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Archive for the ‘Moose’ Category

Letter to The Moose & Elk

11.18.12

Dear moose and elk,

You won this one. You did. But it’s not because you’re awesome, or cause you ran really fast or hid really good. The big reason you got away lucky was cause I was in camp crumpled on the floor with the flu. Otherwise, you were totally, totally, totally in so much trouble. And yeah, whenever we found you we didn’t have a tag for your particular ‘gender’ or ‘age’, but really that’s not something to be proud of. It’s pretty ‘sexist’ and ‘agist’. Yeah, ‘agist’ is a thing, even if you’ve never heard of it cause you live in the bush.

If you laughed at me while my sick self glassed you to determine that I couldn’t shoot you, I’m totally coming after you next year. In fact, either way I’m coming after you again next year. Yeah, be scared. And guess what. My hunting buddies bagged 2 bull elk, 2 cow elk, and 2 moose calves the weeks before and after I was there. They totally have your number. Be scared.

See you next year.

Sincerely - Kevin

Big Game Hunt Report

11.12.11

In 2006, I saw 67 moose in 2 days. This year, 1. That’s more than just a change of luck. That’s a 98.5% decrease. Their populations had already tanked by 2007, and this past winter’s ridiculously deep snow did them in again, according to locals. I’ll have to remember to mention what winter, or perhaps worse, the torture of ticks, does to animals next time somebody gives me a hard time about hunting one. Death by insects or starvation would suck worse than death by bullet, I’d wager.

Other than a short bout of luck with some ruffed grouse, action was slow. I had a draw for a calf moose. No moose in sight, nevermind a calf. So after the first night, my hunting partners suggested picking up a general bull elk tag, just in case we saw one. Not that we’d seen one. But somehow the elk populations are good despite the deer and moose taking a kicking – probably because they’re extremely smart. That evening I picked up a bull elk tag – cows and calves are by draw and I was declined my draw this year. The very next morning, we spotted 3-4 cows, 2 calves, and a legal bull in the same field where I shot my first moose in 2006. Funny how you don’t forget the locations where you shot animals. The elk were 650 yards away – no chance. At least we’d seen SOMETHING.

Then came evening. Spent the evening seeing zero moose, again. Then, about 15 minute before legal shooting time ended, we decided to see if the elk perhaps had made a mistake and come out around the bush where we saw them in the morning. As luck would have it, they made that very mistake. And as luck would have it, they were within shooting range, looking into the sun at us, unable to catch our wind, and kept feeding and walking towards us. Your fate when hunting is tenuous. You can be frustrated, tired, and disappointed one minute, and a minute later be full of adrenaline and have an animal on the ground to field dress. So no calf moose this year – for the first time since 2006, our freezer will be full of elk rather than moose. I’ll take it. The quarters are hanging at 2.2C and 60%RH in my garage, and in a few days we’ll be butchering. I’ve already started a dry curing project, more on that next.

Moose Saucisson Sec at 8 Months

06.24.11

More learning as I go. Just checked previous posts to see when I made this batch of saucssion sec. 8 months ago today. I wasn’t sure how long this stuff would last, and apparently the answer is: ‘a really, really long time‘. I’ve wondered if one could indeed put up dry cured meats from fall-butchered animals and have them keep successfully without refrigeration or freezing until the next butchering season. Looks like the answer is yes. Perhaps even more exciting is that the quality has not deteriorated, and I even am going to suggest it has improved. I was satisfied with this batch, but not excited about it generally – likely the reason there’s still some hanging in the cellar. But it seems to have actually improved with age. Maybe I’m tasting satisfaction rather than reality.

I’m very pleased with the white molds that have become the norm in the cellar. And yes, mold can be very desirable indeed, despite how many people feel about it. Seems all mold has become synonymous with spoilage or ‘yuck’ in general – a 21st century misunderstanding. I don’t innoculate the meat with any culture, it’s simply the flora that decided to come hang out in my curing space. I’m still amazed at how some of these processes [fermenting being another one] seem so complex, exotic, and magical as a newbie retro-gastronomist [I'm coining that one, baby], yet are so natural, passive, and well…easy. I no longer wonder how our ancestors discovered fermentation or moldy charcuterie and cheese. Nature did its thing, and humans observed and went along for the ride. A tasty ride.

Grilling Game Over Wood Fire

06.08.11

I’m starting to figure out that grilling season is most enjoyable in the shoulder seasons. It’s cooler, there are fewer bugs, and the fire is a welcome heat. Grilling over fire in the heat of July is cool if you feel like melting your face off to get dinner going. Especially if you need to be standing in the sun to get the job done. So a-grilling-I-have-gone this spring. Can I still call it spring? I think so, if folks in the province are still getting frost.

