Tis The Season, To Yank Something Up The Hill, And Build The Hunter’s Fire
Just in Time For Christmas Dinner.
Oh Joy To The World!
Man in all his forms has been dragging something along behind him since he first stood upright and made his first staggering steps toward the horizon. Sometimes, it was a big hunk of life sustaining meat just like this.
They say that modern man hunts to fulfill some relentless though mysterious primordial need. Perhaps it is a way to reconnect with mother nature, to feel the wind on our face and remember our true place in the world.
“The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information”. – Edward Abbey
“One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted…” – From “Meditations on Hunting”, By Ortega y Gasset
Featured on the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table
“Elemental, fundamental, and delicious” is how Anthony Bourdain describes the trailblazing live-fire cooking of Francis Mallmann. The New York Times called Mallmann’s first book, Seven Fires, “captivating” and “inspiring.” And now, in Mallmann on Fire, the passionate master of the Argentine grill takes us grilling in magical places—in winter’s snow, on mountaintops, on the beach, on the crowded streets of Manhattan, on a deserted island in Patagonia, in Paris, Brooklyn, Bolinas, Brazil—each locale inspiring new discoveries as revealed in 100 recipes for meals both intimate and outsized. We encounter legs of lamb and chicken hung from strings, coal-roasted delicata squash, roasted herbs, a parrillada of many fish, and all sorts of griddled and charred meats, vegetables, and fruits, plus rustic desserts cooked on the chapa and baked in wood-fired ovens. At every stop along the way there is something delicious to eat and a lesson to be learned about slowing down and enjoying the process, not just the result.
“We kill the game to eat it. Tasting it, we thank it. Thanking it, we remember it: how we hunted it, how it tested us, how we overcame it, how it finally fell”. – Charles Fergus, From A Rough-Shooting Dog, 1991
Time to Eat
I have waited a long time to taste the meat of the Rocky Mountain Goat, and I am…surprised. The question is, of course, just exactly how to you prepare it and cook it
Surprised mostly, I suppose, because it did not taste anything at all like I thought that it would. And surprised too because most of the information that I could find on the internet and my library of wild game cookbooks was anything but hopeful. You might say that recipes for mountain goat are far and few between.
Granted, I have only tried one small sample from the front shoulders, and that was ground well without added fat to get a true taste of the meat.
But we prepared some large patties and heated them medium rare on a hot grill on a perfect mountain evening, and they were good.
In fact they were great, served with buns and the usual burger accompaniments. They didn’t last long at all, and they left us wanting more.
I am at a loss to describe the taste completely, though perhaps that is the difficulty. The meat was subtle and mild, and fairly flavorless, but in a good way. Sometimes, less is more with wild game.
It may have something to do with the fact that this billy was perfectly processed in the field, then quickly and thoroughly cooled by mother nature as well as any walk-in cooler.
What I can tell you is that it was firm and clean without a hint of gaminess. It was well…refreshing, wild, like the promise of a new day in the bracing air of a high mountain valley.
Finding a recipe for this amazing animal almost anywhere is about as difficult as harvesting one in the first place. So, when in doubt, let the spirit move you and make it up, I say.
It is a blank canvas of possibility, and I look forward to experimenting with this wonderful wild meat.
A spice here, a spice there – a complimentary sauce or two. Some sausage for sure. Let the celebration continue…and if you have any suggestions, you know what to do.
*I have now tried this with 5% added beef fat, and I can highly recommend it.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MEAT GRINDING
One theme emerged when researching the gastronomic qualities of Mountain Goat. That theme in a word, is tough!
It makes perfect sense, considering where they live and what they do. Their meat seems to be infused with an inordinate amount of sinew and connective tissue, which would seem to explain a thing or two about their character. You’d be tough too if you spent the long winter clinging to a cliff or looking for something to eat on an impossibly cold, windswept ridge.
A crock pot obviously comes to mind, and no doubt that I will be breaking it out very soon. In lieu of that, a small electric meat grinder may be the perfect tool for the job.
My hunting partner has had his grinder for many years, and I know that he would be hard pressed to count how many elk and deer and other wild game animals have had some of their parts run through it. It worked wonderfully on this five-year old billy too.
While using it the other night I was reminded at just what a miraculous and indispensable machine it is for the big game hunter. Or any kind of hunter, for that matter.
