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Archive for the ‘Big Game’ Category

Dry Curing Elk Heart

11.12.11

Heart is a misunderstood piece of offal. Like the tongue, and unlike the liver or kidneys for example, it’s a muscle rather than an organ. Like pig heads and other butcher-shop wastage that makes me cringe, the heart often ends up left in the gut-pile of a hunted wild animal, or tossed in the bin at the local meat processor. My guess is the big meat processors have figured out how to make some use of it by burying it in a processed meat of some kind. Which brings me to a story.

Last year, as I contemplated cutting the testicles out of a recently harvested bull elk, my dad expressed concern that I’d gone crazy. He dislikes wine too. My joking rebuttal at the time was that he eats hotdogs and drinks brandy, so he essentially eats testicles and drinks wine, in one form or another. In his defence, heart [and tenderloin] traditionally doesn’t leave moose camp, as it’s enjoyed first. My point here is that heart is meat. Not working with it is a waste.

As I cleaned up the fresh heart from my recent bull elk adventure [great video here re: cleaning one], I contemplated what its culinary fate might be. It then occurred to me that there was a nice thick slab, not too different in shape and size to a small pork jowl, that might be suitable to dry curing. A quick google of ‘dry cured heart’ turned up virtually nothing. Will it work out? No idea. But it’s worth a shot. For those interested: 356g bull elk heart, 1g instacure #2, 11g kosher salt, 1.5g black pepper. Into a bag, into the fridge, to cure for a week or so. It’ll then be rinsed, and I’m thinking lightly cold-smoked, maybe with a light dusting of ground dried herbs, then hung in the cellar to dry. I’m pretty curious to see where this goes – most of the dry curing I’ve tried have been variations on well beaten paths. This, not so much.

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.

Chef Unleashed, Or Not

07.11.11

Now for something a little different. Or way different as after 600+ posts this is my first post of somebody else’s work. Chris Cosentino [little known fact, Hank Shaw and I first 'met' commenting on Chris' blog] posted this video on Vimeo, along with a write up about it that’s worth a read. Summary: it’s super cool and meaningful but just too real for reality TV. Hence me feeling compelled to spread the good word.

I see this as important work. Important work about education and respect for what we eat. I’m not going to watch another show about 30 min meals [not even Jamie Oliver's], but I’d watch 100 shows like ‘Chef Unleashed’. It’s really sad TV execs have to say no to fantastic content. If it were ’1000 ways to enjoy boneless skinless chicken breast’, I’m sure Chris would get the green light. If he could do it in 30 minutes, wow. Sad. Enjoy the video. I did (clearly). [If you do, tweet up @offalchris to let him know.]

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]

The Last [Root Cellar] Supper

04.18.11

I’m out. April 16th will mark the 2011 date that I ran out of 2010 garden veg in the root cellar. Turns out in one meal, I ran out of potatoes, carrots, and beets – all at the same time.

Things may have been able to hold out longer, but quality was definitely starting to suffer. In best shape were the carrots – still crisp and earthy. The beets had held on incredibly, but recently hit a wall and cratered in quality quickly. Perhaps the recent milder 6C did them in. One rotted. That’s it though. The potatoes were still in okay shape, the biggest problem being size – only the smallest were left, and small doesn’t store well.

That’s one lesson from my first year of root cellaring: size matters. The biggest of the veg fared the best in storage. Anything small was first to go soft. Another important lesson was that the cellar can handle a mild freeze. The first couple nights my cellar temp was near 0C, I was freaking out, putting hot stock pots of water in there to bring the temp up. I learned from experience that -2C was nothing to worry about. My dad says he’s had his dip to -7 without major damage. A last biggy would be my experience with washed carrots trumping unwashed. I’ll be washing my carrots this fall, no question.

Our celebratory last root veg supper included carrot sprouts/shoots – surprisingly pleasant atop a carrot slaw – to mark the season, along with a couple different cuts of pronghorn. The shot below is briefly marinated skewer or pronghorn heart grilled over a wood fire. I had no idea root cellaring would yield such successes in a first attempt. This growing season, the objective will simply be to grow and stow more.

Elk Brési w/ Wild Mushrooms & Labrador Tea

03.27.11

When butchering this cow elk in late November, I noticed how particularly perfect the shape and size of the eye of round would be for dry curing. No wonder it’s been done for eons. As usual, here I am, not innovating.

As I had run out of my first ‘test batch’, it was time for a more confident crack at it. Larger piece, thicker piece this time. I used Ruhlman’s  [poor Polcyn, always excluded] ratios of salt, sugar, pepper, and instacure #2, but for aromatics, looked to what I had as wild pantry items. Morel powder, shaggy parasol powder, wild thyme, and labrador tea. Sounded good in theory, but I suspected the labrador tea wouldn’t bring much to the party – that was until I crushed it with a mortar and pestle. Holy evergreen. Lovely evergreen. I hope that shows up in the final product. If so, it may become a standard terroir-driven pairing for me for this item.

So it’ll go into the fridge for a week, maybe two if I’m being forgetful(?) to cure, and then hung in the cellar for a long, long time. I’m going to guess two months minimum, with it being in a good zone for a few months past that. So I should be enjoying this through the summer with zippy salads, cheeses, and cold apple wine.

[update: this piece was scraped of aromatics and cellared March 27th. Told you I'd forget.]

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.

Jerky – Some Recipe Refinement

12.11.10

I got an email this morning from Throwback at Trapper Creek regarding my previously posted jerky recipe, which led me to responding with a couple recipe tweaks – one of which is pretty key in my mind, so I figured I should post those thoughts here as well.

First. On my first elk jerky batch of the winter, I had sliced the cow elk round while still mostly frozen. It sliced a dream on my cheap deli slicer. I added the cure ingredients right away. The jerky was enjoyed, but I found it gamier than expected. On this most recent batch, I let the sliced par-frozen meat defrost pre-curing. I was suprised how much blood was released during the defrosting, so I poured it off, and may have even given the meat a quick rinse. Ah. The potential source of gaminess: the blood. The result? Less gamey jerky. I had unknowingly allowed the blood/juices related to defrosting become part of the cure flavors on that first batch. Not a good plan, in my books. So I will forever defrost the sliced meat fully and drain pre-adding the cure ingredients – yields a far cleaner flavor.

Second. Less importantly, I gave onion a go rather than garlic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of my fridge stinking like meat and garlic – not sure what about that turns me off, but it does. Result with onion is very nice, more subtle/delicate than garlic. Maybe next time, leeks.

Time to take out the next piece of elk round, as this batch won’t last the week.