Venison Backstrap with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Recipe

The thing I love about this Venison Backstrap with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Recipe is that it is malleable. You can adjust it depending on whatever you have on hand. The one constant, other than the venison, is the caramelized onions. I love them so much I make large batches just to have around. Even a few tablespoons adds richness and sweetness to any dish — it's like a flavor grenade.

Backstrap with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Venison Backstrap With Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms Recipe (Holly A. Heyser photo)

Serves: 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes


  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 onions, peeled and sliced from root to tip
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons honey (optional)
  • 1 pound venison (elk, deer, etc.) backstrap, preferably in one piece
  • ½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (ideally hen of the woods a.k.a. maitake)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • Dandelion leaves, for garnish (optional)


1. To caramelize the onions, heat two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add the sliced onions and toss to coat. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low and cook slowly, stirring once in a while. You want the onions soft and brown, not scorched on the edges. After 10 minutes or so, sprinkle salt over the onions and keep cooking.

2. When the onions just begin to brown, add the thyme and honey. Cook until they are well-browned, then put them in a bowl for now. You can make the onions in advance.

3. As the onions cook, take the venison out of the fridge and salt it. Let it come to room temperature; this is especially important if you are using elk or moose backstrap, which is thick.

4. Wipe out the pan you cooked the onions in and add the remaining butter. Pat the venison dry with a paper towel and sear it over medium-high heat, turning it to make sure all sides are well browned.

Backstrap with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms (Holly A. Heyser photo)

5. Cook the meat until it's about medium-rare, which will depend on the thickness of your backstrap. To determine, touch your forefinger to your thumb: Now, with your other hand, touch the pad/muscle at the base of your thumb. That is the right amount of squishiness the venison should have when it's medium-rare.

6. Take the backstrap off the heat and let it rest. Put the mushrooms in the pan and turn the heat to high. Sear the mushrooms until they release their water (this might not happen if you are using hen-of-the-woods mushrooms).

7. When the water has almost boiled away or when the mushrooms begin to brown, add some salt and more butter and cook until the mushrooms are browned.

8. Add the caramelized onions and the parsley to the pan and toss to combine.

9. Heat through for one minute, then put some on everyone's plate. Add the dandelion leaves if you are using them. Slice the venison and serve.

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