An Elk Roast That Even Sarah Palin Would Be Proud Of

Elk, the other red meat.

There are very few things that Sarah Palin and I would ever agree upon, but venison being a superior meat to America’s slaughterhouse beef is one on which we definitely would see eye-to-eye. We would probably even swap a few recipes and the only debate we would have, about the meat that is, would be who makes the best chili. My chocolate cherry chili would win, hands down! But I’ll leave that blog for another day. This one is about our Elk roast dinner last night with our good friend Mary. The small party was supposed to include another friend, and artist, Zannah Noe, who’s work is displayed throughout our apartment. Unfortunately, we received a text from her at the last minute letting us know she was under the weather and wouldn’t be making it. Feel better Zannah!

We received the elk roast from Steve’s father, Karl, who lives to hunt and fish. Most people would be turned off by the smell and taste of wild meat, and I must admit that I was once that way. But over the years of substituting venison for beef, I can honestly say that I prefer the musky taste of it over the flavorless greasy beef that comes from the grocery store. It’s also nice to know exactly where the animal I’m consuming came from; what type of food it grazed on; and that it’s death was more humane than the conveyer belts of cows that line up to be slaughtered, day and night.

Is there anything more comforting than a big bowl of mashed potatoes?

The recipe for the roast came from Cook’s Illustrated, Simple Pot Roast, which you can only get online by being a member, but I’ll give you the run-down at the bottom of the post—just don’t tell Chris Kimball. The moment I unwrapped the elk roast I knew it was going to be a great meal. The meat was lean and firm, and there was no fat or sinew to cut away. The only prep work necessary was to tie the meat together and pat it dry with paper towels before placing it in a hot stock pot with vegetable oil.

As decadent as ice cream with a little less guilt.

With the pot roast we serve mashed potatoes and bleu cheese popovers, a variation of the popovers that Steve has become very fond of. Unfortunately they didn’t rise all that well, probably due to a reduction in the oven temperature, but were still quite tasty. For desert, we served a cardamom and cinnamon scented frozen yogurt, that was topped with orange segments and pistachios. It had a bit of middle eastern flare to it, but the oranges are so abundant right now and we have a lot of cardamom and cinnamon in our pantry, I thought it would be a great use for them. It was also a little lighter then say, an American cherry pie, or even traditional vanilla ice cream. The conversation was the best thing about the dinner. We really enjoyed getting to know Mary a little better and can’t wait to go over to her house and help her in her garden.

We’re hoping to have more dinner parties in the future; giving our friends the chance to try venison and some wonderful grass-fed beef.

Simple Elk Pot Roast

(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 boneless elk roast (3-4 pounds)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

4 large carrots (1 finely diced, the other 3 cut into ½ inch slices)

1 celery rib, finely diced

1 pound button mushrooms, quartered

3 gloves garlic, minced

2 cups beef broth (homemade preferred)

3 sprig fresh thyme, tied together

1-2 cups water

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into wedges (6-8 wedges each turnip)

¼ cup red wine

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Tie the roast with cooking twine and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed stockpot until oil is shimmering. Place the roast in pot and sear until a nice dark brown develops on all four side, 8-10 minutes. Reduce the heat if there is too much smoke and add more oil if meat is very lean and the bottom of the pan dries out. Transfer the roast to a clean plate and add the onions, diced carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Sautee until the vegetables start to brown, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and water, scraping up the bottom of the pan. Return the roast to the pan and any juices that have accumulated. Turn the temperature up and bring to a boil. Add the thyme, cover the top with foil and then place the lid on top. Place the pot in the oven and cook for 3 ½ – 4 hours. Every 30 minutes turn the roast over on each side.

After about 2 ½ hours add the sliced carrots and the turnips. Making sure that the vegetables are submerged in the cooking liquid.

When the roast is tender remove the pot from the oven and remove the roast from the pot. Tent the roast with foil and remove the carrot slices and turnips. If a lot of fat has accumulated, skim from the top. Then place the pot on the stove and reduce the cooking liquid to about 1 ½ cups. Add the red wine and reduce a few more minutes.

Cut the string from the roast and slice it into 1-inch pieces. Arrange the roast and the vegetables on a warmed serving platter. Serve with horseradish cream and sauce.

Horseradish Cream

¾ cup sour cream

2 finely chopped green onions

1-2 tablespoons (or more) prepared horseradish

Mix all together and serve with roast elk.

Cinnamon-Cardamom Frozen Yogurt

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s Basic Vanilla Frozen Yogurt)

1 ½ cups whole milk

3 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

Heat the milk in a pan with the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, until just barely warm. Place a lid on the pan and let seep for 30 minutes. Discard cinnamon and cardamom pods. Add half the sugar, heat until steam barely rises, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Meanwhile beat the egg yolks and other half of sugar with a pinch of salt until light yellow and very thick. Slowly add a little of the warmed milk, whisking constantly so as not to cook the eggs. Adding more milk continue to whisk until all the milk has been add. Transfer the mixture back into the pan and place on the stove over low-medium heat, stir constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and stain through a mesh sieve to remove any cooked egg.

Place the bowl on an ice bath to cool, about 20-30 minutes. Once the custard is cool add the yogurt and whisk together. Place the yogurt mixture in an ice cream maker and allow to mix for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the tub and store in a freezer safe container for at least 2 hours before serving. If the frozen yogurt becomes too hard to serve leave at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serve with orange slices, pistachios, honey, or any desired topping.

