Friday, October 23, 2009

Learning to cook elk meat

I am a city girl, so don't encounter game meat a lot. But I have uncles and a sister who hunt and usually get "their elk" every year. Some of that meat finds its way into my mom's freezer, and mom gave me a package of frozen elk meat a while back. I finally got around to cooking it a couple of nights ago.

I've never done anything with elk other than grill steaks, and I thought they had given me steaks. But the 2-lb package contained several 3/4” slices of meat, and I wasn’t sure where on the animal they were from. It looked to me like round steak.

What was important to me was to do a good job, one that honored the hunted and the hunter. In thinking about how to prepare them, I first considered that I wanted to minimize gaminess. If you don’t eat game much, that characteristic can really get to you. So first I made a paste of orange zest, juniper berries, ground coriander, salt, and fresh rosemary and sage. Spread that over all of it and put it in the fridge to chill for two days.

Next I had to consider the cooking method. Elk is very lean. I considered what meats I already knew about that were like elk, and I realized that veal is similar in structure as it is very lean. As the meat was cut across some muscle groups there was silverskin running across the pieces. Silverskin is not like other connective tissue – you can cook it forever and it will still be a rubber band. So some cutting into smaller pieces was going to have to happen. Okay: like veal, not steaks or chops, smaller pieces. That meant the meat needed to be cooked with moisture to get tender. So braising was the appropriate method. I settled on something that turned out a lot like Swiss steak.

I wiped off most of the rub, trimmed the meat of silverskin and then dredged it in flour. I used a “jacquardizer” with 47 razor-sharp blades to run across both sides of the meat. This worked the flour into the meat a little more and provided more tenderizing. It is similar to using the edge of a saucer to pound floured round steak. Then I cut the ½” thick cutlets into 1” squares and tossed them in the flour left from the dredging. From here on it was a pretty classic braising job: brown all of the meat in a dutch oven (two batches) and remove from the pan. Put in one chopped onion and sweat that while scraping up all the brown fond from browning the meat. Add ½ cup of water to speed it up. Then add 1 clove of minced garlic and a can of diced tomatoes with juice. Put the meat back into the pan and bring it to a simmer. Put into a 350-degree oven for an hour, serve over egg noodles.

It was very good. The flavor of the marinade can through and the orange and juniper flavor with the tomatoes was a real treat. It really did look like swiss steak, really tender meat (“like buttah”) with a nice gravy of the tomato juice and meat juices thickened with the flour. Dave was very happy to take what little was leftover for lunch the next day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Making Fresh Ricotta

I've been wanting to make "real" fresh ricotta for a long time. Then, a few months ago, I was in one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I was talking to the sous chef, and he introduced me to a cheesemaker for one of the premier artisanal cheese makers around here. The cheesemaker told me I could come around any morning during a certain time frame and he would give me whey that normally goes down the drain. Whoopee! Many people make "ricotta" using whole milk, but that's not really right as ricotta means "re-cooked." This morning I picked up five gallons.

The whey is now on the stove with a small amount of cider vinegar added. When it comes to about 185 degrees, the curds will start to form and I will take it off the heat. After letting the curd develop for a little while I will ladle it into a china cap lined with a flour sack towel. It won't make as much as whole milk, but will be the real thing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A day for large pots

Today is a day for large pots. But, not surprisingly, in the garden. Six as of now.

I am canning Mediterranean vegetable soup and mustard greens with lima beans and homemade bacon. That means the biggest pot, the pressure canner. And two soup pots for reheating six+ quarts of the greens and four quarts of the soup. Really both are soups but for clarity I am distinguishing them. Right now there are three quarts and four pints of the greens and four pints of the soup in the pressure canner. Has to go for 90 minutes because the processing time for greens is 90 minutes. I have two quarts of soup still, not in jars. I am holding off freezing that because...

...the cast iron Dutch oven is in the oven cooking roux for gumbo. Since I tend to make too much of anything of the nature of a soup or stew, I am sure there will be plenty of leftovers. So we'll dig out some more jars and probably have one more canner load of soup and gumbo. That one will go faster because I will do them all in pints. Dave loves having those to take to work for lunch -- and I will admit it is cool to give Campbell's a run for their money! Of course it is more expensive to make, but my canned soups and stews leave commercial in the dust when it comes to flavor and quality.

Another pot has the shellfish stock I am making for the gumbo, and the last isn't really a big pot but a sauté pan in which I dry-fried the okra.

Right now I have to go and dice all the vegetables for the gumbo. Tempis fugit!