Antler and Fin Podcast: Venison Au Poivre and the Different Types of Deer in North America

Venison Steak au Poivre is a classic French dish that is popular among hunters and gourmands alike. 

Steak au poivre is a classic French dish that dates back to the mid-1800s. The steak is typically pan-fried and served with a pan sauce made from crushed black peppercorns with cream, butter, and cognac, and it can also include garlic, shallots, and other herbs and spices. 

The combination of the steak and creamy sauce is a delicious and classic way to enjoy a steak. 

This recipe is an excellent meal for a weeknight dinner because it is easy to prepare, has a sophisticated flavor, and is incredibly satisfying. Instead of brandy or cognac in the sauce, I used bourbon because, well, I like bourbon. You can either serve the sauce atop the steaks or put the steaks back into the sauce in the pan for reheating.  

I also utilized a method called flambe. Flambe is a cooking method that involves the flaming of food. I like to use this method to bring out more of the natural flavors of the food, especially the black pepper in this case. In order to flambe a dish, you cook the food in a pan until the desired temperature, then add alcohol, and then ignite the alcohol. Then, allow the flames to burn off, which will create a caramelized layer on the food and adds a delicious smoky flavor. 

Although flambe can be intimidating, it is actually quite easy to master with practice. Just make sure your cooking space is clear of other flammables and ensure safe practices when attempting this method. Maybe keep a fire extinguisher nearby…

Read the written version of this recipe as prepared by Justin Townsend


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About Venison:

I thought I’d use Justin’s excellent venison steak recipe to showcase all of the types of huntable deer-like animals in Canada and the US that could offer venison meat that would work in this recipe. When people think of venison in my neck of the woods, people are generally thinking of white-tailed deer meat, but that’s not the case around North America! Let’s get into all of the different deer-like animals, which I will call cervids, that can be found in Canada and the US.

Since I already mentioned whitetails, let’s start there. 

White-tailed deer are the most common and widely dispersed cervid in North America and can be found pretty much everywhere but some parts of the Rockies, and far northern Canada and Alaska. Texas boasts the highest number of whitetails with an estimated population of 5.3 million of them. White-tailed deer have a reddish brown coat that fades towards grey in the winter and have an eponymous white patch on the tail and rear end that they use to flash to other deer when they sense danger. 

Whitetails vary in size by quite a bit, with larger specimens being found in colder climates. The white tails we see here in Ontario are quite a bit larger than those found in Florida! Antlers are regrown every year by males, with age, environment, diet, and genetics helping to decide their size. Whitetails can adapt to a very wide variety of habitats, which explains their widespread population. Their meat is known to be of good quality, with diet and age affecting the flavor and texture. 

Next up is mule deer, which reside in the western reaches of North America from Alaska to Mexico, west of the Great Plains. The mule deer was named so due to its ears, which are quite large and resemble a mule’s ears. The mule deer’s tail is black-tipped and its antlers tend to be forked. The males lose their antlers each year and regrow them pretty much directly afterward. Mule deer are larger than whitetails on average and seem to maintain a similar size across their entire range. In many places, mule deer and whitetails can both be found sharing habitats and co-existing with each other. 

There is a subspecies of mule deer called the black-tail deer. Meat from mule deer doesn’t have a major difference in taste when compared to whitetails, but since many mulies, as they’re affectionately known, are found in wilder places their flavor may be affected by less corn or grains in their diet. 

Caribou is next on the list, a species of deer made famous by being purported to pull Santa’s sleigh. Both the reindeer found in Northern Europe and Asia and the caribou found in North America happen to be the same species. Caribou in North America range from Alaska to Labrador and Newfoundland from the Arctic Ocean south to the northern tips of the provinces and even down into the contiguous United States in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Caribou vary in size from sub-species to sub-species, and can also vary in color and in antler shape across their range. Caribou are unique in the fact that both males and females grow antlers, which they lose and regrow annually. Male antlers tend to be larger than females and are in fact the largest of all North American cervids other than those of the moose. 

Caribou subsist largely on lichen and are one of the few animals in the world which can digest it. In the summer, they will also eat leaves and grasses. They live in massive herds that travel huge distances every year, covering up to 3000 miles on each migration. Many Eurasian species have been domesticated by indigenous peoples and will pull sleds or be ridden, which is likely where the legend of Santa’s reindeer originated. Caribou has been an extremely important source of protein for people across the northern reaches of the world and the meat is known to be mild, tender, and delicious. 

Next on the list is moose. 

Moose are the largest of the deer family and are found across North America, Europe, and Asia. They’re known as elk across the ocean, not to be confused with the North American elk. Moose can be found ranging across the entirety of Canada except for Vancouver Island and parts of the Arctic. Many of the northern states also host moose, including Maine, New York, Michigan, the northern Mid-west, and the upper Rockies. Moose tend to be quite solitary and like to hang out in boreal and temperate forests, especially where water can be found. Males have massive palmate antlers which are lost and regrown every year. 

These animals are massive, standing seven to 10 feet at the shoulder, and are built in what looks like an awkward manner. Once in the water or snow though, there is nothing awkward about a moose. Moose meat is mild but rich and is considered very fine to eat. Most Canadians in the north are very familiar with moose meat. 

The last of the native deer-like species is the elk or wapiti. 

Although originally widespread across Canada and the US, elk can now be found primarily near the Rockies and nearby in the west, as well as in isolated pockets across the continent, all the way to the Great Lakes. Elk are very large, with thick bodies and slender legs. They can weigh up to 1300lbs but are more likely to come in around 4 to 700lbs. Males have large spiked antlers which they lose and regrow each year. Elk are very gregarious and tend to travel in large herds, though sometimes bull elks will travel on their own. 

Bulls like to bugle, a loud high pitched call, that can be replicated by hunters to attract them. While moose and deer tend to browse on twigs, elk generally graze on grass, much like bison or cattle. They will add browse to their diet as well though. Elk provide a lot of meat each year to western hunters and the meat has been described as beefy, mild, and somewhat sweet. 

That covers the native deer-like species of Canada and the US, but there are others as well. 

Take sika deer, for example, an Asian spotted deer with large upright antlers. 

Sika inhabit woodlands and tend to form large herds which can be active during the day or night. Large populations can be found in both Texas and Maryland, with smaller herds being spotted quite often in other states as well. 

There is also the axis deer or chital, another spotted deer species, these ones coming from India. There are several self-sustaining herds that can be found in Texas and in Hawaii. Axis deer are beautiful and are highly prized for their delicious meat. I actually did an Antler and Fin podcast on axis deer in the past. 

Fallow deer are medium deer originating in Turkey but found across much of Europe and the Middle East. They are spotted deer with large, palmate antlers. They can be found in California, Kentucky, Georgia, and in Texas in small herds. Herds will sometimes be spotted in other states as well.

Lastly is the sambar deer, a very large deer that originated in India and Southwestern China. Sambar has shaggy coats and tall, upright antlers. They can be found in free-ranging herds in California and in Florida who puts on a controlled annual hunt for them. 

Although many other deer species can be found in North America, you likely will only see them in highly controlled farms or ranches and not in self-reproducing wild herds. 

About Adam Berkelmans:

Adam Berkelmans, also known as The Intrepid Eater, is a passionate ambassador for real food and a proponent of nose-to-tail eating. He spends his time between Ottawa and a cozy lake house north of Kingston, Ontario. When not cooking, he can be found hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening, reading, traveling, and discovering new ways to find and eat food.

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