Wild Pheasant

“But over all … [wild fowl], the pheasant takes precedence; yet few are the mortals who know how to extract perfection from the bird.” – Brillat-Savarin

We rarely think to buy “exotic” varieties of meat from the market. Our freezer is full of grass fed beef and a few odd packages of wild meat from Idaho – elk, deer, trout and pheasant. We even had a couple of packages of wild moose steaks at one point a number of years ago, compliments of Steve’s Uncle Tom. We shared them with friends while on a camping trip. But these are not things we would typically buy from the market. We live, like most people, on staples like beef, pork and chicken and think of wild meat as a rare treat.

Farm raised “wild” animals taste different because their feed is controlled and their flesh is nurtured to appeal to domesticated tastes. Truly wild animals taste of the things they forage on to survive and their free roaming nature means the muscle will be stronger, leaner and full of rich, complex flavor.

Cooking wild game requires much greater care than the average farm raised animal because its flesh is very lean and quick to toughen on heat. Elk and deer steaks, for example, must be cooked at very high heat for just a moment and then quickly taken off the heat to rest for a few minutes. It’s only edible in very rare form.

Pheasant 5

Wild Ringneck Pheasants

I suspect the Sara’s Ranch Baby Pheasant on offer at Big 4 is a might more tender than the wild roosters we shoot in southern Idaho. The gamey birds in our freezer were “harvested” the old fashioned way – with a shotgun and a bird dog – on the edge of Blackfoot, Idaho. We dressed them quickly and froze them for the trip to California where they went right into the freezer.

Tradition calls for leaving the birds to “age” until they begin to decompose, allegedly sweetening in the process. We’re not that adventurous and I wouldn’t recommend aging poultry at home. Few of us have enough experience with meat to know when to stop the aging process before the whole thing spoils. But given our experience with tough wild bird meat, I can see the wisdom in letting time break down muscle fiber to soften the meat for eating.

Alas, we’ve settled on long, slow cooking methods to get the most out of the wild pheasant we have on hand. The results don’t come close to the “perfection” Brillat-Savarin describes in his elaborate recitation of a complex roasted pheasant dish worthy of a king. But our take on slow cooked meat sauces here makes for a tasty pheasant ragù, perfect for dressing big pappardelle noodles and accompanied by a nice bottle of wine (Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or a dry French rose).

Mighty Hunter 2

Steve and Jack w/ Pheasants

Not all of us are hunters. We’re lucky in San Francisco to have access to a bounty of exquisite and unusual meats. Our butcher shops sit in neighborhoods filled with thankful foodies who understand the differences between industrialized meat production practices and the thoughtful, ethical ranching practices of local farmers. The better specialty retailers will have plenty of unusual things to try and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, most have solid relationships with good suppliers who can get whatever you’re looking for quickly.

Of course, farm raised anything is going to cost you plenty (we aren’t going to talk about how much it cost for Steve to buy a non-resident hunting license in Idaho, ahem!). But since most folks no longer hunt game birds, farmed pheasant is worth tracking down. These San Francisco purveyors should be able to source farm raised pheasants for the curious home cook: Drewes Bros. in Noe Valley, Bryan’s Quality Meats in Laurel Heights, Avedano’s Holly Park Market in Bernal Heights, Golden Gate Meat Company and Prather Ranch in the Ferry Building and Guerra Quality Meats in the Sunset. Each offers terrific access to quality meat products at premium prices. You might check MacFarlane Pheasants out if you’re looking for a large, national supplier.

This is our take on a wild pheasant sugo. Making sauce from these birds seems the best way to cook the meat long enough to make it tender. We didn’t, but you might try sprinkling toasted walnuts over the plated dish. A little fresh lemon zest on top wouldn’t hurt either. We have another batch cooked and waiting in the freezer for our own future experimentation.

Wild Pheasant Sugo

2 pheasants, completely de-boned, cut into half-inch pieces*

4 slices thick bacon, diced

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 large stalk of celery, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, coarsely chopped

Bouquet garni of fresh thyme, parsley and bay leaves

1/4 cup dry vermouth

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Salt and pepper to season

*Note: the “drumstick” of the pheasant is particularly sinewy. The older the bird, the harder the tendons. The hardest, sharpest pieces won’t soften no matter how long you cook the meat. The tendons are almost bone-like and should be trimmed or removed before cooking.

Start by heating a heavy 12″ skillet over medium high heat and add bacon. Cook bacon until crisp, 10 – 12 minutes, and remove from the pan to dry on paper towels. Pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat and return the pan to the heat.

Add pheasant meat and brown on all sides, approximately 5 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside. Return pan to the heat and add olive oil.

Add diced onion, celery and carrot and saute on medium low until they’ve soften and begun to caramelize, approximately 15 minutes. Return meat to the pan with the vegetables and deglaze the pan with the vermouth, scraping up any brown bits. Add enough water to cover the meat and add the bouquet garni. Finally, add salt and pepper to taste, but be careful you don’t over salt the braising liquid. It will grow saltier as it reduces. Cover and bring to a simmer.

The pan should stay on heat at a low simmer for at least an hour and a half. The pan will want to go dry from time to time so be sure to add water as necessary until the meat is falling apart and the sauce has become fairly thick. You can always thin it later with pasta water to suit your taste. Be sure to remove the bouquet garni before serving or storing the sauce.

Toss sauce with pappardelle and finish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, fresh ground black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil!

Cheers, Steve & Jason