Top seasonal grilling item? Last year’s chickens are long gone and this year’s are but wee chicks. The braising roasts, confit cuts, and bacon sides have been pillaged through the winter in some form of comfort food or another. What’s left are largely lean cuts for steaks – beef rib steaks from my front quarter, pork chops, and all kinds of game cuts fit for the grill. Aw, darn.

As I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, some thoughts on how to grill game successfully: First, try to let it not be super-cold inside before it meets fire. Let your meat warm up at room temp for a while [without throwing food safety out the window]. Instead of oiling the grill – a nasty and never effective job, especially ineffective when the grill is over wood fire – I like to lightly oil the cut with a neutral oil. My neutral oil of choice right now is canola, as the fields around here get yellow with it in a couple months, so I figure it just makes good sense. Season well with salt and pepper. Now meat, meet fire. A hot part of the grill is good – sear is good, as you’re not looking for a slow cook here. The next bit always requires judgement on the part of they who are manning the meat: don’t overcook it. Babysit it. Press it gently to determine doneness as you go – one of the experience-required-skills of cookery. Try to get it off the grill just pre-the doneness you’d want, and let it rest for quite a few minutes. Optimally, slice and season to taste with salt. Not complicated, but omit any of those parts and you may end up with sub-optimal results.

Give wood fire grilling a shot. You may not go back. I haven’t.

muscox smoking gently under a cast iron pan that it was started in – note to self, muscox’s texture is deceiving when trying to determine doneness and therefore easy to overcook]

Saucisson Sec d’Orignal

12.25.10

Moose sausage typically doesn’t get me excited. It’s generally made by local meat shops with pre-fabbed 5-gallon-bucketed mixes of ‘cure’ and ‘seasoning’, jacked up with pork to tame the flavor and add fat, resulting in a sausage that tastes like non-game something-or-other akin to a factory produced sausage item from a box store. Not always bad, just rarely that good and never great. Wow that’s a tad harsh. Truth hurts. [I actually feel for the butchers, as I would not want to defrost, de-hair, and trim out the often multiple bullet wounds from game animals shot by others. They probably don't want to either.]

I’ve made fresh game sausages with equally weak results. No boxed seasoning, perhaps, but still not something I’d be excited to tie into regularly. But that tide has changed. A while back I put up a batch of pork saucisson sec, and made a batch with this year’s calf moose to give it a go. Test run. Success. And to continue with my quasi-snotty french names for these products, I’ll be calling these ‘saucisson sec d’orignal‘.

This morning I finished a couple pieces of this and my brési with a hit of smoke. I’ll give them a few days to mellow out the fresh smoking before tying into them again. Smoke, like many things, is better with age. I may make the next batch a tad leaner, but other than that, very pleased. How to make it? Chacuterie‘s recipe for saucisson sec, substitute moose for pork shoulder. These took a month to cure at 4C and 65-70% humidity, and could stand to be a bit drier still.

[the photo is the saucisson atop brési atop guanciale - Christmas is a time to taste charcuterie, apparently. sweet]

Saucisson Sec Follow Up

12.12.10

It’s been 3 weeks since I put up this batch, and the thinnest of them are just starting to become ready to go. The thicker ones – the game ones being especially thick, won’t be ready for another week or two at least.

My first successful batch is all but a memory, now long gone. It was lovely. This second batch was about twice as large. I’m making another today – pork from two local farms. I’m trying to have the resolve to put up a batch once per month – enough to have a continuous stock. Not too difficult to have the resolve when the product’s so dreamy.

For the  geeks. Modified my drying setup. You can see the dowels the small sausages are on – 3 rows 48″ long. I can make links the length of a half sheet pan, and make two per string – my solution to the links not touching each other. Then there are two dowels running perpendicular across the end of the room, also 48″ long. It multiplied my hanging capacity by about 500%. Still have some tweaking to do for ease of use, and may increase my capacity further down the road, but for now I’m thoroughly pleased. 5C 63% humidity. I’m still shocked that at this time of year I actually have to tone down the humidity in the space – it easily can climb into the 70′s if I allow the salt water wicking from a pail to pool on the floor. The rest of the house is sub 20% humidity. I’m likely going to have to knock it sub 60% RH before loading the space with all those jowls and new batches of saucisson sec, which will bolster it upward.

