I have heard many times that people dislike the “gamey” taste of elk or deer. I will admit I found deer and elk to be “gamey” when I first started working with, but as I have eaten it more that taste is somehow gone. I actually no longer care much for beef because it just doesn’t taste “right” anymore. It is a hard idea to express in words, but I just know there is almost a fear of cooking with wild game because people think it tastes funny. I think this recipe can help change anyone’s mind about cooking with wild game.
When I first started really adding wild game into my diet, it was mostly in the form of steaks. I am a big fan of a simple meal of deer tenderloin steaks and eggs, which has been a favorite of mine since I was a little kid. I also really like the thicker cut back strap steaks, especially when they are prepared in a filet mignon fashion. When I made the horseradish crusted elk tenderloin, I started to really wonder what other flavors would enhance wild game. And then I really started thinking outside the box and trying to prepare meals that tested my use of wild game. I think this is easy to do when working with turkey or other birds, because birds seem less foreign and somehow less scary on the recipe experiment scale. You can go to a restaurant and find various preparations of birds, like quail or duck, but if you find elk or deer on the menu, it is typically just a steak.
When brainstorming about some alternative use ideas, I found there are lots of traditional meals one can think up and just substitute elk or deer for the beef. For example, a pot roast would be great with elk or deer, or a French dip sandwich (which now that I just typed that I have realized I better make a French dip with deer, because that sounds delicious!) would work wonderfully. I wanted something a little more daring this time around. I mean, it was a Friday night, I had a whole weekend of nothing planned, and so I figured something new on the dinner menu was a good start to a potentially lazy weekend. And then it hit, nothing speaks Friday night more than PIZZA! So, the real question became: “How do I use wild game on pizza?” That sounds awful, even saying it now.
So, how do you use wild game in pizza? This recipe is the answer to that question, and a very mouthwatering answer at that. This pizza is a grilled flatbread elk steak salad pizza. Or something close to that. I haven’t thought up a good name yet, but I think the general idea is it is a very fresh tasting pizza, with greens and tomatoes, that is topped with elk steak.
Step one to this recipe is making the pizza. You could go to the grocery store and buy premade dough. I have done that before, and it is a great substitution for making your own dough. I have heard you can also go to pizzeria’s and buy just the dough from many of them, but I live in a pretty small town and we don’t have many pizzerias. Since it was a Friday night, I decided I had the time to make my own dough. Plus, I just bought a new stand mixer and I find any excuse to use it. Pizza dough in the stand mixer is life changing, as far as making pizza dough goes. I have mixed and kneaded by hand many a pizza dough, and it never comes out quite right. It ALWAYS turns out right in the stand mixer!
So, to start you want to activate your yeast. In a medium sized bowl add one and a half teaspoons of the dry yeast, two teaspoons white sugar, and 3/4 cup of warm water. Give everything a quick whisk and then let your yeast go to work foaming up. You want to make sure the water is warm, I let my tap run for a few minutes on hot, and that you mix the sugar in until it dissolves. Yeast eats sugar, and this helps with the activation process. It should take about ten minutes for the yeast to foam.
I made pizza a few weeks ago, and the recipe I used did not call for allowing the yeast to sit in the warm water and sugar mixture for ten minutes before mixing it together with the flour. I think that either way works, but I decided to let the yeast foam this time because I wanted to insure my flatbread was somewhat fluffy and light.
Once the yeast has foamed up, it is time to add the flour. In the bowl of the stand mixer, or a medium sized bowl if you are doing things the old-fashioned way (by hand), add two cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt. You could also mix things up a bit by adding a cup of white flour and a cup of wheat flour. Incorporate your salt into the flour real quick and then create a small well for your yeast mixture. Drop in your yeast mixture and a tablespoon of olive oil, attach your dough hook (or prepare your hands for some mixing!), switch your stand mixer to medium, and watch the magic happen (or make the magic happen by hand). Keep the mixer working until the dough forms into a nice, solid ball. If it seems too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time. If it seems to dry, you can add either a bit more olive oil or water. Pizza dough should feel pretty substantial and shouldn’t easily pull apart. It should have some elasticity to it, but it shouldn’t feel real heavy, crumbly, or tough.
After the dough has come together, which takes about five minutes, it will need some time to rise. Coat a bowl with a bit of olive oil, or as I did you can just coat the mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for about an hour in a warm spot. I put mine by the stove because it is usually preheating and therefore warm. The dough should about double in size during this time.
While the dough is rising, start caramelizing the onions. I love caramelized onions! They are so sweet and flavorful and really can change how one views the onion. For this recipe, I used one large onion, but you can make a couple of onions at one time and save them for salads or soups. I roughly cut the onion and then added it to a pan with two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of melted butter. The trick to caramelizing onions is LOW and SLOW! This is not a quick process, as it takes about 45 minutes, and if you have the heat too high you will just end up with dried-out, not so fabulous, possibly burnt onions. Keep an eye on things here! I put the heat to medium and spread the onions out in a thin layer in the pan. Every few minutes, give everybody a stir and make sure things aren’t getting too dried out. If the onions are just frying, turn the heat down and drop a little more oil in the pan. After about ten minutes, sprinkle the pan with salt. You could also a teaspoon of sugar. This will only help with the caramelizing process. So, that is really all there is to making caramelized onions. You just keep slowly stirring and watching that things are not burning for about 30 to 45 minutes. At the end, when the onions are soft and brown, you can drop in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar or red wine to deglaze the flavor for the bottom of the pan, but you don’t have to do this step. Caramelized onions are great because they are very simple, and really all you need is some oil, a pan, and the onion. Everything else is just gravy after that!
