This summer, change up the usual steakhouse treatment of backstrap with something a little different. The combination of this spicy chocolate rub and a perfectly cooked, juicy red steak is phenomenal. The venison is served with a salsa made with strawberries sweetened with a touch of honey and a squeeze of lime; the avocado brings a well-rounded balance to the acidity. Altogether it’s a refreshing mix of savory and sweet that your taste buds can’t get enough of.
I chose to sear the venison loin “a la plancha”, meaning cooked in a piping hot cast iron or griddle on the grill. Traditionally this Spanish style of cooking is done on a flat metal surface which gets very hot in order to brown the exterior of the meat, but any seasoned cast iron or square slab of slate from the hardware store will work. The juices from the venison stay in the pan, the meat picks up the subtle smoke flavor, and the cocoa rub develops into a lovely crust when seared this way as opposed to being blackened by direct flame.
You can serve this with any choice of sides, but on a hot sunny day, the salsa makes a great addition to a light salad.
- 1 ½ – 2 lb of Venison Loin, kept whole (if using a large griddle) or cut into 4 steaks (6-8 oz ea)
- 1 tbsp. raw cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. Ancho chili powder
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 C. of chopped strawberries (about 8 large)
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- ¼ C. cilantro, chopped
- 2 tbsp. of finely chopped red onion
- 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 2 tsp. warm honey (liquid consistency)
- 1 Avocado, chopped
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- Mix all the ingredients to make the rub. I used a mortar and pestle to grind rosemary and ensure there were no lumps in cocoa powder. Store all but one tablespoon in a jar.
- Add the chopped strawberries, jalapeño, cilantro and red onion to a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix the lime juice and warm honey until sugar is dissolved.
- Pour over the strawberry mixture. You can do this step in advance, storing in the fridge to let the juices set.
- Scoop in the chopped avocado just before serving to avoid the red juices turning its color brown.
- If possible, season the venison a few hours in advance with a sprinkle of salt. When ready to cook, pull it out of the fridge and rub generously with 1 tbsp. of the cocoa rub until well coated.
- Place a cast iron pan or griddle on top of your grill and set the heat to medium-high. Once the grill is pre-heated, and cast-iron is hot, near smoking, add a tbsp. of oil to coat.
- Lay each steak on the cast iron and sear for about 3-4 minutes on each side so that you develop a good crust. Remove the meat when it reaches 125°F and let it rest under foil for 5 to 10 minutes or until it comes to the final temp. of 130°F (medium-rare).
- Serve with the avocado-strawberry salsa.