a couple of new recipes to your collection. But if you happen to wrap your tag around an antler, well that ain't bad either!
Author’s Note: After the hunt, I e-mailed Alex for permission to use his tenderloin recipe. The response below is what I received, in typical Alex fashion:
I would love to share my recipe! I got it from some Cajuns while hunting on a plantation in the 1990s. This recipe will make you want to take back things you never stole! Ha!
Good to hear from you Bro!
Cajun-Style Venison Tenderloins Recipe
- 1 whole venison tenderloin, Liquid Cajun injector seasoning, 1/2 bell pepper (finely chopped), 1/2 Vidalia or sweet onion (finely chopped), 1 cup mushrooms (sliced), Cajun rub or seasoning of your preference, to taste, 1 package of hickory smoked bacon, *You'll need toothpicks or wooden skewers to secure the stuffed loin.
- Marinade in Cajun liquid injector seasoning overnight or according to instructions.
- Remove all ligament tissue and white film from meat and butterfly the loin by splitting lengthwise down the middle, but not completely through.
- Next, stuff the loin with mushrooms, peppers and onion, then sprinkle Cajun seasoning on vegetables. Wrap the loin with smoked bacon and secure closed with toothpicks or small wooden skewers. Inject the stuffed loin with Cajun injector liquid every few inches. Before grilling, rub the loin with Cajun dry seasoning. Grill very slowly over direct heat, turning every five minutes until cooked to the desired doneness. Some pinkness is desirable in venison, so be careful not to overcook. Slice the loin between each bacon slice and serve.
- To shop for Cajun injector liquid and seasonings online, search key words "cajun injector marinade" or go to www.shoppinglouisiana.com or www.cajunsupermarket.com.
--Based on Recipe Courtesy of Alex Rutledge