There are things that you can do after this little beauty has finished that you simply can’t accomplish any other way, with the exception of a hand grinder, of course. The possibilities are endless.
Might you have a hankering for some german sausage? Or Italian is more to your taste? How about some meat sticks or hot dogs? Have you ever used a jerky gun? It is essential in making jerky from ground meat too.
In my mind it is one of the most beneficial tools that any hunter could own.
Tips, tricks, and techniques for using a smoker or bbq grill to enhance the natural flavor of your wild game
Including everything from heat control basics and perfect wood chip pairings to seasoning ideas and smoker secrets, this unique cookbook is a must have for every hunter. Wild game includes some of the most sustainably harvested and healthy meats in the world and their robust flavors make them exceptional choices for grilling and smoking.
Kindi Lantz combined her culinary artistry with ancient cooking methods to develop sensational smoked and grilled wild game recipes that stray from the norm. This impressive culmination of deer, elk, antelope, bear, rabbit, duck, goose, pheasant, and other game recipes will inspire culinary mastery, providing simple, step-by-step instructions for creating mouth-watering dishes.
Ted Nugent shares his favorite recipes for such exotic fare as wild boar, pheasant, buffalo, and venison. The cookbook is filled with hunting anecdotes, detailed instructions on cleaning and dressing game, helpful hints, and nutritional information.
If you are lucky enough to have harvested an antelope, then you know that this cut of meat really doesn’t require a complex cooking method to be fully enjoyed. Simply sear in melted butter, slivered garlic and sage leaves. Then add a little red wine to the skillet with another tablespoon of butter and you have a rich pan sauce to spoon over the delicate cut of meat.
And if you’re like some people who don’t like the taste or fragrance of sage try substituting fresh thyme leaves or rosemary.
Season the tenderloin with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and a tablespoon of olive oil. Let the tenderloin come up to room temperature before cooking. This will allow the meat to cook evenly when searing in the pan.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter, slivered garlic and fresh sage leaves. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the tenderloin to the skillet. Sear all three (3) sides until a deep brown crust has formed, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the tenderloin from skillet when done and loosely cover with a piece of foil letting it rest while you prepare the pan sauce.
Remove the sage leaves and garlic from the skillet and add 1/2 cup of dry red wine. When the wine starts to thicken add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and stir until blended. Remove from heat.
Slice the tenderloin and serve with the rich pan sauce and a side of mashed potatoes.
The world of sports offers a long list of heroes and icons, but few names grow even larger over time. The Name Babe Ruth is one of those, and for good reason. He may have been the most dominating baseball player of his time, and all time, and he is considered to be one of the greatest sports heroes in American culture. He was a living legend and his fame and persona completely transcended the game. I wish I had met him, or at least been able to watch him swing.
What is not as well-known is that “the Babe” loved to hunt and fish. It appears that baseball was indeed the perfect sport for a man of his appetites. For when his hands were empty of bats and gloves, they most often held a fishing rod, or his favorite shotgun. Babe loved his duck blinds, and the pursuit of feathered game. He liked to eat too, and he liked to cook what he acquired in the field. His favorite recipe could be a main camp meal, or a side dish to accompany his hunter’s reward. He called it “Wild Rice for Game“.
Or so notes, “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“, compiled by Jessie Marie Deboth. It’s a lovely and unpretentious little volume, a copy of which I have had in my personal collection for some years.
“The sportsmen of America have written this book, by contributing their favorite recipes for game, for fish, for birds. The recipes reflect the quality of mind and spirit that makes the true sportsman”.
Miss DeBoth goes on to dedicate the work “to the sportsmen and true conservationists of america, the conservationists of our natural resources of wild life, and the true protectors of the rightful heritage of future generations of americans, admiringly I dedicate this book of their favorite recipes, as cooked by them in their favorite outdoors”. I am certain that Mr. Ruth would agree.
His selection calls for 2 cups of wild rice, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water. “Put this into a double boiler after washing thoroughly, making sure that the water covers the top of the rice. Do not at any time stir the rice – always shake it. Allow to boil for twenty minutes, then drain off the water and continue to cook over a low flame for fifteen minutes, then add: 3 finely chopped onions, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sage, 1 teaspoon thyme. This recipe will make enough to serve six people”.
