Archive for the ‘Butchering Game Meats’ Category

Aging Moose and Elk


Yesterday’s post brought up an important topic: the aging of big game meats. Someone posted the following in a comment:

“Not all meat should be aged. Young game animals are tender by nature. Aging game that has been skinned often results in excessive weight loss, dehydration and surface discoloration of the lean tissue…”

I’d had this pang of guilt tucked in me somewhere that I should be aging even the calves. But yesterday’s experience confirmed for me that I never want to age calves again. Ever.

The animals we cut yesterday were hanging for 4-7 days at a good temperature. It’s super-dry here right now…30% relative humidity at best. The meat dried out considerably with only a few days of hanging. This didn’t impact the ‘inside’ cuts, but it essentially destroyed any exposed cuts, namely the ribs, and any thin exterior piece of meat. Everything needed trimming, and when it’s a small animal, this creates a lot of waste. My guess is that proper aging requires what good wine storage and sausage curing requires: proper humidity.

I can wholeheartedly conclude that in this case, any improvement in the meat would be marginal compared to the extreme loss in quality and mass of the exposed cuts. To top it all off, all the extra trimming simply means a whole lot more work that in my mind is completely unnecessary. In the future, my rule of thumb will be: butcher asap. No question.

Worth noting that the last calves we’d butchered day after the kill. The product on the cutting board was FAR superior [no exterior trimming, ribs fresh and plump]. FAR easier to work with. And I’d bet quite a few dollars that in a blind taste test, nobody could tell me which was cut the next day, and which was hung.

Calf Elk. Finally.


Calf elk neck. In my little world, this is exciting stuff. It’s an achievement.

I grew up eating bull moose and deer – moose generally being preferred over deer. Elk were not around the parts my family hunted – so until the past few years, I knew little to nothing about elk. Once introduced to our kitchen, the general preference seemed to lean towards elk over moose. Then came calf moose, which we also had no experience with. Calf moose easily trumped elk – and I’ve since gushed about it ad nauseum. But a theory remained to be proven: if elk trumps moose, and calf moose trumps elk, then calf elk should logically trump calf moose. But we didn’t know. Put in draws. Tried last year. No luck.

But I got an email today – the hunters were on their way home, and needed a hand hanging the animals. I knew they had a calf moose and a calf elk – but found out today that they we lucky enough to get another calf elk. Three calves. Crazy. The elk calves are a fantastic size. They reminded me of a giant lamb. I simply couldn’t wait until next week to try some, so I grabbed a knife and took a piece of neck meat to try a braise this weekend.

For the record, I am extremely grateful that they who hunt a lot in our family were actually quite receptive to changing the objective of the hunts towards calves. They’ve also been receptive to my relatively anal methods of cutting meat. And lastly for the record: this post is elk-centric, but I’m equally stoked about their success with another calf moose. What a year.

I’m posting this last photo because a) I thought it was a good photo, and b) I was reluctant to. I was reluctant to as I know animal carcasses aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However. I have been advocating a ‘know where your food comes from’ philosophy, and like it or not, this is where meat comes from. There are far nastier parts of the process, trust me. To me, this is an exciting part of the process: all my favorite cuts are hanging right there, waiting to be transformed into all kinds of tasty dishes.

‘Tis the Season to be Butchering?


Just got a call from ‘big game camp’.

They had a busy day, and a calf elk and calf moose will need butchering later this week. This is good news. Extremely good news.

And before you wonder how it is we need so much game – keep in mind that the animals are generally split between hunters. So we’ll only be tackling and consuming a side of each of the recent kills. And those sides will supply both my dad and my family.

An additional issue this year is that there’s a very good chance I may not be able to go up for a calf hunt next year – which means having an ample stock in the freezer is important to us. Mission accomplished.

Braised Shank of Calf Moose


Calf Ribs were the first thing on my agenda with the fresh calf moose this season. I’m glad Phil appreciated the post. On deck: bone-in shank.

I’ve ccoked a few beef shanks over the past few months – it even appeared at my 30th birthday party. So when it came to butchering the calves this week, I decided to take the shanks whole and bone-in – to try using them as I would beef.

