Rolled & Ready

stuffed elk backstrap

Stuffed backstrap makes a stellar summertime supper.

From a hunter’s standpoint, the summer drought may seem grueling. But from a culinary perspective, it provides a convenient and uninterrupted occasion to explore diverse wild-game culinary opportunities from last season’s harvest. There is seasonality to freezer-filling, and while every hunter longs for a full freezer at the end of the season, there is an unspoken decree to start the fall with a (nearly) empty one. Thus, summer is the season of freezer cleansing.

Freezer cleansing should not come at the expense of exceptional cuisine, but quite the opposite. This is the season to impress family and friends with dishes that galvanize their support of wild game, such that when the summer ends, a smooth transition into hunting season is encouraged by all.

There are a handful of governing practices one should abide by to ensure that the fall harvest remains delectable, no matter how long it stays in the freezer.

1. If self-butchering, store entire muscle groups instead of freezing small cuts. Otherwise, ask your processing facility to do the same.

2. Remove as much air as possible from the package before freezing (vacuum bags are ideal).

3. Defrost your freezer before the season, or at least remove substantial ice build-up.

4. Open your freezer as rarely as possible to ensure consistent temperatures.

There are several benefits to storing entire muscles. First, large whole muscles retain more utility than smaller processed pieces. Simply put, you can do more with them. If you decide to cut them into smaller steaks, you can do that at the time of preparation. Additionally, whole muscles are less likely to freezer-burn than their subset counterparts, as they have less surface area exposed. Lastly, entire muscles retain the meat’s natural juices, which facilitate flavor, and thwart the chewiness.

This recipe requires a whole muscle group. While it can be accomplished using any entire muscle weighing one pound or more, I prefer to use backstrap. I store backstrap in six- to ten-inch logs, which enables me to preserve the integrity of the meat in portions fit to entertain audiences of varying sizes.

10-inch backstrap log
4 oz. goat cheese with herbs
1-2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
10-15 asparagus spears
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 Tbsp. butter
salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, coat asparagus with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of coarse salt, and freshly cracked pepper.

Sautee asparagus in a heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast iron) until cooked, but not overdone (approx. 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare the backstrap. For this, you will be unrolling the backstrap, which requires a sharp fillet knife. While holding down on the meat, make slices through the length of the backstrap 1/2 inch above the cutting board, leaving the meat hinged together (don’t slice all the way through). This is also called butterflying. Separate the meat and perform again on the thicker side until the meat is a flat rectangle 1/2-inch thick.

Mix the goat cheese with 1-2 cloves of minced garlic and 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil.

Sprinkle coarse salt on the meat.

Liberally coat the meat with goat-cheese mixture, and cover with freshly cracked pepper.

Lay the cooked asparagus across the width of the unrolled backstrap, along with two sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Hand roll the backstrap and contents as tightly as possible.

Tie off with butcher twine—use a butcher knot to secure (any tight knot will suffice). Be sure to secure the twine working from the middle of the meat toward the end to ensure a uniform shape.

Melt butter in a cast-iron pan; get searing hot.

Rotate the backstrap through the butter to sear every surface; transport to heated grill. Grill on high heat to desired doneness; add some cherry wood to the flame for added smoky flavor.

Zach Mills has hunted and prepared wild game for audiences in the Greater Yellowstone Area for 10 years and has authored several articles on wild-game utilization. He prefers his meals cooked on an open fire, his clothes ripped, and his beard untamed