Ray Holland loved his waterfowl too, and our recipe book lists his hobby simply as “Duck Shooting”. He grew up on waters teeming with waterfowl, and he shot his first duck with a muzzleloader shotgun in 1893 at the age of nine. For those in the know this is the equivalent of saying that Michael Jordan used to enjoy shooting a few flat-footed free throws in a pick up basketball game, and we all know how that turned out.
Mr. Holland was editor of Field and Stream magazine during its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s, and an author of sporting classics like “Shotgunning in the Lowlands”. An ardent conservationist, his tireless efforts to protect this precious migratory resource is one of the reasons we still have ducks to hunt today.
His recipe for “Roast Wild Duck” is as follows: “Cut up together celery root, turnip, onion, parsley, carrot. Fry with a few slices of bacon in roasting pan until whole begins to brown. Upon this place the duck, thoroughly washed and salted, either larded with or covered by a strip of bacon. Baste, while roasting, with red wine. When done, pour cream over whole and allow it to become brown. Remove duck, mix in flour, allow to brown. Strain and serve sauce over sliced duck and dumplings”.
Zane Grey is mentioned here, as Zane Grey, author. His angling exploits are now regarded as somewhere beyond legendary, and really not possible today. He wasn’t a bad writer either.
His contribution is “Broiled Oregon Steelhead“. He says, “It is rather difficult to choose my favorite recipe, but in thinking it over, I know of nothing more delectable than a fresh caught steelhead from a swift running Oregon river. This must be cut in pieces to fit an iron broiler, thoroughly salted and peppered and rubbed lightly with bacon fat and then broiled over a bed of hot coals protected on three sides by some built-up rocks on which the broiler can rest. I cannot give a definite time as this would depend upon the thickness of the fish. Anyway, cook until done”!
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. liked to roll his duck in clay and built a fire on top. “The time necessary, of course, depends on the size and heat of the fire, but in general, don’t be too eager and give the bird sufficient time”. Excellent words of advice I would say, but I wonder where he found the time, being the son of a rough-rider and a President and all, as well as a world adventurer in his own right.
The recipe list continues. We have “Javanese Rijstaffel (Rice Table) from Frank Buck, Explorer and Wild Animal Collector. And, “Swiss Steak“, with elk, moose, or caribou (elk preferred) from Elmer Keith, Hunter, Writer, and Firearms expert. Jack O’Connor, perhaps the most famous gun and outdoor writer of all time, talks of baked quail and bread crumb dressing. Or perhaps you would like to try a recipe for “Dry Panned Steak“, by Eugene V. Connett, publisher of the finest sporting titles of all at his cherished Derrydale Press.
And I simply must one day try “Slumgullion” by C. Blackburn Miller, “Shoepack Pie” by Robert H. Rayburn, or “Horton’s Mulligan Stew“, by the Honorable Karl Mundt, Congressman and former Vice-President of the Izaak Walton League.
When I have tried all of these, I shall make “Skunk Meat For the Camper“, by Paul A. Meyers. He muses, “Contrary to ordinary belief, skunk meat is very palatable and tasty. Skin and clean the skunk, but be sure to remove the odoriferous glands. Parboil meat in a strong solution of salt water for 15 minutes. Drain this water and add fresh, season to taste, and allow to steam gently for one hour”. Can’t wait!
On the other hand, I think I will roast up a duck first, maybe laid under some coals of a camp fire beneath a starry night. Wild Rice will bubble in a nearby pot. I’ll finish my dinner with some of the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries of Ozark Ripley’s “Outdoor Pudding”, and maybe add a finger or two of fine scotch in a metal cup to wash it all down. I will sip the scotch slowly, and ponder what it may have been like to play baseball with Babe Ruth. We could have shared a hunting story or two, and perhaps a plate of food.
All excerpts from “Famous Sportsmen’s Recipes For Fish, Game, Fowl and Fixin’s“. Compiled by Jesse Marie DeBoth. Privately Published, 1940, 96 pages.
—Jesse Marie DeBoth was herself a celebrity cook. Called “Home Economist #1”, and “The woman with seven million friends”, she was a syndicated newspaper columnist and noted cookbook author. She conducted incredibly popular traveling cooking schools in the 1920’s through the 1950’s.
—-This work is out of print and fairly scarce. We generally have a copy or two for sale. Quote available upon request.
Here is a complete guide to harvesting and cooking wild rice–with seventy-five recipes. Wild Rice Cooking is a total guide to wild rice: an introduction to harvesting and cooking, as well as a fascinating history of the plant and the cultures that have thrived on it for centuries.