Saucisson Sec & Dry Curing Calf Moose

11.26.10

I put this batch up last weekend – about a 5lb batch of pork saucisson sec, and a similar sized batch of calf moose saucisson sec. I’m also dry curing a piece of sirloin tip from the calf moose to see how that goes. For my first attempt at the game version of saucisson sec, I opted for a higher ratio of Berkshire back fat than would be used for the pork version – the fat reserved from one of the many fall pig butchering escapades.

That’s one big change in my sausage making routine that rocks. When we butchered the pigs, the trim was set aside but not ground that day [which saves time and labor that day - both appreciated] AND an appropriate amount of back fat was added to each pack. Genius. So when I pull a trim pack from the freezer to make saucisson or fresh sausage, it handily includes the necessary fat. I used to freeze my fat separately.  No more. Saved time on butcher day, fuss on sausage making day, uses less packaging, and leaving it in trim form rather than ground gives me more options for texture of the forcemeat.

I’m a little shocked that my cellar is at 79% humidity – a little too high for my liking, and the opposite problem I’d expected at  this time of year with the furnace fighting the -30C weather and drying out the air something bad in the rest of the house [sub-20%]. I’m not complaining. Easier to dry it up here than get the RH up.

I can see me having an awful lot of saucisson to put every year if this keeps working out.

Calf Moose Butchering Day 2010

11.11.10

For the last 20 years, I’ve butchered moose more years than not, always at my dad’s place with him involved. This was the first time I’d butcher a moose at our home, and to add to the fun, I was joined by good company: Allan from Button Soup, Kristeva of Howling Duck Ranch, and long-time-friend and sommelier-in-training Erin. Butchering is indeed a job where many hands make light(er) the work, and I’m grateful to have had them.

I’ve been keen to post some video on butchering game meats. It’s no instructional video, instead offering a brief look at how we tackled it this year. I laughed a bit inside while editing as this is not normally how we break down a moose – particularly bull moose. What normally happens is that the major muscle groups are removed largely while the carcass is hanging – perhaps more practical with a large bull, but not so here.

Our butcher-day-lunch? Ruffed grouse, elk loin, calf moose tenderloin, mule deer tenderloin, garden slaw, and mashed potatoes with leeks washed down with apple and saskatoon wine. About as seasonal and regional as it gets.

Calf Moose Hunt 2010

11.11.10

This was my 5th calf moose hunt in as many Novembers – can’t believe it’s been that many as I still feel like a newbie. I’ve been giving some thought to why I started hunting big game and continue to do it, and can condense it into the following:

My quest for my regional food culture. I’ve spent far more time and money than one perhaps should traveling to experience the diverse food regionality of Europe. I yearned for that regional pride and passion at home, confused by a past of wild food interspersed with culturally ubiquitous processed cheese food and microwaved prepared foods. Wild local foods seemed like a sensible place to start to explore true regional food.

Have the gumption. Buying meat at a box store takes as much emotional effort as buying iceberg lettuce. I felt compelled to man-up and be willing to kill the animal I was going to ogle in the kitchen rather than purchase it in the same breath as I did toilet paper. An animal’s life is taken before we eat meat. We know that intellectually, but I’m not sure the masses ‘get it’ at a level that would respect the life of the animal. I never understood vegetarianism more during this journey, believe it or not.

Tradition. Because I was born into a long heritage of hunting [which I did not value as a young adult, btw], I am blessed with family and friend elders to guide and mentor me. A hunt like this becomes a communal annual event that’s exhilarating, hard work, and full of bonding and memories. Anything that adorns that kind of noble description is welcome in my life.

Gone Butchering…

11.05.10

I dearly wish I had the time to edit video at the moment, and will as soon as I can afford an evening, but the bottom line is when there’s a carcass hanging, priority one is getting it dealt with. And from the time you pull the trigger to the time it’s all in a freezer involves a WHOLE lot of steps, and a fair jag of time.

Because I’m picky with game cutting – no connective tissue [it doesn't break down like pork or beef], bones [they stink when cooked imo], sinew/silverskin [unless you like slimy snot, even post cooking], cartilage, or anything other than simply ‘meat’ for that matter is allowed – it’s a pretty time consuming task. With a cow or pig, you can make cross-muscular cuts into large sections, leave bones in, etc.  I’ve seen guys break down beef with a band saw in a few minutes. With game, it ain’t like that: every muscle is separated from its neighbor and cleaned thoroughly. At least that’s how I do it.

So that is what I’m doing.

re video: I shot a From Local Farms episode at Irvings Farm Fresh prior to my hunt, as well as footage of butchering of an antelope. Then I have this hunt video, and possibly a ‘how to butcher a moose’ video. I’m going to be busy for a while…