Cervinus elaphus canadensis
Origin: North America
Etymology: “elk” from Middle English; “wapiti” from the Algonquin word meaning “white rump.”
Young elk: calf
Many people think of elk and deer as being very similar. They are both ruminants of the large Cervidae family. The essential difference lies in their weight and origin. The elk is originally from North America, while the red deer comes from Europe.
“At the time of the first settlers, elk were common in Canada from the Gaspé to the Rockies, sharing the same lands as the European arrivals. To taste elk is to taste what our ancestors ate, turning the clock back some 400 years. In eating elk, we discover something of our roots,” says Georges Bélanger of the Exotec Farm in Grand-Mère, Quebec.
An active member of the Elk Producers Association, Bélanger explains that when slaughtered, a roe deer provides a carcass of 82 kg, compared to 127 kg for an elk – or 180 kg compared to 317-340 kg when it comes to the live animal. Gregarious, they live in groups and are easily raised. They are fed oats and large producers finish them on clover.
The calves are usually born in the springtime and are milk-fed throughout the summer. The males are generally slaughtered at about the age of two and always before they go into rut. Why, you may ask? Because at that point the male loses up to 25% of its weight. When the animal lives too intensely, the meat can develop an unpleasant taste. Elk meat sold by butchers comes from farm-raised animals. Its refined flavor does not compare in any way with that of an old male in rut, felled during the hunting season.
Nutritional values (tenderloin)
Calories: 162; carbohydrates: 0; fat: 3.41 g; protein: 30.76 g; cholesterol: 72 mg.
Elk meat is very healthful. It’s lean and full of vitamins, protein and iron.
Raised elk meat is sold as cuts such as steak, rack, loin, medallions, sausage and stew meat. These are naturally lean, dense meats that shrink very little during cooking.
When well-wrapped, it will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
The meat has a rich, robust flavor that is slightly sweet. It is milder and more consistent than wild meat, with a texture that melts in the mouth.
Although it needs nothing more than salt and pepper to bring out its natural flavor, it pairs well with a range of spices and allows the cook to showcase some seasonal ingredients. Although distinct, deer and elk meat are interchangeable in recipes.
Cooking elk with Alain Penot of the Auberge du Lac Saint-Pierre
When it comes to the flavor and tenderness of the meat, there is really no difference between a male and female.
Unlike beef, elk sirloin is unquestionably the choice cut. It is as tender as striploin and more flavorful. As a roast, it’s magnificent… for its tenderness, grain and color, while being easy to cook, either plain or flavored with herbs or spices. The principle is the same as for a roast of beef: sear both sides in a skillet in a spoonful of oil or clarified butter and place the roast into a preheated 200° C (400° F) oven. Cook to rare or medium, depending on your preference. Cooked beyond that point, it tends to lose its juices. The meat becomes harder to chew and the texture feels different in the mouth and becomes grainy. Let it rest for 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven before slicing.
The same principle applies to pan-cooking. Be careful not to overcook it! This lean, unmarbled red meat must be seared quickly over high heat, and the color should stay a nice purplish-red. Serve with a purée of sweet potatoes flavored with cardamom or a simple mushroom sauté.
The technique is the same as for sirloin; sear in a skillet and finish cooking in the oven. Meanwhile, make the sauce: game stock, red wine, olives, black cherries and a few prunes. Accompany with mashed blue potatoes into which you’ve mixed some grated Italian Grana Padano cheese. Garnish with wild mushrooms, sautéed and deglazed with balsamic vinegar.
Brush with oil and grill with some slivers of ginger or a touch of cumin. Serve with a yogurt sauce flavored with the same spice.
For grilled burgers.
Hints and tips
Save the bones and trimmings to make game stock.
Spiced elk sausage
Have you tried elk sausage? Plain or herbed, it’s delicious and unlike any other sausage. It’s also very lean, made with 90% elk and 10% pork or boar fat.
If you go to Quebec’s Mauricie region, you’ll find a sausage large enough to feed three or four people, coiled up on a plate. Unfortunately outside the region this “saucisse à roulette” is sold just as regular sausages in the public markets.
To cook it, simply blanch it for a few minutes in boiling water; pat it dry and brown it on both sides in a skillet. Continue cooking over medium heat or put it into a 225° C (450° F) oven for about 10 minutes.
If you’ve bought frozen sausage and don’t want to wait until the next day to serve it, immerse it in boiling water, remove from the heat and let stand for about 15 minutes without piercing it. Pat dry and cook as described above. Serve with a fruit ketchup or chutney that you can make yourself: peaches, onions, tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and pickling spice.
Show off your velvet
Of all the members of the Cervidae family, the elk has the most impressive antlers, about 120 cm wide and 180 cm long. A twelve-point male is called a royal elk and a 14-point male an imperial elk. At the summer solstice, the antlers are cut off to prevent the males from harming each other or damaging the infrastructure. Velvet antlers have a large commercial value. In Asia they are used as a stimulant, in the same way as ginseng, as a medicinal, even aphrodisiac, powder.
Hints & Tips