In the 1860s, axis deer were introduced to Molokai when Hong Kong gifted the deer to the king of Hawaii Kamehameha V. Since then they have been brought to some of the other islands and exist as wild populations. In the fall and winter months I am lucky enough to spend some time in Hawaii – mostly for work but also for hunting and fishing, and I always look forward to harvesting an axis deer — my personal favorite deer species for cooking and eating.
When I first started cooking with axis deer I was amazed at how clean the meat tasted. It was also really easy to be a wild game hero chef when cooking it. Hanging out with local Hawaiians, I developed a real appreciation for raw meats, and one of my favorite dishes is Hawaiian poke made with tuna. As I experimented with axis deer, I learned that raw axis deer tastes very similar to raw tuna. This opened up numerous possibilities for raw axis deer, and one of my favorite dishes is a standard carpaccio with a lemon vinaigrette and arugula, finished with Maldon salt and capers. This dish is meant to be served as an appetizer or small first course.
Serves 2 (4 to as appetizer)
8 ounces untrimmed backstrap – dry aged in refrigeration for at least 5 days, either covered in cheese cloth or uncovered
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced finely or crushed with garlic press
Pinch of salt and pepper
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 cup baby arugula
Pinch of Maldon salt for finishing. (Maldon salt is an English sea-salt used on a meal in small quantities after the food has been cooked and plated. It comes in large, thin, uneven, crunchy salt flakes that have a clean, pure salt taste.)
In a small blender, add olive oil, juice from 1/2 lemon, white wine vinegar, shallot, garlic, salt and pepper, and puree till smooth. Set aside. (This will yield more than what you need for this recipe but can be used as a salad dressing.)
After backstrap has aged for at least 5 days in refrigeration, trim off all silver skin, fat, and dried meat. Slice the meat against the grain very thinly. (To slice against the grain, you will need to locate the direction of the muscle fibers. Slice across the fibers, perpendicular to the fiber grains. This will result in meat that is more tender.)
On a cutting board, press the sliced meat evenly into the board with your fingers so that the meat is flattened thinner and all pieces are presented with even thickness. You can also use the flat base of a bowl or cup if you don’t want to touch it with your hands.
On a serving platter, plate the pressed backstrap in an even layer on the plate. Add a pile of arugula, and scatter the capers over the meat. Drizzle the plate of ingredients with olive oil vinaigrette. Finish with a light sprinkle of fresh ground pepper and Maldon salt. Serve chilled.