Before finishing up the pizza dough, take a minute and prepare the elk meat. Let the meat rise to room temperature, this will help with the cooking process, and this should take about thirty minutes. I set mine out on the cutting board and season the one side with Montreal Steak Seasoning. I love that stuff because you can put it on virtually anything. I have had it on chicken, and it is great!
For the flatbread pizza, I wanted to use a steak that was tender and very lean. Chewing through fat and gristle on something like a pizza does not make for an appetizing meal. So, as you can imagine, this elk was harvested in early November, and we have gone through all the top choice cuts, such as the back strap and tenderloin. The cut I used for this is one that I consider one the best kept secrets on the elk. The cut has gained popularity in recent years at the grocery store as a flat iron steak, but I find they seem to be generous with their naming, as the steaks sold don’t always match the “Infraspinatus” muscle I have grown accustomed to butchering at home. Some research even puts this as the second most tender cut. It was a charm for this pizza (come back this fall when I document how to dry age your wild game).
So, at this point in the game, the dough is rising and the onions are caramelizing. The meat has been set out and seasoned. The next steps can really be done in any order, but I try to time myself so that everything comes out hot at roughly the same time. The next item needing prepared is the balsamic reduction. Balsamic vinegar, to me, is very tart and salty tasting straight out of the bottle. I remember the first time I reduced balsamic was for the dressing over a strawberry and spinach salad. I thought the idea sounded awful The sweet, fresh taste of strawberries and the almost bitter taste of vinegar seemed like a bad combination to me. However, once reduced, balsamic vinegar takes on a very rich, sweet flavor. It is an amazing transformation, and it pairs great with the savory taste of this flatbread pizza. So, in order to reduce the vinegar, simply pour about a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the vinegar to a boil, and then drop it to a nice simmer. Allow it to simmer, while stirring occasionally, until the vinegar is reduced by half and has a glossy look to it. The time varies, but it seems to me that it usually takes about ten minutes. A warning though: keep an eye on the vinegar because it can reduce quickly and then it will burn. Burnt vinegar bad! Reduced vinegar good!
Once your dough has doubled in size, it is time to grill it. When you remove the plastic wrap from the top of your bowl, your dough will be fluffy and light. Give it a punch! Sprinkle a handful of flour on your work station, and knead the dough for a few minutes. I broke my dough into two pieces, but you could also keep the pizza in one large piece. Roll the dough out to your desired thickness, mine was probably about a quarter of an inch. Now, you could top the pizza and then throw it in the oven, which should be preheated at this point to 400 degrees. Or you could try a new adventure like I did: grilling the flatbread! I was really scared to try grilling pizza dough. It sounded like a crazy idea, and I kind of figured the dough would just fall through the grill grates. I watched a Bobby Flay video on line about five times before I built up the nerves to try and grill the dough. It worked amazing! The flatbread came out light and a bit chewy on the inside but had a beautiful crust on the outside. All I did was brush the dough with a bit of olive oil and dump it onto a grill that was preheated to medium high heat. I let the first side cook until the dough started to bubble and then flipped it for about another minute on the second side. It was so easy and the flatbread even looked beautiful!
Once the dough was cooked, I covered it with a layer of Monterey cheese and tossed it in the oven (preheated to 400!) for about eight minutes, or until the cheese was melted. At this time, I preheated a pan and dropped my steak in. When overcooked, elk tends to get very chewy and a bit tough. It also develops a bit of a gamey taste. So, I cooked this steak until it was medium rare to medium. This cut was roughly two inches thick, so I gave the steak about four minutes per side. Afterwards, I loosely tented the meat with foil and let it rest on the cutting board for about five minutes. I then thinly sliced the steak.
Once the cheese has melted on the flatbread and the steak has rested, you are ready to start assembling the pizza. Start with about a cup to two cups of fresh arugula. Arugula is a Mediterranean green that has grown in popularity over the last few years. It has a somewhat peppery and spicy taste, and is a great alternative to lettuce or spinach. I also dropped on a cup of sliced cherry tomatoes. You could use any diced tomato, but I used the cherry ones because they tend to be a bit less juicy, and therefore don’t create a tomato juice lake on your pizza. Next, add your caramelized onions and steak slices. Finish the pizza off with a half a cup of crumbled feta goat cheese and drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar.
I paired this dinner with a chilled glass of pinot grigio. The salad is very fresh tasting, and definitely reminds me of summer afternoons and fresh garden ingredients, but it also has a hearty bite from the steak and goat cheese. It is topped of with the sweet hints from the cherry tomatoes, reduced vinegar, and the flatbread. The pinot grigio is a great wine to pair with this meal because it has a very crisp taste that accents the freshness of the dish. It also doesn’t fight with the hints of sweetness. This really is a great meal to try if you are looking for a different twist on using wild game. Enjoy and Happy Hunting!