Field to Table: Venison Wellington
Today, the level of care and creativity that outdoor folks are putting into the preparation of their harvests afield is an amazing renaissance to witness.
Wellington, for me, is one of the ultimate preparations of game meat and has become a favorite holiday tradition at my house — served every year for Christmas dinner.
Some historians agree the dish was invented in celebration of the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, after defeating Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but its similarity to the French filet de bœuf en croûte (fillet of beef in pastry) have some believing that Beef Wellington was a “patriotic rebranding” of an already established dish.
Regardless of origin, it offers an opportunity to try some fun technical preparations and the result is sure to please your friends and family — holidays or anytime!
For the best results, I like to make this a 2-day process. Let’s get started!
- Filet of venison — trimmed of all fat and silver skin. Size depends on guests — I like to use a piece 16-18” long for each Wellington. (If you expect you’ll need more, double this recipe and make 2 of the same size.)
- Mushrooms — 12-16oz. of flavorful fungi — I like to use a blend of mushrooms that I’ve foraged and dried … oyster, porcini, black trumpet (if I still have some left) and add them with some shiitakes, cremini, or other good store-bought mushrooms.
- Shallots — 2 bulbs
- Garlic — a few cloves
- Fresh herbs — a blend of thyme and sage
- Prosciutto di Parma — go with imported if you can, sliced thin with enough slices to wrap the entire loin
- Dijon mustard — I like to use Maille
- Olive oil
- Oil with a higher smoke point for high temperature searing, such as canola or peanut
- Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
I start with the duxelles, a preparation of mushrooms sautéed with onions, shallots, garlic, and herbs. You’re going to create a thin paste to be applied around the entire loin.
Finely chop all of your mushrooms, by hand or food processor — you can squeeze the liquid out if you’d like — I like to cook them down longer instead as it intensifies the flavors. Finely chop shallots and garlic and sauté together in olive oil and butter, adding more of both as needed. Add chopped fresh herbs and plenty of good sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I like to cook this down for a while until mushrooms are well done and pliable as the flavor is better and allows you to apply the duxelles more easily. Put aside to cool.
Adding the crust with a good sear in cast iron.
Filet of Venison
Make sure your filet is neatly trimmed and consistent in diameter along the full length. I usually use a whitetail backstrap, but last year my father-in-law harvested an elk and I trussed together the two elk tenderloins to make a consistent diameter and it worked great. (… and was probably the best one yet!)
Pat the meat dry, dust with some salt and pepper, and get your oil really hot. At this point, we are trying to get as much of a crust on the outside of the filet without cooking too much of the inside. This will also depend on how well done you like you’re finished Wellington and how thick your filet is — I use the squeeze test and like to go about 4-5 minutes each on 2 sides.
Pro tip: When searing, leave the meat in place as this allows the temp to keep rising and helps create that nice, distinct crust much faster.
Brushing on a liberal layer of Dijon mustard.
When you are happy with your sear, take the filet off the pan immediately and let it cool on a cutting board. After some minutes of cooling, you can place the filet on Saran Wrap or parchment paper and baste the entire filet with a liberal coat of dijon mustard. After the mustard cools and sets up, you are ready to apply the duxelles paste. Try to cover the entire filet with an even amount that is not too thick — around a 1/8th of an inch. A silicone spatula works well to paint it on without spreading it too thin. Set this aside to continue to set up.
All wrapped up in prosciutto and plastic wrap — ready for the refrigerator.
Next, you’ll layout 2 overlapping sheets of Saran Wrap about two feet wide. Begin laying down your slices of prosciutto across the center of your workspace, with the slightest overlap between each slice, until it extends a couple of inches wider than the filet. Now place the duxelles/mustard encased filet in the center of the prosciutto layer and then bring the strips up the sides and overlap on the top to wrap the whole thing in parma. Miraculously, as they are truly a match made in heaven, the length of the strips seem to usually match the diameter of the filet just right with only a little bit of overlap on top. Gentle bring the Saran Wrap in the same fashion to complete wrap everything together and put it in the fridge to chill.
Pro tip: This is the part I like to do the day before so the filet cools down to the same temperature as the puff pastry — and I can spend time before the dinner focused on friends or family.
Chilled and ready to be wrapped in puff pastry.
When you are ready to start your bake, take out your puff pastry and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Someday I will try to make my own, but for now, I use store-bought pastry. Unwrap and transfer the venison filet to the center of the pastry, bringing the pastry up around the sides, smoothing out any air pockets. Brush some beaten egg along the edge of the seam and then press to seal. Trim off any excess and then seal the ends in the same way.
Time for any design application and egg wash.
Next, take a large baking sheet and grease it with cold butter or use a sheet of parchment paper. Place the Wellington onto the sheet, seam side down, and put it back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. While the Wellington is chilling, position a rack in the center of the oven, and set your oven to 475°F.
Ready for the oven — the final step in the process — and probably most critical.
Brush the Wellington with the remaining beaten egg. Using a sharp knife, score the surface of the pastry with diagonal lines, being careful not to cut all the way through the pastry. If you’re feeling really creative, you can take any extra pastry and make some designs to attach to the outside of the Wellington using the same beaten egg as your adhesive. Put the Wellington in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 425°F. Roast for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 400°F and roast for another 20 to 25 minutes. The pastry should look puffed and golden brown! For those who want to use a thermometer, insert it into the center of the Wellington and register 135°F for medium-rare.
Baked to perfection and ready for the reveal.
Transfer to a carving board and let the Wellington rest for approximately 10 minutes before carving. Enjoy!
Resting is important for the juices to reabsorb and for the cooking to finish on the inside.
There is great joy in slicing through the pastry to reveal the roast done perfectly to your liking.
As NEMO’s Creative Content Director, Randy Gaetano is a passionate outdoorsman and advocate for conservation. He can usually be found either sitting quietly in a treestand — waiting for a deer … or sitting quietly on a longboard — waiting for a wave.