local, wild caribou three ways

Hunting season is now over and done with here in the north! Throughout the summer we (the airline Jesse and I work for) chartered hunters into and out of the mountains most days of the week, bringing back Twin Otter loads of smelly hunters and sacks of wild meat. The prize for the hunters is the antlers. I mean look at those things! Did you know a caribou grows a new set of antlers every year? And that both males AND females grow them? They are, in fact, a natural air conditioner – the caribou’s warm blood rushes to the antlers to allow the body to cool down on hot, mid summer days. Fascinating.

{photo from here, a very interesting read on this unique animal}

The Caribou is really a deer, known in most parts of the world as the Reindeer. It is distinguished from other deer as the Caribou is never farmed – solely a free range, grass eating animal running wild around the Arctic and Subarctic mountains. We were lucky to see a few, with their offspring while hiking Mt Hamar in the summer.

A couple of months ago, while the hunts were in full force, I was treated to some caribou meat. In the form of a partially dessicated beast inside a sack. On my doorstep. Too heavy for me to even lug inside. And, coincidentally, Jesse was out of town for the week.

Hmph. Not the ideal situation! As stoked as I was on getting local, wild meat I was hugely daunted! I panicked, fretting around my kitchen (after I had finally lugged the 100lb sack onto the kitchen floor) like a madman. I couldn’t even get it over the edge of the deep freezer, so I knew I would be dealing to it that evening.

So I phoned my friends. Friends who have lived in the North a long time, who understand wild meat and how to best deal to it. They (bless them!) hoofed it straight round bearing carving knives, chilly bins coolers, a meat grinder and a fantastic lesson on butchering. And so for the rest of that long night I hacked away, butchering the meat and packing it into roasts, steaks, stewing meat and sirloin strips, as well as grinding it into some good quality ground meat. And now our deep freeze is full of this.

caribou butchered & packed, ready for the freezer

It was totally worth the effort. We have enjoyed a number of caribou dishes, in different ways – in spaghetti bolognese, as a Hawaiian stir fry, and marinated and grilled as beautiful, tender steaks.

ground caribou in spaghetti bolognese

Caribou Bolognese

Uh, not much to this recipe…

Use your favorite spaghetti bolognese recipe and sub in ground caribou for the beef. Because the meat is so incredibly lean, a bit of fat in the form of bacon or oil is recommended. We filled it out with some vegetables, simmered it in a homemade tomato pasta sauce and served it over wholewheat spaghetti. It was very rich and fairly tough. I used a coarse grinder to grind some of the finer parts of the meat (none of this offcut or gristle business!) so it was like eating tiny, tiny steaks. Delicious.

caribou steak

Grilled Caribou Steaks

2 caribou steaks, cut from tenderloin, 1/2″ thick
1 cup red wine
3 Tbsp oil
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
small knob grated ginger
dash hot sauce (we love Kaitaia Fire)
salt and Pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

In a bowl mix together marinade ingredients. Pour over steaks and leave to marinate for a few hours – overnight is best for tenderizing the meat, but I only had 2 hours which was fine, so just work with what you’ve got!

Drain off marinade and reserve. Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and get a pan cranking over high heat. Heat oil until it splutters when flicked with water. You will need quite a bit of oil as this meat is SO lean and can dry out on pan. Pan fry steaks about 5 minutes each side. Press the centre to determine rarity – and leave on stove a minute or two longer until desired well-done ness is reached. You can turn the marinade into a bit of a jus by heating in a pan with a little more red wine. I simply poured it over the steaks during their final minute.

We served this with a garlic yogurt, the remaining jus, and a cauliflower ‘coucous’ salad.

caribou stir fry

Hawaiian Caribou Stir Fry
Recipe from Northern Cookbook
Serves 2

1 1/2 lb Caribou sirloin steak
1 Tbsp brown Sugar
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1/2 clove garlic, chopped fine
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 c water
1 small tin pineapple pieces, drained, juice reserved

1 tbsp corn flour

2 tbsp olive oil
vegetables of choice (onion, capsicum, broccoli, mushrooms etc), sliced

Cut caribou steak into thin strips, make sure to cut across the grain. Make a sauce of the ginger, garlic, onion, soy sauce, water and juice from drained pineapple pieces. Pour the sauce over the meat and let stand 1 to 2 hours.

In a pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tbsp oil. Drain marinade (and reserve) off the meat. Toss meat onto hot pan and stir fry only just browned. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat remaining oil, add vegetables and stir fry until charred. Stir cornflour into marinade juices and stir well. Pour onto pan with the cooked vegetables, along with caribou strips and the reserved pineapple pieces and toss together until piping hot. Serve over steamed rice or Hokien noodles and top with lightly toasted cashews or peanuts.

3 thoughts

  1. Good to see you have joined the wild food eating!!! We are still enjoying our wild food dishes. We have had venison curry, venison backsteaks, ground venison bolagnaise, pigeon breast sandwiches (that must be the best steak sandwiches I have every tasted), rabbit stew, and trout in more ways than I can name. The freezer is still more than half full!!! Food just keeps arriving. It’s time Ian did another blog. Love, E

    • You and Ian are onto something good! We had to get on board. Would love to join you in the wild food diet when we are eventually back in NZ! We miss NZ trout… I bet your venison is very similar to this caribou. Pidgeon was delicious on pizza so imagine it makes wonderful sandwiches. Yes please update Wild and Free – have you had the wild food party yet? Miss you guys xx

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