Cajun Elk Backstrap + Elk Camp

This past Sunday Joe and I rounded up our four horses and headed into elk camp. After a 4.5 hour ride we arrived and set up camp, where we spent the next three nights with Strawberry, Yolanda, Taz, and Ruger in some beautiful, rugged, wild country at 10,000 ft. among the bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk.

On opening day we rode down the canyon of the drainage we were camped in and saw once nice bull headed for the hills, literally. On day two we saw three cows, and several bighorn sheep, including a group of six rams. We moved camp a few miles further up in preparation for our final day.

With frost on the inside of our dome tent, we were up early and headed out while the full moon was still high in the sky. We began the ascent up the switchbacks that would lead us over the top of a pass and into the next drainage, which we were confident that no one else had recently been in. About 2/3 of the way to the top, at 11,300 ft in elevation, two raghorns appeared in front of us on the skyline. After a look through the binos, Joe cow-called as we stepped off the ponies to observe. As the elk walked behind a small hill, I moved another 40 yards closer before they reappeared on the horizon, putting me within 330 yards. I laid down and got as comfy as I could resting on a rock, lying just above an old rock Indian blind we rode by as we came up the canyon. Holding steady, my first shot went through the lungs, the second through the spine, resulting in an immediate downward tumble. Joe’s whoop of celebration echoed off the mountains around us as the remaining elk scurried away across the canyon. After three years, I had my first elk.

“Look at where we are right now, this is what matters,” Joe said as I walked back down to him and the horses. And he is right. The experience is what matters most, beyond whether an elk is harvested, or how big it is. Being out in the backcountry and living simply off the land, appreciating the cycle of life, and respecting the wilderness and its inhabitants for all that it is. While riding 40 miles and packing an elk out horseback is a lot more work than dragging and loading it into the back of a pickup, the reward is also greater, in that the experience is fuller and more intense. More sore backs and sore horses, too. But I appreciate the hard work of the horses and humans involved, and respect the elk and the life it was living in the mountains. I am grateful for its harvest, as it will feed our family for the next year, and that bull will graciously enable us to continue to make meals from the mountains.

This afternoon we butchered the elk at the shop, and made our first meal with our fresh elk meat this evening.

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Cajun Elk Backstrap

1. Cut backstrap into 1/2-inch  steaks and marinade in Italian dressing for at least 4 hours.

2. Heat oil in frying pan until it bubbles, I use just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

3. Dump in steaks and season with Cajun seasoning; we use “Cajun Campfire” from Hi Mountain Seasonings.

4. Fry on medium heat for 2 minutes, flip, cook for 2 minutes, and repeat cycle once. Steaks should be cooked to medium-rare at this point.

I served these steaks with Ranch and Bacon Diced Potatoes.

Fake Steak!

Hamburger steak with potatoes from the garden is one of my go-to recipes to dress up ground elk meat, and is based off of this recipe http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hamburger-steak-with-onions-and-gravy/ with slight adaptations.

Process bread in food processor to make bread crumbs. I started out using 1/4 c but added another 3 T or so to absorb into the meat mixture.

Thinly slice about half of a medium yellow onion, and sautee in 1 T vegetable oil.

Add patties to frying pan with onion and cook 4 minutes per side.

Remove patties and set aside. Add flour, slowly whisk in beef consomme and scrape the drippings and onion bits off the bottom to get a flavorful gravy. 5 minutes later…

Add patties and onion back to pan and simmer in gravy for 5-10 minutes until meat is cooked through and gravy is thickened.

Goes great with creamy mashed potatoes (recipe to follow).

Elk Hamburger Steak with Onion and Consomme Gravy

1 lb. ground elk

1 egg

1/3 c breadcrumbs

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. season salt

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. Worcestshire sauce

1 T. vegetable oil

1/2 c thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion

2 T.  flour

1 can Campbell’s Consomme beef broth

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1. If you are making breadcrumbs, process bread slices in food processor. (I use a combination of wheat and white bread heels, then freeze the leftovers in a ziplock so I always have breadcrumbs on hand.)

2. Slice onion and begin to sautee in vegetable oil on low heat. Combine breadcrumbs, ground elk, egg, spices, and Worcestshire. Form into 4-5 balls and flatten into patties.

3. Add patties to frying pan and cook with lid on for 4 minutes per side. It’s alright if they don’t cook all the way at this point, mine were still raw in the center. They will finish cooking when you put them back in with the gravy later.

4. Remove patties and set aside on plate. Add 2 T of flour to pan and slowly whisk in 1 can of consomme broth. Stir and simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes until broth thickens.

5. Return patties and onions to pan in broth, cover, and simmer another 5-10 minutes until patties are cooked through and sauce is thickened.