Today, thanks to commercial growers, it is available in grocery stores throughout the country and more and more cooks have access to this nutritional grain. Wild rice is still harvested by those who have lived for generations near the lakes and rivers where it grows. The satisfying process of harvesting, called “ricing,” still follows ancient tradition, using canoes, poles, and handmade knockers. Susan Carol Hauser offers a primer on the joys of reaping a wild rice harvest, as well as more than seventy-five tempting recipes including: * Wild Rice Whole Wheat Pancakes * Wild Rice, Morel, and Chicken Risotto * Creamy Baked Custard Wild Rice Pudding * Popped Wild Rice * And many more! Wild Rice Cooking will appeal to all those interested in getting back to the land, as well as anyone who likes to cook!
I am becoming a jerky aficionado, and I must say that so far this is one of the best jerky marinades I have tried. It makes me wonder if even an old shoe would taste good after hanging out in this for a while.
Long term storage does not seem to be a problem with this creation. It simply does not last that long in my house.
Cut meat into 1/4″ strips and place in a non-reactive bowl. Combine remaining ingredients into blender and mix well. Pour over meat and refrigerate for 36-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Dehydrate for 6-8 hours, or until done.
*I have also made jerky with this marinade from elk, deer, and now, mountain goat. I love them all.
Nesco American Harvest Jerky Xpress Dehydrator Kit with Jerky Gun includes everything needed to make delicious home made jerky. Just add ground meat. Features a 350 Watt, fixed temperature, and top down power head is perfect for the beginner or an experienced jerky maker. Jerky Gun comes with 3 tip attachments. Makes great tasting beef jerky or venison jerky! There are four different flavors of jerky spices included with this unit, Hot and Spicy, Teriyaki, Original, and Pepperoni.
First, and most importantly, one must find an elk, which of course is more often than not, easier said than done.
May we all be so lucky, though I can assure you that you will hunt much harder after enjoying this recipe!
3 pounds elk loin
3 tablespoons each, chopped fresh parsley and thyme
Cut elk loin into 12 pieces, about 4 ounces each. Lightly pound to 3/4 inch thickness. Coat elk with parsley and thyme mixture and refrigerate overnight. Grill, and serve medium-rare.
SUN-DRIED CHERRY SAUCE
1 cup sun-dried cherries
1 cup apple juice
1 cup cranberry juice
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1 glove garlic
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole glove
1 small bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme
Combine cherries and juices in a saucepan. Wrap remaining ingredients in cheesecloth and tie to close. Add to cherry mixture, simmer 15 minutes, then remove and discard bag. Puree mixture in blender of food processor and strain. Sauce should measure approximately 2 cups. If it greatly exceeds 2 cups, return to saucepan and reduce.
*This recipe calls for a bed of Potato, Cabbage, and Mushrooms Compote and a side of Sweet Potato Croquettes, with a Salad of Mixed Greens and a Champagne Vinagrette dressing.
I generally will make this recipe with full sides at least once a year. To be honest, though, rarely do I have the patience to prepare the whole meal.
It’s all about the elk, for me, but then again, please don’t hog the cherry sauce!
**Adapted from a recipe by Chef George Mahaffey at the Restaurant at The Little Nell. It can be found in Cooking With Colorado’s Greatest Chefs by Marilynn A. Booth. Give us a shout if you would like the full recipe, or, make a visit to the Little Nell in Aspen, and give it a try for yourself.
***This sauce is equally fantastic on Pronghorn Antelope, Venison, and many other types of wild game. I particularly enjoy it topped upon squab and pigeon.
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Featuring 300 recipes from Colorado’s best-known restaurants, this new cookbook contains the 100 favorite dishes of the state’s top-rated chefs. First in the Signature Restaurant Series of cookbooks, this debut Colorado edition features the nature photography of John Fielder.
The meat of the Pronghorn Antelope is a most precious commodity from my point of view, speaking as a hunter and a huge fan of all wild fish, game, and fowl. Yet, I think it safe to say that the beast is not common table fare in most American households; in fact, I would venture to guess that very few people have ever tried it. That is a great loss to those so interested, as the animal affords one of the greatest epicurean opportunities of the west. It is my favorite of all wild meats, and there are many, many others like me.
