Rocky Mountain Elk Bratwurst
Courtesy of Chef John McGannon, wildeats.com
As I write this, there are thousands of people gathering to tailgate at football games. And undoubtedly, many of them are grilling “brats.” Bratwursts are originally from Germany and have been around since the 1300s. There are many kinds of brats, which vary with the region, but most are traditionally made with pork, beef and veal. Of course, it only makes sense to make some with elk.
The key to incorporating full-flavored wild game meat into this mildly spiced sausage is to dry-age your game meat before using it in this recipe. I had the good fortune to harvest an older bull in Wyoming this fall. I hung the quarters in a walk-in refrigerator for almost three weeks. After that, the old bull was mild and tender with a fresh smell that made it perfect for a sausage like this. Don’t worry if you don’t have a walk-in. You can dry-age your meat piece by piece if necessary. (The larger the piece of meat the longer you can dry-age it.)
The most important concept to understand is that you need to remove (dry-age) the capillary blood, which helps remove the gamey flavor associated with wild meat.
Makes app. 50, 5-inch sausages
7 lbs pork shoulder
6 lbs elk shoulder or other tough cut, silver skin removed
3 lbs pork fat (cut into 1-inch cubes)
8 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp ground white pepper
4 tbsp dried marjoram
4 tsp caraway seeds
3 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
3 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp crushed red chili flakes
2-inch chunk of grated fresh ginger
7 tbsp fresh minced garlic
zest of 2 lemons or limes
1½ tbsp pink curing salt (optional)
10-12 feet of medium hog casings
3 cups ice cubes (Cubes will melt slowly as the mixture sits in the refrigerator overnight. As the cubes melt they transport all the seasonings throughout the mixture.)
Place all the ingredients in a large container. Mix very well, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight to allow the seasonings and salt to penetrate the meat and set up the proteins. This step will give you a smooth, consistent texture. If you don’t let the sausage cure, the end result will be grainy.
The next day, run the meat through a grinder—first through 1⁄4-inch holes, then through 1⁄8-inch. You can then store the sausage as bulk or put them into casings. I use medium-sized hog casings. Have a pin handy when you’re filling the casings, and prick the casings as you fill the sausage to remove any air pockets. Once you have them sectioned, hang the sausages and blow-dry them with a fan for about an hour. This dries out the casings so when you cook them they’ll be crunchy and not chewy.
To take your spices and herbs to a new level of flavor, try dry-toasting them in a skillet over medium heat for a couple of minutes or until you can start to smell their fragrances. This little trick will produce flavors you won’t believe.
Learn how to make a braised onion and beer bath garnish
to accompany your brats.
John McGannon is a RMEF life member, host of wild game cooking seminars at Elk Camp and owner of WildEats Enterprises.