Elk and Vegetable Cottage Pie


I'm not what you'd consider a big meat-eater, but since we started purchasing all our meat through our favorite family-owned, all natural supplier Rocky Plains, I've been feeling a little more like a carnivore, and I like it. Not that I'm actually eating any more meat than previously (maybe even a little less), but I have experienced a greater diversity in a matter of months than in comparison with the rest of my life, perhaps with the exception of a banquet pulsing with mysteriously wondrous offerings in China.  Today, for instance, became memorable as my first time ever cooking--or eating--elk. Here in Rocky Mountain country, my associations with elk have no connection to the dinner plate: running through lacy snowflakes on a quiet trail in the national park, suddenly having a startlingly close encounter with a silently observant bull crowned with the most regal antlers; walking alongside the golf course in Estes Park in autumn, amused by the shaggy, but shedding, beasts grunting and bugling as they announce the rut season. As far as eating elk is concerned, I'd heard them described as "gamey" and tough. Then again, I'd also met people who swore by their deliciousness. Extremely lean, higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than beef, elk meat seems to boast the best attributes of  other red meat nutritionally without the same share of perceived risks, and worth a try. Looking over my recent posts (and bearing in mind some planned posts...I am truly excited about experimenting with no-meat sweet mincemeat), it seems I've been on a traditional English (alternative) cuisine kick recently, and cottage pie fits right in. That's what I decided would be my best introduction to cooking with the pound of ground elk I had. I figured if it was tough, or "gamey", I could mask and soften as needed with loads of vegetables and broth. It turned out that I didn't need to mask anything, but the fact that I could throw in lots of  any vegetables suited me perfectly. I included frozen peas, onion, mushrooms, and carrots,  but just about anything would work. For the topping, I used a mix of gold, russet, and sweet potatoes. If you're on the fence about trying elk, you should know that Dave and I both like our meat, when we eat it, [what some might call alarmingly] well-done. To me, it tastes similar to well-done, rich, lean beef. Not tough...but maybe a little chewy, only in a good way. I know that doesn't sound like the most appealing description, and so I'm wary of including it, but that's my initial thought, and first responses seem the most honest, so there you go. : )

Elk and Vegetable Cottage Pie

  • 2  teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium chopped carrots
  • 1 cup cremini or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1  pound  ground elk
  • 1/3 cup all natural tomato puree/paste
  • 1 1/2  cups  low sodium vegetable or beef broth
  • 1 twelve-ounce package frozen peas
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • approximately 3  cups  mashed potatoes (I used a 1 sweet potato, 1 russet, and 2 medium gold potatoes, mashed with some pepper and a little milk)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese, optional (I used reduced far Jack)
  • Paprika

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2.  Heat olive oil in a large  skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and carrot; sauté 5 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.  Add elk to pan, and cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a spoon.

3. Stir in tomato puree,  broth , peas and seasonings. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring regularly, until mixture begins to thicken.

3. Pour mixture into a 9X13 prepared baking dish. Spread the potato mixture evenly over the meat-vegetable mixture. Sprinkle cheese, if using, over the top. Sprinkle  paprika lightly over the cheese. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Photo credit: The World Wide Gourmet