Embracing my Texas heritage with chicken fried venison
My trip to Cajun country last year, got me thinking about my own food heritage and since then I’ve been devouring Texas cookbooks including The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain, The Texas Cookbook by Mary Faulk Koock, Texas Home Cooking by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (which I was given to review) and even found myself flipping back through the pages of the first cookbook I ever owned, Calf Fries to Caviar. (If it wasn’t clear that I have deep roots in the Texas Panhandle before, it should be crystal clear now.)
Over the holidays, I asked my Aunt Pat about our family’s history with food and cooking, and she replied, “Well, that’s easy – fried. Everything was fried.”
I groaned a little, but I knew she was right. When I was a kid, we had family dinner (dinner is the meal you eat midday by Panhandle parlance, supper is what you eat at night) at my grandparents’ house every Sunday. My grandmother would pull out her cast iron skillet, which I now proudly own, and make fried chicken, mashed potatoes and a green vegetable – green beans, stewed greens or something of the like. She’d make homemade rolls and a pie for dessert, and we’d dig in at the round table in the kitchen.
I loved those Sunday lunches. My sister and I would play on the swing set in the backyard and watch my grandfather and dad work at whatever new project they had dreamed up that week. If I was lucky (or had gotten in trouble again), I got to go over the day before and help shell beans or roll pie crust, standing on a chair so I could reach the counter.
The food was humble, but it was always homemade. My grandmother was not interested in the shortcuts available in the grocery store aisles and often cooked from my grandfather’s garden.
It’s funny, but I’ve never been tempted to make fried chicken at home, partly because frying is messy, but also because I just don’t think any fried chicken I ever make could hold up to that memory of my grandmother’s. I know that I’ve never tasted anything that even comes close. Who knows, maybe I’ll get the gumption up to give it a whirl one of these days.
In the meantime, reading all those tomes about Texas cooking had me hankering to whip up a Sunday meal in my grandmother’s honor. For a recent family dinner, I made chicken fried venison back strap and mashed turnips. It was nice to have a little taste of home.
Chicken Fried Venison
1.5 pounds of venison backstrap (you can substitute steak or chicken if you prefer)
1.5 cups buttermilk
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Cut the backstrap into strips – about two inches wide. Soak the backstrap in buttermilk for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place the flour in shallow baking dish and season with salt and pepper. If you are feeling spicy, you could toss in a dash of cayenne as well.
In a cast iron skillet, heat enough (for me it was about half a cup) over medium heat to cover the meat half way.
Remove the meat from the buttermilk and dry off the excess liquid. Dredge the venison through the flour mixture. Place the meat in the skillet so that the pieces don’t touch (don’t crowd them) and cook until the crust on one side is crispy (about 4 to 5 minutes). Turn the meat and cook until the other side is crispy – 4 to 5 minutes.
Drain the meat briefly on paper towels and serve.