Thursday, February 11, 2010

Elk meatballs - with video!

Thanks to Adam, Andy got to go hunting in December. It was his first time, and he loved it! Andy doesn't know how to shoot, but he loved helping Adam stalk the herd of elk, track down the one that was shot, and cut it up and carry it out.

I mostly eat vegetarian and when people ask me why I don't really have a simple answer. It's a combination of things - I just don't love meat and I stopped eating some kinds in high school. Maybe more importantly I don't like the way the industry works. So many resources go into the crops that are used to fatten animals, and then the waste products from the animals pollute water systems. In principle, free-range meats make more sense in regards to those two specific problems, but still, if all the world's population was eating meat, free-range or not, we'd pretty quickly convert our grasslands to desert and/or destroy our water systems. Hunting for your own meat takes the industry out of the equation, and I'm a lot more comfortable with that. In fact in many areas elk are overpopulated due to a lack of predators, so hunting elk is a good thing for the environment. I realize that I do lots of things that are unsustainable, so this is just one battle I choose to fight, at least partly because it's easy for me to do so since I love vegetarian food.

In summary, I'm totally in favor of eating what you hunt, and the elk has been pretty delicious. It's very lean and has a nice sweet taste to it that I previously haven't associated with meats. It has hints of butter, honey, and sweet herbs like thyme or basil. I guess that's what people mean when they say free range, grass-fed meat tastes better. Although, I can't really eat very much or it makes my stomach feel a little weird :)

A few notes on the recipe: I think my favorite part of cooking elk is the smells... maybe you can imagine it by watching the video below! This recipe accentuates some of those flavors I mentioned above by mixing in herbs and sauteeing the meatballs in olive oil - which works well since the elk is so lean - and the aromas are just amazing. The ratio of meatballs to pasta to sauce are a little screwy. This probably makes enough meatballs for at least 8 servings but the pasta is only enough for 4. So if you make this, you'll have some meatballs leftover for sandwiches. Or you can cook a second pound of pasta.


1.5 to 2 pounds ground elk
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. packed parsley leaves
2 T. fresh thyme
1/3 c. freshly grated parmesan
1/2 c. bread crumbs
2 handfuls Rice Krispies, slightly mashed up in your hand
2 t. salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
4 eggs
olive oil
2 jars tomato sauce (I prefer a simple tomato sauce like tomato-basil or marinara, over mushroom or pepper flavored or a spicy, etc.)
1 pound long pasta, such as linguini or sphaghetti
More freshly grated parmesan for serving.

1. Put garlic and herbs in food processor and chop till very fine (or do by hand).
2. Mix together elk, garlic and herbs, parmesan, bread crumbs, Rice Krispies, salt, pepper, and red pepper.
3. Lightly beat the eggs and then incorporate them into the mixture.
4. Form meatballs.
5. Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with olive oil. Heat over medium.
6. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs, but don't crowd the skillet or they will be hard to flip. It'll require cooking in 3 or 4 rounds.
7. Flip when the meatballs are nicely browned. Nicely brown the other side of the meatballs. The goal here isn't to cook the meatballs through, just to brown (because browning reactions are delicious), so it'll only take 2-3 minutes per side.
8. Remove the browned-on-both-sides meatballs to a plate or bowl, and add a bit more olive oil in between each batch.
9. When all the meatballs are done being browned, return them to skillet, and pour in one jar of tomato sauce. Cover, lower heat to very low, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes. This will complete the cooking of the meat, and the meat and tomato flavors will meld together.
10. Cook pasta according to directions, and heat some extra sauce from jar #2 (if it fits in your skillet feel free to just add more there. With all the meatballs, I couldn't fit enough sauce to dress my pasta to my liking.)
11. Serve with more parmesan!


  1. Is it good if I partner elk meatballs with white sauce pasta? I just want to try something different and I'm a bit curious about the taste. By the way, why you didn't use flour for making meat balls? I've seen some people use flour and egg when they cook meatballs.

  2. Hi Kristine,
    I have to admit I'm really not a meatball expert - but here's my thoughts. I think they would be good with white sauce. The elk is so lean I don't think it would be too heavy. Maybe with mushrooms and herbs too? I think it could be good but haven't tried it. The leanness of the elk was also why I didn't use flour, I was worried about them getting tough and dry without the extra fat that ground beef brings. The gluten of flour might make them tough. I thought some rice krispies might make them a little lighter. I think it worked well. The egg is definitely required in my mind, I'd be worried about them falling apart otherwise.

  3. PS let me know if you try them with white sauce and how it turned out!