You Are What You Read: The Queen of the Tearling Venison


My blog series combines my two favorite activities: cooking and reading. Today's book is The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

I fell in love with Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling on page one. Kelsea is an eminently relate-able character. She's tender and tough, confident and self-doubting, smart enough to know when to ask for help, and most importantly, so human she jumps off the page.

I love that Johansen's plot swells like a massive wave over the course of the novel. The Queen of the Tearling sinks the reader deeply into the world and explores the characters and their motivations, without giving away a drop more than is strictly necessary. You don't get to see the whole world in the first book, a fact that I adored, though I can see how some readers might be frustrated. 

I started reading this novel on a Sunday, and late in the afternoon on Monday I picked it back up, just meaning to read a few pages. All of a sudden it was two AM, and I had to get up in four hours, and I was near the end, and it was clear that the wave was about to crest, and the characters were going to see the consequences of their actions, and I just couldn't stop reading. Luckily, the next day was a snow day. Phew.

I can't stop talking about it. I've recommended it to everyone I've talked to for more than ten minutes since I read it. Literally. I recommended it to my eye doctor.

I love the fact that Johansen really thought about what Kelsea would be experiencing and didn't force the YA love triangle on the book. I love that the book really thinks about civic responsibility. I love that it picks apart what it means to be a good steward. I love that Kelsea's plain and that people in her world see her that way. I love that Johansen addresses the different problems caused by beauty and plainness. I really really loved how real this felt. I can't wait for the next one.

In the beginning of the book Kelsea had two meals that struck me for how much they did for the plot in terms of contrast. She eats stringy, overcooked venison with one group of people, and it serves to show how uncomfortable she feels. Later, she has more venison, this time delicious, with another group that makes her feel at home, despite the (relatively threatening) circumstances.

venison erika johansen

Red Wine Venison

  • 3-4 small venison steaks (6 oz. each)
  • 3 cups red wine (anything will do, really, as long as it isn't the "red cooking wine" you buy at the grocery store. I used Black Ink, which was honestly too drinkable and delicious to be used in a marinade. Next time I'll Bota Box it.)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 big knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons bacon fat

Remove all the silverskin from your venison. (That's the thin layer of silver tissue that runs all over the muscle.) If you're buying from a reputable butcher, they should do this for you, but check any way. Definitely check if you've begged the meat off a friend whose husband went out into the forest and procured the deer. This will keep the meat from being too too gamey. It's a pretty easy technique to master, almost like removing the skin from a fish filet, but be sure your knives are sharp.

Combine the wine, soy sauce, and ginger in a bowl or container with a lid. Add the venison and marinate overnight.

Open the kitchen windows or doors and turn on the vent. Heat a large cast iron skillet over very high heat. Melt the bacon fat. Cook venison, turning often, until the meat reaches 125-130 degrees. Tender cuts of venison are best rare or medium rare at most. Take a note from Kelsea. Dry, stringy venison is no good.

Serve with a side of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. No really. You're going to want to read this one.