Thinking Outside the Styrofoam Tray

A guest post by Kerry Knight

“I’d like to encourage you to think about the meat you eat. Is it good enough? Good enough to bring you pleasure every time you eat it? What about the animals it comes from? Have they lived well? And what about the way you cook meat? Are you adventurous with it? Are you thrifty with it? Do you respect it, and do it justice?”

– Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book

He’s a “Meat and potatoes” kind of guy. How many times have we used that expression to describe someone with a palate that doesn’t stray too far from the norm, someone whose appetite for culinary adventure revolves around a good steak, prime rib, pot roast, chicken and ribs….ribs and chicken….

There are many other choices available, and if you are considering the words of Mr. Fearnly-Whittingstall, you may want to consider the majestic Elk, one of the largest species of deer in the world.

Elk (Cervus Canadensis), also known by the Cree name Wapiti, meaning “white rump,” is a species native to Ontario as well as much of North America and have been roaming about for thousands of years and enticing hunters for generations.

If you want to hunt your own elk, Hank Shaw, a food writer who was twice nominated for a James Beard Foundation award has a few words of advice in his latest book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook” (Rodale, 2011)

“…..even a cow elk averages 500 pounds, one will feed a family for a year. Bull elk are one of the most impressive deer species in the world and can top 1,000 pounds. Be prepared to hike for an elk, however, as they spend a lot of time on mountainsides in open pine forest at high elevations. If you want to bag an elk, you need to be fit-especially for the trip home, where you’ll be packing out several hundred pounds of meat.”

Most of us have never done anything other than bargain hunting and would blanche at the thought of shooting Bambi. “For most people, foraging for wild plants poses no moral problem,” Shaw explains in his chapter, “Why Hunt?”
“Hunting, however, is another story. Let’s face it: if you are not a hunter, and you did not grow up around hunters, the pursuit can be alien. The hunting world is largely male, rural, agrarian, white and conservative….”

“I find I’m losing my taste for beef these days. It seems so fatty, so coarse. Wild meat is leaner, denser and more flavorful than almost any domestic meat. This means you need less to feel full.”

the makings for elk stew

Like Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson, Shaw’s respect for the whole animal is paramount, as he explains how he learned to cook “the fifth quarter” of the animal, the offal, not wanting anything to go to waste. “Anyone can sear a tenderloin. You become a serious cook when you can pull off elk shank osso buco or braised wild turkey legs”
“But hunting is more than just a pursuit of free-range meat. Hunting has given us a sense of self-sufficiency, a sense of honesty, and a clear-eyed understanding of exactly where our meat comes from. No factory farms, no hormones, antibiotics, and, arguably, no cruelty. Every animal we kill had been living the life God intended until that one fateful day…”

fresh elk tartare with olives and crostini

Certainly something to consider. And of course if you decide to buy your elk from a reputable supplier you can skip the trek to the mountainside.

Here is a recipe for Elk Osso Buco from Thom Van Eeghen who raises elk at his ranch outside of Ottawa. To learn more about elk, how they are raised, cooking tips and more you should check out his very good website.

Rocky Mountain Elk Osso Bucco


2-4 elk shanks (depending on size),
crosscut 1 ½ – 2″ thick
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp flour
¼ cup Canola oil
1 diced medium onion
1 diced large carrot
2 diced pieces of celery
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig rosemary
3 crushed juniper berries
1 orange – juice and zest
1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
1 litre game stock (or veal stock if game not available)


  1. Pat the shanks dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Cover in flour and shake off the excess.
  2. In a large skillet, sear the shanks in hot oil to form a crust and set aside. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté until golden.
  3. Add the seared shanks, tomato paste, rosemary, juniper berries and orange zest. Deglaze with the Cabernet Sauvignon and reduce by half. Add the orange juice and stock.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, and cook covered for 2-3 hours. Allow the shanks to cool in the sauce, remove and strain the sauce, and reserve for service.
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