Don’t Overdo the Marinades, and Watch Out for Lava

The chimichurri sauce on this venison has a nice mix of herbs without being too much. (Photo: Food for Hunters)

The chimichurri sauce on this venison has a nice mix of herbs without being too much. (Photo: Food for Hunters)

Last autumn while hunting in Ohio with Heartland Wildlife Institute, Banks Blinds and TenPoint Crossbows, our merry crew enjoyed great meals each day prepared by chef Ty Hartman.

Hartman trained as a chef after a construction work injury put him on the sidelines. He always enjoyed cooking but ramped things up to a new level a few years ago after learning more. Like most chefs, I believe, although he can do various sauces and whip up fancy dishes, Hartman enjoys preparing simple food that tastes good.

We talked about food one afternoon between hunt sessions. Hartman said a meal affects your eyes, nose and taste buds. If something’s sizzling, like a steak on a hot plate, you get the auditory love, too. And while a mix of a lot of herbs or spices might sound like something that would dazzle your senses, sometimes less is more.

We see this with marinades and rubs, of course. How many times have you had a bite of delicious deer meat and asked what it was prepared with?

“Just salt and pepper, and maybe a little garlic butter,” comes the reply. Not 14 spices. Not a coating of herbs that looks like a paste made from garden pickings. Not a bottled marinade with so much salt that you feel like a cow on a mineral block. Just a few simple things and heat.

Sometimes, of course, less is more.

Our DDH online guru, Ben Sobieck, made this simple marinade. Two others are included in that link. Here’s a great recipe with an herb crust from Scott Leysath. And this tangy chimichurri sauce from our pals at Food for Hunters sounds great, too.

I love good food and deer meat, among other wild game, is one of my favorites. But just like with a good piece of beef, lamb, pork or chicken, I don’t want too much stuff on it. Some of the best chicken I’ve ever had was on skewers at fairs or art festivals, just chicken (I hope!) grilled and with a little dash of teriyaki.

That Lava Sauce?
Yeah, thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?

One evening before dinner on the Heartland hunt, we were enjoying some appetizers waiting for Hartman’s venison chili to be served. Honestly, we were enjoying some post-hunt cold brews and appetizers while chattering like crows on a power line.

Hartman whipped out a little jar of something kind of brownish-red.

“I call this lava sauce,” he said. He described the seven peppers in it:
— Jalapeno, “not hot-hot, but mellow”
— Ghost, “definitely use in moderation”
— Habanero, “adds a little flavor, depth”
— Texas Cayenne, “gives it some longevity and complexity”
— Vietnamese Chile, “nasty, in a good way … and it amplifies the rest”
— Hungarian Sweet, “for some sweet heat”
— Hungarian Hot, “a little different flavor

He also added a goodly amount of sugar to cut the fire, along with onion, garlic and, if you want thicken it, a little pectin. After pureeing it and letting it smoulder … er, sit for a while, it was his dash of flavor for chili, soups or whatever someone wanted it for. Hartman recommended cooking “on an outdoor burner, because you’re dealing with tear gas, on a low-medium simmer for 4-6 hours until you get the consistency you want.

“It’s not a paste but it’s not a picante,” he said.

I dipped about a quarter-teaspoon and put it on a cracker. Tasted good. Did it two or three more times. Got a bowl of chili and added a teaspoon. Hartman told me it had slow build to a nice heat but wasn’t going to blow off the top of my head. He also said if I overdid it then it could sneak up and not be flavorful.

He was right. Loved it! Fantastic without being too much. At the ATA Show in January his wife, Chris, handed me a jar of my own Ty’s Lava Sauce. Mmmm …