There is a restaurant here that serves American Waygu Beef, considered the “butter knife beef” because it is so tender and moist that in theory you can cut it with nothing more than a butter knife. I have been there once. I did order the Waygu, and it lived up to its name. I was impressed, and I felt ever-so fancy dining in the candlelit rustic style restaurant. It was a fancy night, with the prime selection of meats, beautiful bottles of full-bodied red wine poured into large, globe wine glasses, and rich, chocolate desserts to close the meal. It was one of those times you sit back in the chair, close your eyes, and simply sigh at how a meal could possibly be so wonderful. And then the bill came. Ouch.
Taking someone out for a special occasion dinner is great, but man can it hurt the old pocketbook. I mean, some meals can put you back an entire grocery shopping bills worth. One of my favorite things about cooking with wild game is I have developed a desire to push the limits and stereotypes of what wild game can do. I am a huge fan of creating soups and chilis out of my game. The flavors are so complex, rustic, and savory, but thinking beyond that, for me, means really thinking about the flavor of the meat and how to pull that flavor out without masking it behind the many ingredients of a soup or chili.
Growing up, wild game at my house was served as a breakfast meat. And let’s be honest, there is little that is fancy about breakfast meat. Many people process their wild game for sausages or hamburger meat, which don’t get me wrong are AMAZING, but you can take things so much further with a little imagination and research. To start thinking out of the box, I looked towards creating an experience for my diners with the wild game as the highlight. I thought about the evening at the steakhouse with the Waygu and the fine wine, and instantly I wanted to recreate the experience at home. I thought about a “fancy smancy” meal that I could pull off, because I am not a fine dining cook by any means, and beef Wellington came to mind. Beef Wellington is not something you just whip up any night of the week, I mean just the name says “special occasion.” Sounds fancy, right? And what sounds more fancy than beef wellington? Pronghorn Wellington!
Pronghorn, or it is also commonly called antelope, typically inhabit wide open terrain. They are an incredibly fast animal and noticeable because of their burnt orange hide with large white rumps and stripes across their chest. I harvested my first buck last fall. I had heard horror stories about the meat having a pungent odor that carried over into the flavor of the meat. Many people told me that caring for the meat properly would eliminate this problem. The tips I received were to immediately remove the hide, taking care to not let the fur touch the meat, and then to place the meat directly on ice. During my hunt, I kept a cooler full of ice for this purpose.
I do not notice any type of odor or odd flavor with my pronghorn. The meat is flavorful and some of the most tender I have ever eaten. Pronghorn is a beautiful, rich red color. It is a much darker ruby color than I have found in elk or deer. And I will say it again, it is oh-so tender. Amazingly tender. A thick cut slice of pronghorn is a perfect meat for this elegant Wellington style dinner. If you do not have pronghorn, this recipe would also be amazing with deer or elk. I haven’t ever had it before, but I am sure you could also try moose.
To start, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Also, heat a heavy bottomed skillet, cast iron if you have it, over medium-high heat.
Before I cook meat like pronghorn, elk, or deer, I let the meat rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, but preferable thirty. Allowing the meat to rest will ensure more even cooking. I used the backstrap from my pronghorn for this recipe because I like how the meat easily cuts into individual, thick-cut steaks. Cut the meat about an inch and half to two inches thick and season with salt and pepper. Add some olive oil to your heated pan and gently place the steaks. Once you have set the meat down, do not attempt to move it for a few minutes or you will end up with ripped meat because it is so tender. Cook the steaks for about three minutes, and then flip and repeat. Pull the steaks from the pan and allow them to sit for a few minutes.
Next, prepare the puff pastry shell for the Wellington. Puff pastry is a very light, flaky dough. You will notice when working with it that is several paper thin layers pressed together. The dough is very buttery and the space between these layers puff up from the steam created by the boiling butter during baking. The results is a very light, crusty pastry. Making puff pastry is a very labor intensive duty and not something a beginner baker can easily pull off. I just buy the frozen stuff at the super market. I would like to stress that the dough is frozen, because I often forget to set it out to thaw before I get started and then end up waiting on frozen dough.
Sprinkle a light layer of flour over the top of the thawed puff pastry dough and use a rolling pin to thin the dough a bit. No need to get wild here. Just thin the dough out enough so you can wrap it easily around the steaks. Cut the dough into four equal squares. In the center of each square, place a little pile of arugula and some of the gorgonzola cheese crumbles. Place the beautifully seared pronghorn steak on top of the arugula nest and fold the pastry dough around each little bundle. Pinch the edges of the dough together and brush the entire package with an egg wash.
Place the Wellingtons seams down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cut a small vent on the top of each pastry bundle and bake for 12 minutes. The puff pastry dough should look golden brown and flaky. Allow the bundles to rest for a few minutes and then serve ’em up! I like to do a side of broccoli with this meal. Roasted red potatoes would also be nice. Another suggestion is simply slices of beefsteak tomatoes lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, and a touch of olive oil.
One of my favorite things about this recipe is it creates a perfectly cooked slice of meat. The sear you first put on the meat creates a savory, slight crust on the meat, and finishing the meat in the oven allows for a perfect medium-rare steak. Pronghorn, like elk or deer, is best served on the rare side. Over cooking the meat results in a much tougher, gamier flavor, which most people dislike.
Simply put, this meal is elegant. Pair the Wellington with a nice glass of red wine, such as a cabernet or pinot noir, light a few candles, finish the meal with a decadent chocolate dessert, and then sit back, close your eyes, and simply sigh at how wonderful this meal was. And I promise, that moment won’t be ruined by a horrendous bill!