Oregon Home Grown Chef: Confessions of an Elkaholic
I am not a hunter. As a butcher and chef, I am a friend to the hunter.
I have a special appreciation for hunters who eat what they kill, and learn to be stewards for these animals and their habitats. My friend Greg is one such person.
He is a die-hard elk hunter. He grew up in Tillamook, hunting the Roosevelt elk that roam the Coast Range. In Central Oregon, Greg hunts the Rocky Mountain variety. The two differ slightly in physiology, but the meat of each animal is equally delicious.
Early one evening a few years back, I was finishing cleaning my kitchen, just getting ready to turn out the lights and start my weekend, when Greg rushed in. His wiry frame—seemingly made of jerky and twine—was decked out in full camouflage, and he was jumping up and down. The wildly excited expression on his tanned (or dirty) face was peculiar.
“Come out to my truck!” Greg said with a big, chipped-tooth grin.
We walked outside to Greg’s rig to find a sizable buck that Greg had killed, shot with an arrow through its chest. At that moment, I knew how I would be spending my weekend.
“Let’s butcher it,” he said—the hunter’s code for “Will you please butcher my elk for me?”
After figuring out how to move the 500-plus pound buck into my kitchen, I started the process, hanging the carcass by its hind legs and skinning it, then letting it hang in the walk-in refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, I made quick work of butchering. An elk is somewhere between beef and lamb in terms of butchery. The meat is a beautiful blood-red color with an outstanding flavor.
The term “you are what you eat” is evident when tasting a wild game animal such as this one, which had spent its life foraging its food from the forests of the Cascade Range. While I wielded my cleaver, carving out thick cuts from this healthy specimen, Greg and I talked about how he should prepare it.
“Maybe grind some of the shoulder for burgers?” he asked.
I agreed. Just like other animals, the elk uses the shoulder and leg muscles more, and so those require long, slow cooking, or grinding to make them more tender.
When we were finished, Greg presented me with my payment—an elk loin, or “backstrap” as some call it. I took it home and prepared it that evening, using Oregon ingredients perfectly suited to such a fine animal.