If I were to announce to the world that I had just poached an elk, I would not be surprised if someone from the department of conservation came knocking at my door. Poaching wild game has to refer to illegally hunting wild animals, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought until I tried the poached elk at Blackbird one night that was poached in duck fat of all things.
I’ve poached eggs for Eggs Benedict. I’ve poached salmon in wine or stock. It wasn’t until I saw a friend poach steaks in butter that I became curious.
The best preparation for a steak is medium rare with a nicely charred crust. The challenge with game meat (elk, venison/deer) is that there is very little fat to keep the meat moist and tender while cooking. Overcook it and it becomes tough, chewy, and unpleasant. Poaching game meat is one way of keeping the meat tender.
How is it done? I asked my friend and his response was: sous vide. That is a little gadget that allows one to precisely maintain the poaching liquid temperature. I don’t have one of those. I improvised by vacuum sealing the meat with patties of butter, and then immersing the bag in a pan of water that I monitored with an instant read thermometer. I tested the process out on a boneless ribeye steak, which I held at 130 degrees for about 35 minutes. After poaching, I fired up my cast iron skillet and seared both sides to give some color. It tasted great.
With the elk, I had about a 3 lb. section of the backstrap, which is akin, I believe, to the ribeye on a cow. I poached it in a similar way, but probably could have cooked it longer than the 35 minutes that I did because it did not appear to be cooked enough. I had to cook the steaks I sliced a little longer. Did it taste as good as Blackbird’s? No, but maybe with a more practice I think I can get it right.