I dread shanks when butchering. They’re usually one of the last things you tackle, right when you’re getting tired. And they’re full of sinew and silverskin so cleaning them to my anal standards for the burger bowl takes forever. So victory #1, cutting the thing off whole with my handy power tool makes quick work on butchering day. Also looks Fintstone-esque [much like the rib racks].

Victory #2 occurred in the kitchen. I have finally confirmed that moose shank has very similar properties to, and is just as enjoyable as, beef shank. I’m so pleased with myself. 3 decades I’ve eaten moose. And I’ve never had shank done right. Borderline ridiculous.

So that’s two for two on the bone-in cuts this year. Had I not taken them, the pull-apart-goodness would be tucked away in a pack of ground burger somewhere, and the ribs would have been enjoyed by magpies and an eagle.

For the googlers:

1 whole, bone-in moose shank, trimmed
1 bottle big red wine [I used white. Use red.]
tsp black peppercorns
a few sprigs of fresh herbs [I used sage and thyme]
4 cloves garlic
1/2 an onion
1 carrot [optional]

Add all ingredients to a pan or ziploc and marinade the cut for a day. I did it for two, flipping it each day. Once marinaded, you need to dry it, and reserve the marinade and its ‘stuff’. I set the shank on a rack over a baking sheet and tossed it in the fridge for a half-day.

Next step: sear it. Season like you mean it with salt and pepper. Get a couple tbsp of oil hot in the braising vessel and brown the shank over medium heat. Be patient, don’t burn the stuck-on-bits, and go for a good brown. Preheat your oven to 300F.

Next step: add back the marinade, and enough water to come half-way up the meat. Cover tightly – I used foil. Into the oven it goes. For 4-6 hours. It should be pull-apart tender, but not mushy. Feel free to check it.

I made a gravy with the cooking liquor, and served it with brown rice pilaf and red cabbage. Next time, I’ll be using rosemary, jacking the sauce with black-currant jam, and letting a bottle of bordeaux breathe for a couple hours before dinner.

How to Butcher a Grouse


My dad showed me a really cool way to field-dress a grouse immediately after it has been killed – without the need for a knife. We used to step on the wings, and pull the feet to get a similar result, but this is cleaner and more consistent. By photo, left to right:

1. Ruffed grouse, head shot to protect the breast meat. They don’t die from heart attacks, as my dad says.

2. Tear back the skin from the center of the breast outward, and pull back to expose the breast meat. They’re delicate birds, and this part is not hard.

An important unillustrated step: put one thumb under the v of the wishbone, and the other directly opposite pointing towards the neck. Carefully pull in opposing directions. Be careful, as the bones are small, and if they break they can cut you. My dad has used a wooden spoon before to avoid cuts.

3. The result, after the pulling. In our province, one wing is required to legally transport the bird [for species identification]. We just twist the other off. Bag and off you go – all the mess is left outdoors.

4. Back in the kitchen, time for a knife. Following the breastbone, cutting the breast meat off each side. Exact same as for a chicken [which is what we usually call grouse around other hunters].

5. Finished product.

Calf Moose Ribs


A’ite. Now normally, the week of butchering is consumed with eating fresh tenderloin. And I’m all about the tenderloin, but in I’ve already had bull moose, cow elk, and bull bison tenderloins from this year’s ‘harvest’. Time for a change.

Plus, I was super-stoked to try one of the products created with my new toy. The photo does not capture the scale of this rack of ribs: the platter is a foot wide and 16″ long. I got roughly 4 racks that size per calf.

I poached them for an hour and a half earlier in the day in water, dark soy, red wine vinegar, onion, and garlic. I then grilled them this evening, threw some hickory chips in there for a tish of smoke, and basted them about 3 times, both sides, with Rudy’s BBQ sauce. Canadian calf moose with Texas BBQ. Fusion? Hah.

What I learned. When one has calf moose, for the love of god, keep the ribs. One thing I will do differently next time a rack comes out of the freezer [which will be soon], is trim the loads of meat I left on. I thought meaty would be good. And it is, but I took that a bit far, as the…belly?…ends up unseasoned, unsauced, and a little sub-par. The rest of it rocked. The meat was mild in flavor as expected, the sauce was tasty, and digging into foot long ribs is really satisfying.

So my first time ever with game ribs – a tremendous success.