It is understandable why so few have had the opportunity to give it a try, for it is a main ingredient not easily obtained. Pronghorn hunting permits are limited in one form or another in most of the western states, and acquiring a tag is often the most difficult part of an antelope hunt. It can take several years for the hunting gods to smile, but I can assure you that is it well worth the wait.
To my taste the flesh is fine-grained, sweeter, and more refined than most big game animals. Most venison or beef recipes will work to some degree, but it is after all, a bit different. It may take a little experimentation at first, but not too much. And as with all venison as a general rule, it is best to cook it leaning on the rare side.
To me a Pronghorn is the untamed and free-roaming veal of the western horizons, as there are some basic similarities and shared culinary characteristics. Treat it as you would prepare a nice cut of veal and you may be pleasantly surprised. A dish of Breaded Pronghorn Cutlet, or “Antelope Wiener Schnitzel”, might just do the trick.
As for spices, sometimes simple is best. If you like your entrees with a touch more complexity, then the usual candidates for veal and venison apply. But be sure to try one dish with sage as a special attraction. It is, after all, a creature of the sagebrush flats and the high deserts of the west.
Above all, enjoy your prize and savor the catch of the day. That is if you can get one to stand still long enough!
* Pronghorn has a nasty reputation as tasting overly gamey, at best, and inedible, at worst. Don’t believe it for a second. Well harvested, properly cared for in the field, and prepared in an attentive manner, antelope is hard to beat. Generally hunted in hot weather far from commercial processing facilities, heat spoilage and tainted meat is your worst enemy. The old-time hunters who really knew their meat used to say that quick cooled meat was of the sweetest kind.
Plan accordingly – dress, skin, and quarter as soon as possible and store on ice until you can refrigerate or freeze. You will be more than rewarded for your efforts, and you may find that you have acquired some new and famished friends in the bargain. It’s a fine deal, anyway you slice it.
A FEW THOUGHTS ON PREPARATION
I am a proponent of offal, or organ meats – otherwise known as the heart, livers, kidneys, and assorted parts. Many hunters choose to leave these items behind, missing out on some truly great dining as a result.
Traditional venison recipes for the liver and kidneys work well here. As for the heart, I prefer mine cut in pieces, marinated, and splayed out on a very hot grill, finished medium rare. Be careful not to overcook it, as it will become extremely tough if you do.
Be extra sure to recover the tenderloins, which sit directly under the backbone and can be tricky to find. They are quite small but highly desirable, and many hunters have simply forgotten to cut them out. I’ve done it myself a time or two, much to my chagrin.
Tenderloin can be best cooked simply, and I like to celebrate success with a heavy black skillet and some salt and pepper. After a long day or more on the hunt, there is nothing like a simple feast to finish off the fun.
As for the rest – you’ve only just begun. Chops, roast, or stew, it’s all great any way you cook it.
Have any favorite recipes you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about ’em….
“The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook is . . . a damn fine work that’s at once a treatise, chronicle, and paean to perhaps the most versatile tool in a cook’s arsenal. . . . I promise you, with this book your cast iron skillet will never again leave the top of your stove. It’s that good.” —David Leite, publisher of the two-time James Beard Award-winning website Leite’s Culinaria (LCcooks.com)
Cast iron skillets are booming in popularity: they’re versatile, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they don’t have the toxic chemicals released by artificial nonstick pans. Though cast iron was the only pan in grandma’s kitchen, these 150 recipes are fresh and updated. They range from traditional skillet favorites, like Seared Chicken Hash, Spanish Potato and Sausage Tortilla, and pan-seared steaks and chops, to surprising dishes like cornbread with an Italian spin; quesadillas filled with brie, papaya, and pineapple; and a gingerbread cake topped with fresh pears.
All stainless-steel motor housing, all metal gears with roller bearings, heavy duty handle for easy moving, 110 volt, permanently lubricated motor with improved grease formulation to reduce motor noise, built in circuit breaker, stainless steel knife, head, auger and large meat pan, stainless steel coarse (3/8″) and fine (3/16″) plates, 3 stuffing tubes, and meat stomper. Five-year factory warranty and lifetime customer support. ETL Certified to UL Standards.
LEM is a family owned company, passionate about bringing innovation to game processing. Our revolutionary Improved Big Bite Grinders live up to this passion with improved speed and performance that deliver a premium grind in half the time. The head design and advanced Big Bite technology offer a superior second grind, while virtually eliminating stomping and vastly improving the sausage stuffing function.
