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.


lisa said...

There is a fantastic elk recipe in the Paley's Place cookbook. Braised elk shoulder with trotter finished with a bit of napa cabbage and served with polenta that has been slow cooked to its most sweet flavor and soft texture. If you have elk, you must try this formula!

ShellyJ said...

Sounds like a very good reason to pick up that cookbook sooner rather than later - it's been on my list, so thanks for the tip!