Calf Moose Butchering 2007

Eight to nine hours of butchering today. 3 sides of calf later, I’m tired. Yet again.

I’m happy to report that I used my new kitchen power tool for the first time, with great success. My main objective was bone-in shank. Mission accomplished. But what I thought I’d try to cut, and am now giddy to eat, are some ridiculously enormous slabs of ribs. Normally, we age game, much like beef, hanging it for a week or two. The ribs often dry out in this process ending up looking like something you’d rather not eat. With calves, they’re so tender, we don’t bother to age, which leaves nice moist sides of rib. This will be a first for me, even though I’ve eaten this stuff my whole life. Cannot wait.

The photo-of-the-day is a shot of my 9.5 size shoe for scale to show the size of a 5-6 month old calf moose. Man they’re big animals.

Yes, $63.47/kg


Fact #1: elk is a solid red meat
Fact #2: calf moose trumps elk
Fact #3: both would be better with considerable fat marbling

Which makes me wonder, why don’t people farm raise fatty elk and moose. Hm. Anyway, all you can really make out on the label is $7.74. That’s not so scary. What’s scary is the price per kilo. $63.47/kg. Okay, okay. That’s tenderloin. Burger? Wait for it…$14/kg. Too bad it’s illegal to sell game, or I’d have a nice little black market biz on the side. Quick math: 200 lbs of meat on a cow elk say, 100lbs of burger, 100 lbs cuts = $700 retail just for the burger, and you get to keep the rest. Sweet.

A little more math. Calf moose, as it is essentially veal, would logically [and deservedly] demand a premium over elk. And yes, this is an imaginary world we’re doing this math for, as there is no such market. Assuming a modest premium, I’m guessing the calf I harvested last year would retail out at about $1,500. That makes me, a born-again-cheap-ass, very, very pleased.

And if you think I’m out to lunch – they’ve been carrying these elk cuts, at $14/kg for burger, for at least a couple years. Someone’s buyin’ the stuff. And no, it’s not me – I took the photo sheepishly standing outside the freezer at the store.

My poor neighbors

I pretty sure I drive my neighbors crazy at times. This morning it was still dark, and I was on our back patio searing a serious amount of beef and some bacon. I live in an apartment, and the smells inevitably waft around. It’s worse when I’m smoking foods. It’s probably a love-hate thing, I’m guessing. It was, however, a moment that reminded me why to work at home: I can spend a half hour in the morning putting together a braise, and then it can cook away while I work. Then when lunch time comes, an awesome home-cooked meal awaits.

I’m hurting a bit this evening, and it’s probably from gardening. I aggregated and moved my asparagus to a new home in the garden. I moved some flowering plants – which I try to keep to a minimum to keep room for things I can eat. :) I also dug up my first crop of parsnips. The cold and snow are becoming imminent, and it’s time to do these kinds of things here.
I also bought a cool new antique compost bucket. Yeah, you read that right. I’ve been using a plastic pail to collect compost, and now I have a cool copper bucket to take its place. It will also make a fine ‘crachoir’ for spitting when wine tasting. I’m such a dork.

Another notable item: the first big game of the season hangs where we butcher. A big mule-deer buck. Someone else will be eating that one. But this week, my dad and hunting buddies will be heading out for bull moose, so I’ll be doing some butchering very soon. And in a few short weeks, we’ll be heading out for our calves. I can’t wait!! We actually ran out of big game this past week, and the supply has been short for a while. That may be the first time we’ve run out…ever.

Lastly, I finally dove into my pile of tasting notes, and got through a good half case or more of bottles. I haven’t uploaded them yet. I will after tackling another case or so.

Butchering #4 – Whitetail Deer


Butchered the fourth big game animal of the season this morning. A white-tailed deer. Looks big, but cut weight was just under 40 lbs. For context, my calf moose was 100, and Henry’s 2 or 3 year old bull moose was 240. My dad’s cow elk was high 100s-200 I think.

So my adventure in cooking venison begins. First lesson for me is the vast variation in size. The pack of tenderloins in my hand weighs 350g. The same thing from my calf, unpackaged, was 965g. A beef tenderloin is about the size of the thickest part of my forearm. I look forward to the verdict on flavour profile and texture relative to other game meats – and will share my findings when the time comes.