LEM products deliver high quality meat processing equipment: meat grinders, jerky making equipment, and vacuum sealers along with the needed supplies for the hunter and home meat processor. Our products allow everyone from butchers, restaurants, and the at-home meat processor to make delicious sausage, jerky and other meat products, all while controlling the healthy content of the foods they provide for their family and friends. We believe home processing to be an essential part of the outdoor experience and will continue to promote the responsible use of our greatest gift, the bountiful outdoors.
The best meal I ever ate, anywhere, featured cottontail rabbit fried hot in an electric skillet, hunted up fresh from the fields within sight of the big picture window of my friend’s southern New Jersey family homestead.
I had eaten many a rabbit by the time I had nearly finished highschool. Cottontails were our sportsman’s consolation prize. They were everywhere in our neck of the woods, and we could always count on bagging a brace or two when we could not find a covey of bobwhite quail or other small game.
But the rabbit of my experience had never tasted like a lesser prize. My friend’s mom knew her way around the kitchen, and she knew exactly what to do with farm fresh ingredients, be they wild, or not. She was, in fact, a culinary wizard, conjured up to look like an ordinary woman.
What she did I suppose I will never really know, but I suspect it had something to do with buttermilk, flour, a perfectly matched selection of spices, and hot lard. The meat hit the pan with crackle and sizzle, and it spoke of blackberry leaves and sweet clover and sun dappled woodlots.
It literally melted in your mouth, and I remember watching as a heaping plate of rabbit pieces disappeared into smiling faces around the long farm table. It was ordinary fare, dressed in high style, and I was the honored guest of their simple realm. I knew then that I would never forget that wonderful dinner, and I have never looked at the unsung cottontail in the same way since.
Contrast that with the worst meal I ever had, which I had the displeasure of ingesting in a windswept Quebec-Labrador Caribou camp north of Schefferville, somewhere below the arctic circle.
It was a vile concoction of rancid grease, pan drippings, and rendered fat, and we ate it with a big metal spoon of questionable cleanliness. My native guide kept it stored in a good-sized mason jar, and he carried it around like it was the holy grail of gourmet cuisine. He ate it while sporting a huge grin, and I tried it because he wanted me too, and because he acted like it was so damn tasty. Who knew?
It seems that many people in the far north country can develop a bad case of “fat hunger”, as a result of their super lean, high protein diets. This affliction is also called “rabbit starvation”, having been given its name by those unfortunate souls who at one time or another subsisted solely on rabbits.
A hefty jar of partially congealed fat can be a highly prized commodity in that world, where calories count, and the lack thereof can literally mean the difference between life and death.
One throat gagging spoonful was quite enough for me, followed by an old candy bar of some kind to dull the taste, and washed down with some lukewarm canteen water. To this day, the occasional thought of that wretched goo turns my stomach inside out, now almost 40 years later. It definitely gives one some perspective on the otherwise fine cuisine of Canada.
With that in mind, an honorable mention must go to the partially raw and burnt slices of elk heart I skewered over an aspen fire one clear, brisk night in the Colorado back country.
I should have been more than happy that lonely, star filled night. I had taken a fat four point bull elk with my recurve bow just hours before, and I was headed back to my friend’s small hunting shack when I ran out of daylight, and flashlight batteries.
I took a breath snatching fall from a low cliff, and by all rights I should have hurt myself badly, but did not. So, I gathered up some branches and hunkered down for the night, and thanked my guardian hunting angel. The animal’s heart and liver was all that I had packed with me.
It wasn’t so bad, after all, if you enjoy rubbery, half-cooked offal, but it could have used some salt. And it would have been far better if I had some water, which I had run out of during the hot afternoon. The head pounding hangover left over from the previous night’s shenanigans was still with me, which did not help my predicament.
In my defense, let the record state that it was the weekend of my bachelor party, and it is fair to say that the boys’ and I had just a little “too much fun”. I had been the only one to stagger out of camp that early morning, and only then because I had somehow managed to pass out in my hunting cloths, with boots on. One downhill step, and I was on my way.
My head and parched throat told me that I was in for a rough night, but my heart said that there were far worse places to be than in the abiding lap of the Rocky Mountains, with elk bugling all around, even if the meal was merely marginal. It’s how memories are made, and I would not trade them now for all the world. We laugh about it still.
