Have you ever eaten something that was so good you couldn’t stop thinking about it? And then when you returned home to try and re-create the experience, all you could do was cry at the pathetic attempts you made that resulted in utter culinary failure? And then you spend the rest of your life telling people about how amazing this particular food was, but you can’t, for the life of you, figure out the secret ingredient? And everyone around you becomes annoyed with the “greatest meal ever” story? And you spend a lot of time crying about it?
About six years ago, my sister, brother-in-law, husband, and I headed out to a Valentine’s Day dinner at a local up-scale restaurant. The menu was prix fixe (See, I told you it was a fancy place. I didn’t even know what prix fixe was until that dining experience. And I had to look it up to make sure I understood what it meant.) and we were treated to an impressive spread of lobster tails and filet mignon drenched in the most amazing sauce I have ever tasted. The meal itself was great, but that sauce! Oh that sauce! The chef called it a beurre rouge, and true to the beurre rouge (French for red butter) it was definitely a wine reduction with a smooth buttery finish, but instead of having a creamy, light color it was a deep, dark color. It was rich, and tangy, and savory all at the same time. I had never had such a delectable moment in a single bite. My sister and brother-in-law loved it so much they actually ordered two meals just so they could eat an entire second filet with that sauce. It was a sauce designed for creating a “greatest meal ever” story. And that is exactly what happened.
Upon returning home, we tracked down the chef through a friend, but when we attempted to contact him, he had up and quit never to be seen again. My brother-in-law and I both made failed attempt after failed attempt to re-create the sauce. After each defeat, we would call each other and trouble-shoot what went wrong. We tried different wines for the reduction. That failed. We reduced every type of vinegar we could find at the store. That failed. We added herbs. We removed herbs. We tried raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, no berries. Nothing worked. Soon, everyone around us became annoyed with the “greatest meal ever” story. And we cried. It was sad.
Fast-forward six years, and I was still reminiscing about that sauce. I had given up on the idea of ever tasting it again, and instead accepted that I could only think about the “greatest meal ever” and hope that was enough. In an unrelated cooking experiment, I decided that blueberries sounded like a fantastic pairing with elk meat. I set out to create a blueberry reduction to top my steak. I started with a simple beurre blanc base, which is butter and shallots. I dropped in my pint of blueberries and watched as the berries popped and a sauce started to form. I added in my balsamic vinegar and some dry red wine and reduced the entire mixture. Then I thought an herb would add a nice flavor. I ventured to the garden and cut some thyme. When the spoon met my lips, I almost gasped. I was back in that fancy, up-scale restaurant drenching my bite of filet in the best sauce ever. I couldn’t believe it! I called my other frustrated diners who had also resigned from the search for that perfect sauce from the “greatest meal ever.” We were moved to tears. Okay, that is an exaggeration, but we were really excited! Our search had ended and it was delicious!
So, after all the hype this sauce has from that story, I hope that you are excited by it as much as my family. This recipe is quick and simple. It is a great meal for a quick weeknight dinner or a ritzy, weekend dinner party with friends.
To start, I get the sauces going. So, pull out a small sauce pan and heat it over medium heat. Drop in two tablespoons of cold butter and allow it to melt. Once fully melted, drop one minced shallot, and cook until the shallot is softened, which takes about three minutes. Just a little comment here, watch your shallot because you don’t want it to burn and it is easy to get the butter too hot. I am one of those people who turns the stovetop too hot in the beginning and doesn’t notice until I burn my garlic or onions. So, just keep on eye on it.
Once the shallot has softened, add the pint of blueberries and allow them to slow cook for five minutes. They should start to pop and a vibrant purple sauce should start to form in pan. The heat should be on medium. Once the berries look broken down, add half a cup of balsamic vinegar and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the sauce to half, which takes around five minutes. Then add in a half cup of red wine and the fresh thyme. I used a pinot noir this time, but I have used cabernet or merlot in the past. If you aren’t a person who cooks with wine, you could also just add a half cup of water. Allow the sauce to reduce again by half, which should take another five minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Sauce number one is now ready to go!
For the second sauce, in a small sauce pan heat two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the minced shallot. I know, I know, it starts exactly the same as the first sauce, but here is where the similarities end. Once the shallot has softened, add a cup of heavy cream. Bring the cream to a very light boil, almost more of a simmer, and allow the liquid to reduce by half. The cream should become thick and, when tested, coat the back of a spoon. This reduction takes about five minutes. Once the sauce is to a consistency you like, add a half cup of crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce number two is now ready to go!
Alright, so it is time to cook the steak. I used elk for this recipe, but these sauces would also pair great with deer, pronghorn, or buffalo. For the cut of meat, I used the infraspinatus muscle, which is found in the shoulder of the animal. When purchasing beef from the super market, this cut of meat is commonly called a flat iron steak. The flat iron is a good steak for grilling, so I use it quite often. Of course, you could also use backstrap or tenderloin for this recipe.
I cut the steak about two inches thick across the grain and let the meat sit at room temperature for about fifteen minutes before I cook it. Letting the meat sit before cooking takes the chill off it, and this allows for more even cooking of the steak. Salt and pepper the steaks before placing them on a large, preheated pan. I heat the pan to medium-high before setting the meat on it so it will develop a nice brown crust. Once you have set the meat on the hot pan, don’t mess with it. At first touch, the meat will stick to the pan and if you move it around you end up with ripped meat. Nobody wants ripped meat.
Allow the first side to cook for four minutes. Flip and cook the second side for an additional four minutes. While the meat is cooking, preheat the broiler to high. After the second side has finished cooking, I place the entire pan under the broiler for an additional minute. If you don’t have a pan that can go from stove-top to oven, you can also remove the meat from the pan and tent it with aluminum foil to allow it to finish cooking. The times I have listed for the meat allow for a two-inch cut steak to come out at about medium-rare. If you like your meat less or more done, adjust the times by a minute. For example, if I wanted a rare steak I would only allow the steak to cook for three minutes per side and then finish with the minute in the broiler. In my experience, most wild game is better when cooked on the rare side. I find the “gamey” flavor people tend to dislike about wild game comes out when the meat is overcooked. Placing the meat under the broiler or tenting it creates a super juicy steak.
Alright, so, time to plate this steak up! Take your steak of choice and drench that bad boy in the blueberry balsamic reduction. Make sure to get a good spoonful of the whole berries as well as the sauce. Second, drizzle just a bit of the gorgonzola cream sauce over the top of everything. If you are looking for a bite of heaven, cut off a bite-size piece of steak that is drenched in the blueberry sauce and has a dollop of the cream sauce on top. Oh man! The blueberries, thyme, and gorgonzola cheese are a winning combination!
For sides, I recommend sautéing up some asparagus. I put my asparagus in the oven on 375 for about 15 minutes with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I suggest asparagus because the gorgonzola cream sauce is superb on top of it! I also made roasted red potatoes for the same reason. That cheese sauce is probably good on any vegetable, but it was great on the asparagus and potatoes.
Well, I am now officially hungry! And drooling just a tad!