If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a Wagyu Kobe steak—the priciest and arguably most prized beef on the planet—then you might not know that this intensely marbled meat has a characteristic buttery texture, complex flavor, and subtly-sweet finish. Part is nurture, and part is nature. Interestingly, the Japanese cows that yield this delicious meat were originally from rugged terrain and isolated areas. They have a genetic pre-disposition for higher percentages of Omega fatty acids, and therefore marbling. Once they’re introduced to a strictly sedentary lifestyle, you’re on your way to a rare (or medium-rare) red meat experience.
Enter my friend Scott Shultz, who shared with me a cut of muskox loin from one of his recent hunts. Among other things, Shultz is a globe-trekking adventurer, big game hunter, ATA board member, and a hunting apparel designer and marketer with more than 20 years of experience innovating outdoor apparel.
This recent Arctic hunt was no cakewalk. “Shooting an arrow that is bucking negative 45-degree air temps, flesh-biting winds, and blowing snow—and has to go all the way through a 6-inch woolen mattress and a hulking muscular frame—takes some serious punching power,” Shultz said. “For this trip I was toting my ‘serious’ set-up: A Mathews MR5 set at 80 lbs. [with] a Rage Hypodermic-tipped ACC arrow [that packed more than] 100 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy. That’s some serious muskox medicine.”
When I opened the packaged muskox loin I was amazed at its resemblance to Wagyu beef. The intense marbling is virtually identical. It leads me to believe that the high protein available in summer browse, along with a sedentary life spent statue-like huddling in a herd to survive the harsh elements in the Arctic Circle, must contribute to the marbling.
Regardless of the reason for the intense marbling, I had really high hopes for the muskox after I got a good look at it. I decided it called for something simple to showcase its flavor: A light crust of Tellicherry cracked peppercorns, Maldon sea salt, and a quick rare/medium-rare sear on a super-hot seasoned steel pan would prove perfect.
The result? Far and away the best mouthfuls of wild game I’ve ever had the privilege to experience. Hands down. Bar none.
(For a bit more on Shultz’s hunt to Ulukhaktok, please see below.)
If you’re ever lucky enough to successfully hunt these creatures—or receive the rare gift of a muskox tenderloin—here’s a great way to make it:
8-12 oz. cut of loin (remove from fridge about 30 minutes before cooking)
1 TBSP cracked peppercorns (more if you prefer)
Maldon Sea Salt
A few slices of foraged lobster mushroom, or whatever you prefer
4 oz. Cognac or light red wine
6 oz. warmed cream
Optional: Wild yellow birds foot (trefoil) flowers, and smooth brome grass, both picked from the Minnesota prairie for garnish and salad.
Step 1. Crack the peppercorns. I have a pepper grinder, but for this recipe I didn’t want coarse pepper, I wanted the Tellicherry peppercorns cracked. I used a cloth to cover them and my Gramps’ old ball-peen hammer to lightly crack them. Why Tellicherry? Because they’re larger. Bigger peppercorns lose some heat compared to their smaller relatives, but with size they gain fragrance, aroma, and complexity perfect for our meat.
Step 2. Dry off the loin with paper towels and douse generously with cracked peppercorns and Maldon sea salt.
Step 3. Heat the steel, or cast iron pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil, and then add about a tablespoon of butter. If you use only butter it will scorch at high temperatures, so I always use some olive oil, too, since it has a higher smoke point.
Step 4. Lay in the muskox and sear the first side. Because of the intense marbling and lower melting point of the fat in the tissues, this is going to go fast. Maybe three minutes for rare, 3.5-4 for medium rare.
**Step 5. ** Flip the meat and cook for three minutes on the other side. As you can see, the fat in the tissues has already melted, causing the tissue to pull up and start to curl a bit. Remove to a warmed plate and tent with aluminum foil while you prepare the pepper sauce reduction.
Step 6. Turn down the heat and allow pan to cool off some, or else the cream will curdle. Once cooled to a medium/medium high temperature, add wine or Cognac to deglaze the pan.
Step 7. Toss in a few mushrooms if you like and swirl around. Add the warmed cream slowly and whisk into the deglazed juices. Stir until thickened to desired consistency.
Step 8. Slice the meat, arrange on the plate and spoon on some pepper sauce. Serve with a few favorite sides and prepare to be amazed. I oven-roasted some carrots, Brussel sprouts, zucchini, beets, and paired them with a kale salad.
Shultz shot his trophy Muskox on an expedition that took him by snowmobile and wooden cargo sled about 100 miles north of the Inuit village of Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. He endured an onslaught of wind, driving snow, and below-freezing temperatures, and at last met his moment of truth.
Here’s his own account:
It was an amazing feeling, standing face-to-face with these hairy pre-historic looking behemoths, braving the intimidating natural conditions the way native hunters had done over the ages. I tugged back my heavy bow to full draw.
The razor-tipped arrow cut through the big bull’s long hair and thick wool, lodging just behind the shoulder. The bull wheeled away and ran. The herd was close behind. But the heavily bossed old warrior would run no more. At 25 yards he stumbled, and was dead before he hit the frozen tundra.
As I approached the huge creature, the bitter cold in my nostrils filled with its namesake musky scent. I sat there with him and, no longer tired, I admired every inch of the unique giant of the North; an arctic muskox with thick, flowing black hair nearly three feet long, his woolen “down” as thick as a mattress. He was marvelous. It was a hunt I will never forget.