Marinades Gone Wild: Brineade-Infused Fajitas by Chef Eileen Clarke
Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with the “serious” cooking magazines, there is a new version of fusion cooking. Fusion cuisine used to defined be concepts like Mexican Lasagna, or Chinese Tacos. But these days the latest two cooking words to be fused together are brines and marinades – dubbed “brineades”. For those of us who hunt, this is a good thing. A really, really good thing.
Why? Brineades were dreamt up by people who use commercial meat, which isn’t very old when it’s butchered, and has led a pampered, well-fed life, and is meat that has been aged in controlled coolers. Not so with wild game. From hoof to plate, a wild animal is generally older—sometimes as much as 6 to 7 times older— and is field dressed and butchered in often trying conditions, and definitely not tested and graded so the cook knows exactly what they’re working with. No matter how we try, hunters are fighting Mother Nature all the way. And we could use a little wiggle room.
Brineade may add flavor to commercial meat’s usually bland character, but for wild meat it’s downright revolutionary. It tenderizes, mellows game’s natural flavors and adds the seasoning you want, deep inside the meat. But brineades should be allowed to work quite a bit longer on game. Instead of 2 to 3 hours as with commercial meats, a reasonably tender elk, deer, antelope, moose or caribou will take at least overnight to really tenderize. For older, tougher game animals, 36 to 48 hours is better.
What do you get out of 36 hours of brineade? In this case two pictures are worth a million words. The before and after of a particularly tough piece of bull elk makes the point.
2 pounds venison steaks
4 cups water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
½ teaspoon red onion flakes
For the mojo and veggies:
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 orange
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 roasted Anaheim chili
3 tablespoons oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 red Bell pepper, sliced
1 orange Bell pepper, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
To assemble & serve:
12 flour tortillas
Grated Monterey Jack cheese
- One to two days before: Put the steaks and brineade ingredients into a re-sealable plastic bag. Shake up the mix to dissolve the dry ingredients, then place in the refrigerator 36-48 hours.
- Prepare the Mojo: combine the lime juice, orange juice, garlic, cilantro and roasted Anaheim pepper in a blender and puree. Chill overnight.
- Preheat the grill to medium high, about 450°F. Wrap a stack of flour tortillas in foil and warm them on an upper grate or cooler part of the grill.
- If you have a side burner on your grill, start it up now. Otherwise cook the veggies in a skillet over medium heat: heat the oil, then add the onion, peppers and garlic and sauté until they are browned on the edges. Pour the Mojo over them and stir well. Continue cooking 2-4 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Once you start the veggies, remove the steaks from the brine and put them on the grill. Cook about 10 minutes all together, for medium-rare, turning once about halfway through.
To Assemble the Fajitas:
Slice the steaks across the grain and arrange them on one end of a platter with the sautéed Mojo veggies. Let each person arrange their fajita stack: first meat, then veggies, the toppings of choice. My husband likes fresh salsa and grated cheddar. I prefer a generous dollop of sour cream. Some people like to spread guacamole on the tortilla before stacking the meat and veggies.
TO ROAST ANAHEIM PEPPERS:
With metal tongs, hold the pepper close over the flame of your gas grill. The skin will pop, but that’s what it’s supposed to do. Rotate so the skin is blackened over nearly all the outside. Then let it cool just enough to touch, and close it up in a plastic bag for a few minutes. The heat and moisture in the bag will soften the charred skin so you can rub it off the pepper. Then halve it, remove the seeds and white membrane and add it to the Mojo.