The supper I am most grateful for consisted of one big can of yellow cling peaches, packed in heavy syrup. I ate them while huddled in a sleeping bag, in the low light of a small gas lamp. I did so from a short bunk in the cabin of a small crab boat, anchored just off the beach somewhere in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
My guide and I had spent the day above timberline hunting mountain goats and glassing for coastal brown bear, and we had been late getting back to our pick up point. Loaded with the heavy hide and meat of a white-robed goat, we struggled down through the rocks and heavy underbrush in a race to beat the faltering late night sun. We didn’t make it.
Left with no easy choices, we made our way to a gurgling stream in the bottom of a canyon, and waded in. We thrashed and slipped and bullied our way down through knee-deep water for more than a few miles, while desperately trying to keep our feet under us. It was a truly dark and soul-searching night, made far worse by the occasional loud crashes of large, big things, just out of sight. These things most probably had huge tearing teeth and long, flesh ripping claws to go with them. It was not a pretty picture, and I am not proud of the terrified thoughts and hobgoblins which danced and screamed inside my head and nearly got the better of me.
I have never been so happy to break clear of thick brush, and to see a low slung skiff waiting hopefully on an open cove in the light of a wispy moon. My father could barely speak, relieved from his duty of pacing the shoreline and imagining the worst. Once on board the main boat, and safe, I had enough energy to slurp down those aforementioned peaches that had appeared under my nose, to then lie back and fall instantly asleep.
A can of peaches is certainly not much of a meal, but it was heavenly sustenance to me. It was much better than the alternative, which most importantly meant that I had not become the hot and ready to eat snack of a snarling 10 foot beast. Thank god for life’s little graces.
Last but not least, I savored my most memorable meal on the day after my wedding in the high mountains of Colorado. We spent a pampered night or two in Aspen’s only five-star hotel, and dined in its’ fine restaurant.
The company and the conversation was grand, to say the least, as was the atmosphere, and the setting. The hotel has a grand view of the area’s towering, snow-covered peaks, and sits within close proximity of summering herds of elk, and the occasional black bear. It was a most appropriate location from which to approach a colorful plate of elk tenderloin with sun-dried cherry sauce and sweet potato fries, duly crafted by the expert hands’ of one of the world’s greatest chefs. I can only describe the entire experience, as well, absurdly, …grand…
Now that was a preparation for the ages; a far cry from a flame scorched elk heart to be sure, and almost as good as that lovingly tendered rabbit dinner of my youth.
So, these are some of my food highs, and lows, in the proverbial nutshell.
No doubt you have several of your own. If you do, we’d love to hear about them.
Care to share?
You may also wish to see the recipe for grilled elk loin and cherry sauce here.
Pronghorn Reflections. Photo by Michael Patrick McCarty
Maple syrup was used as a traditional sweetener by many of the Northeastern Native American tribes, though there were never any antelope in that part of the country. Luckily, I live in the part of the world where they be, and every once and awhile I have an opportunity to test my burgeoning cookery skills.
This recipe features the boneless loin of Pronghorn, and the simple ingredients seem to blend perfectly with this wonderful and unique meat. It is one of my new favorite (of many), new game recipes.
6-8 loin cutlets, thickly sliced
1/2 to 1 cup each of maple syrup and apple cider vinegar (equal parts)
6 juniper berries, crushed
several slices apple smoked bacon (enough to cover bottom of pan)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
In a medium-sized bowl combine syrup, vinegar, and crushed berries. Mix well, add loin, cover, and refrigerate overnight (about 10 hours). Fry bacon in iron skillet until the grease is well rendered and set bacon aside. Remove from marinade, roll loin in unbleached flour, and then fry in bacon grease and butter until approaching medium rare. Serve with crumbled bacon on top.
This is a fabulous dinner entre or lunch, served with a salad or your favorite sides. It’s a special treat for breakfast too. I had mine with eggs over medium and a hunk of corn bread. I’m still thinking about it!
– Adapted from a recipe found in “Spirit of The Harvest: North American Indian Cooking” by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs.
* Vinegar is a natural meat tenderizer, so it is important not to marinade too long for younger animals. It is, however, a great trick for breaking down the meat of the older and tougher animals.
** I have not yet tried this with elk or deer or other game, but I suspect it would also work well in other instances. I can’t wait to give it a try.