La Salle Mountain’s late antlerless elk season ended on the last day of January. I didn’t pull a permit this time, but I had some lucky family members. Or maybe it was an unlucky draw? With the cold winter temperatures and unusual snow activity in the area, hunting was definitely tough.
While the fresh dust on the ground shows a map of where the elk traveled during the night, it also causes the herd to move to new places, some of which are difficult to reach when you have good snow cover. Sometimes the snow will push elk down to low valleys, which can be beneficial, but other times, which seems to be the case with this seasonal hunt, it pushes them up to the high southern slopes of La Sals. It’s disappointing to sit down and watch the moose lazily graze open vegetation and bask in the winter sun with binoculars. They know they are untouchable and they want you to know it too.
But I also feel lucky. Although I want to get an animal, I am also glad that hunting introduces me to the world of animals. I love learning about their behavior, survival instincts and tactics, family dynamics, migration patterns, eating habits, basically everything! It’s an honor to just be an observer and I don’t take it for granted. So while my family members didn’t harvest animals and it was initially perhaps an unlucky permit draw, I guess it’s a good reminder that they’re all lucky because you’re out there with the elk. Although it involved a lot of looking through binoculars, it’s an opportunity that should never be taken for granted.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who pulls a permit and harvests an animal, here’s a new twist on elk steak. This recipe takes a coffee-cocoa-crusted elk medallion, drizzles it with a rich, robust glaze, and tops the entire steak with crispy buttermilk and onion patties.
Elk with coffee bark
Ingredients for Fried Onions
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 cups of buttermilk
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- ½ tablespoon cayenne
- Black pepper to taste
- 3 cups oil for frying (vegetable, avocado, canola)
Ingredients for Stout Sauce
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 12oz stout beer
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 1 tablespoon of molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Ingredients for Coffee Crusted Steaks
- 4 elk steaks, about 2 inches thick each
- 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 ounces of ground coffee
- 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 2-3 tablespoons of fresh sage, ground
1. Prepare the fried onions: Finely chop the onion. If you can use a mandolin to get a thin slice, that’s easiest, but you can just thinly slice with a sharp knife.
2. Be sure to separate the onion slices and submerge them completely in buttermilk. Let it sit for at least an hour.
3. In a large ceramic Dutch oven or deep fryer, heat three cups of high-temperature frying oil, such as avocado, canola, or vegetable, to 375 degrees.
4. In a shallow bowl, mix together a cup of flour, a tablespoon of salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and ½ tablespoon of cayenne.
5. Shake excess buttermilk from the onion strands and cover completely with flour mixture. Excess flour is removed from the onion strands and immediately added to the heated oil. Work in small batches to prevent the oil temperature from dropping.
6. Fry the onion strips for one to two minutes until the onion turns golden brown. Keep onions separate from each other for optimal crispiness.
7. Remove the batch of onions from the oil and place them on paper towels to drain some of the oil. Repeat with the remaining onion.
8. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add two tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, add a finely diced medium shallot. Cook for five minutes until the shallots are soft.
9. Add a bottle of stout beer, two tablespoons of honey, one tablespoon of molasses and one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the liquid by half, which should take fifteen to twenty minutes.
10. Cut the back of your venison into two-inch-thick steaks. Let the steaks sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes before cooking.
11. While the steaks are coming to room temperature, prepare the coffee coating. In a spice blender or coffee grinder, grind one ounce of dried porcini mushrooms.
12. Add the ground mushrooms to a bowl along with 2 ounces of ground coffee, one tablespoon of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, one tablespoon of salt, and dried oregano. Mix everything together.
13. Coat the game steaks in the coffee and mushroom mixture.
14. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. After the pan is hot, about two minutes, add the steaks to the hot pan.
15. For a medium-rare steak, cook the steak for six to seven minutes per side to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
16. Let the steaks rest for five minutes before serving. To plate, place a generous helping of fried onions on top of the steak with coffee and mushrooms. Drizzle with stout sauce and top with minced fresh sage.
Lindsey Bartosh, an eighth generation Moabite girl, enjoys hiking, hunting, fishing, cooking, writing, photography and working on her website www.huntingandcooking.com.