Deer season is over, and hunters are again faced with a delicious dilemma.
What to do with all this deer meat?
Venison is healthier than most anything found in the grocery store meat case, since it is virtually fat-free and is grown in the woods far from any antibiotics or steroids.
But despite its healthiness - and tastiness - venison can be a temperamental ingredient. It does not forgive overcooking like fattier cuts of pork or beef. Cook it too long and that steak becomes shoe leather.
"We prefer it rare or medium rare," said Simon Pesusich, executive chef of Mainstreet Ventures, which operates The Chop House at Charleston Town Center.
"It's a very lean meat. It's very healthy. But because of that, you have to be very careful you don't overcook it."
The Chop House is known for its steaks but the restaurant's menu also features a roasted rack of venison.
Chefs begin by rubbing the venison with salt and pepper and searing it on both sides to seal in the meat's natural juices. They then transfer the meat to a 400-degree oven, where the venison is finished to rare or medium rare.
Pesusich said venison's lack of fat hinders its ability to stand alone on the plate. The Chop House dish is served with a special ginger-cranberry sauce made with shallots, cranberries, red wine and a brown sauce made with veal bones.
"You get the rich cranberry sauce that's very nice. It's a tremendous flavor with the venison," he said.
The Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown serves its venison medallions with goat cheese and a sauce made from red currants.
"A little sweet and savory play with venison goes very well," said Christian Asam, co-owner of the inn and restaurant.
The dish is served on a bed of German Spaetzle noodles, which help soak up the sauce.
The restaurant also serves venison tenderloin wrapped in applewood bacon, paired with an elk tenderloin wrapped in black forest ham.
"We like to compare and contrast the game meat," he said. "The flavor is subtle but it is there."
The Bavarian serves these dishes as part of its Wild Game Festival menu, which begins each year in late September and runs through the end of the year.
The restaurant gets much of its wild game, including the deer meat, from the Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, Texas. The Chop House gets its venison from a farm in New Zealand.
"We can't have anything a hunter would bring in," said Earl Bollenger, the Bavarian Inn's butcher. "Everything we handle has to be inspected (by the U.S. Department of Agriculture)."
Assam said the meat is "as wild as possible," however. The deer are allowed to roam free on Broken Arrow's humongous farms.
"It's about as free range as wild game can be," he said.
It's nearly impossible to find West Virginia-grown venison in stores or restaurants, since state law prohibits the sale of whitetail deer meat, the most common animals raised on state deer farms.
The West Virginia Deer Farmers Association has lobbied the state Legislature for the last eight years to change those laws, but have so far been unsuccessful.
Still, West Virginians are pretty generous people. Those who don't hunt probably know somebody who does, and that person probably has deer meat to spare.
Arrange a trade. Offer to cook up a tenderloin or two, using tips from the Bavarian Inn or the Chop House.
But for goodness's sakes, don't let anyone order theirs well done.
Recipe: The Chop House's Roasted Rack of Venison
1 40-48 ounce venison rack, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil For marinade: