The shoulder or chuck muscles in any animal require careful cooking, and that's especially so with large game animals such as elk. An elk chuck is as tough as its beef counterpart, or more so, and it often has a strong, gamy flavor that adds an additional level of complication. Grinding the chuck is one simple solution, but it does little justice to the animal's fine flavor. Slow-cooking it instead allows its flavors to develop, and the gamy taste can be countered by good cooking technique.
Before you cook a large meal from your elk, trim away a small portion and grill or fry it. If it's not gamy, you can cook it like beef chuck with little advance preparation. If it has a strong taste, begin by cutting away any surface fat and any large seams of fat throughout the roast. This fat is often the source of any strong flavors. You can marinate the elk overnight in milk or buttermilk to moderate its flavor or in a traditional wine-based marinade for a day or two to infuse it with different flavors. Wrap the roast with a thin sheet of beef or pork fat, and place more inside the roast as you roll it to replace what you've removed. Tie it with twine to make a tight, uniform shape.
One simple way to prepare the elk chuck is through slow roasting. Season the roast liberally with salt and pepper, and tie at least a 1/4-inch sheet of fat over the top of it. Roast the elk chuck in a low oven at 250 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 8 hours, depending on its size, until it's tender enough that you can easily slide a fork in through the once-tough muscles and twist off a morsel. The fat will render out and drip away but prevents the elk from drying as it cooks. The long, slow heat gently melts the stringy connective tissues inside the chuck, turning them into rich, moist natural gelatin.
Braising the Chuck
Braising the elk chuck pot-roast fashion is another alternative. You can do this in a countertop slow cooker if your roast will fit in it; otherwise, use a casserole dish or a roasting pan. You don't need to add fat to the elk for this method, which provides gentler cooking. Season the elk and put it in your pan or slow cooker, along with onions, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries or other flavorings. Pour in enough broth or red wine to come halfway up the side of the roast. Simmer it in your slow cooker for 8 to 10 hours on low or covered in your oven for 6 to 8 hours at 325 F. The cooking liquid can be strained and thickened to use as a sauce.
Stewing the Chuck
Stewing is similar wet cooking method, which uses the same basic technique but with smaller pieces of meat. Cube the elk and brown it in a hot skillet, then arrange it in your slow cooker or casserole dish and add your broth. For a stew in the traditional style, toss the meat with flour before you brown it and add vegetables after the first hour's cooking. To make chili, brown the pieces of elk with chili powder or cumin and freshly ground chilies before you simmer it. Add the remaining seasonings and let the meat cook slowly until it's tender and fragrant.
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- Larousse Gastronomique; Prosper Montagne (Ed.)
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