SFR welcomes guest blogger and former pastry chef Karla Helland, who this week premieres her blog, FILC (Food I'd Like to Cook), on the subject of elk sausage.
For many of the years I wore a chef’s jacket, I was a pastry cook. I torched crme brlées at the now-defunct (yet strangely revered) Café Escalera and arranged towers of wafer-thin cookies and chocolate mousse at the Coyote Café. I can estimate the temperature of sugar syrup without using a candy thermometer and pipe pink buttercream into roses on top of cupcakes.
None of these prissy skills prepared me for living with a hunter.
In October, for a week, my husband disappears into “Area 52,” an eerily-named wildlife area in northern New Mexico. When he returns, our lives change. Hundreds of pounds of elk meat lie in a meat locker, waiting for me to turn every strange tidbit into a deliciously seasoned meal. Because, as the cattleman who provide restaurants with beef remind the kitchen managers who only order the prime cuts, there is a lot more to a beast than tenderloin.
So, sausage. My recipe collection includes three vetted and authentic recipes for bratwurst, but I had to work out my own American elk sausage. I once hired the Culinary Institute of America to run me through their feudal French cooking system. Along with my debt, I left with some charcuterie notes and picked up some recipes from the German chef there who got Old World ugly if anyone asked for mustard on the wurst.
One of the CIA secrets of good sausage: fat. Pork fat. Elk meat tastes as lean and alluring as a kettlebell instructor looks. But elk sausage should have a much higher Body Mass Index. Sausage is juicy when it is about 30% fat.
When our friends hear about the game excess, many stand in wonder of “all that free meat.” But, considering the cost of organic seasonings--14 pounds of roasted green chile and 45 pounds of responsibly raised pork from Whole Foods--the sausage is pretty precious. If you factor in the hunting equipment, camping gear, permits, butcher’s fees and a couple of new chest freezers, it’s worth at least $10 a pound. But I won’t invite the Fish and Wildlife officers to our door by attempting to illegally sell game on Craigslist.
To make elk sausage, start by cutting the pork and elk into thick ribbons, add chopped garlic and onions, and then toss the big, unholy-looking mess in the spices of choice. (We tested several and liked the green chile and sage combo best. We also made a small amount of chorizo links that we flavored with Spanish smoked paprika and cayenne.) Then you chill the mixture before running it through a meat grinder.
Our elk sausage has been patted around little mozzarella balls, browned in a cast iron pan and served on a puddle of red chile butter sauce. Other cuts made great tacos and tamale filling. I cooked a small bit of elk round confit-style, brining it for days then submerging it in olive oil and cooking it long and slow. Chunks of this delicacy appeared in our Christmas Eve posole. Tonight I’ll try Scotch eggs because we must keep eating. Elk season is coming again soon, and I’m not buying another freezer.
The Scotch eggs were monstrous, but very good with pickled red onion and pickled jalapeno.
These first two projects inspired a hybrid: Sausage rolled around an olive (see above), breaded in cornmeal, then fried in olive oil.