Roger Andrews would not tell me what he really said when he was told that musk ox would be an ingredient in the Canadian Chef of the Year Competition. I suspect from the devilish grin he flashed that it was something quite unprintable. Yet for as long as Ive known the talented chef of Cambridge Estates in St. Johns, hes never been one to let an unusual ingredient get the better of him. Obviously, with a silver medal finish, Andrews mastered the preparation of the musk ox rib eye, as well as a musk ox charcuterie product called mipkuzola.
The prestigious national competition took place at Humber College in Toronto this summer. Humber has one of the top five culinary programs in Canada, as well as the best food preparation facilities. According to Roger Andrews, the competition for Canadian Chef of the Year took place in Humbers culinary demonstration theatre and laboratory. This is a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen featuring a stainless steel ceiling with hidden fans and vents. It also has four permanent plasma screens, allowing judges and guests to view every aspect of culinary competitions.
Competitors were told a few weeks in advance about the musk ox. That allowed time to acquire knowledge of the product and compose a recipe. Unfortunately for Andrews the only place to acquire musk ox for his practice sessions was British Columbia. Hills Foods Ltd. of Coquitlam (www.hillsfoods.com) supplied him with two musk ox rib eye steaks for the eyebrow-raising sum of $145 plus shipping.
Fortunately for me, Andrews, said, my employers Cambridge Estates offered to pick up the tab for the steaks. Otherwise it would have been a very costly practice for me personally.
Musk ox is very dark meat, almost purple in colour. It has a distinctive, somewhat game-like taste. Andrews was surprised to find that, unlike other wild meat, musk ox steaks are quite marbled or streaked with fat. In its dried, processed version called mipkuzola another required ingredient it looks very much like the Italian ham, pancetta. Mipkuzola has a very concentrated, musky flavour.
So how did Roger Andrews prepare the musk ox and take second place in the Canadian Chef of the Year Competition? First, the musk ox rib eye was slow-poached to exactly 125 F in olive oil, garlic and thyme. Next, it was cooled and quickly seared to medium rare for a nicely browned presentation. Finally, the steak was served on a flavourful braise of meat trimmings, partridgeberries and molasses. As for the mipkuzola, Andrews served it as a wrapping for some breast of pheasant with Mount Scio savoury butter.
Roger Andrews used the poaching technique for a very good reason.
The olive oil poaching works well with delicate cuts of meat as it is a gentle cooking method. It also puts the flavour of whatever you add to the oil on the meat.
Since musk ox is not readily available in Newfoundland and Labrador, Andrews suggests this method would work just as well for tender cuts of moose and caribou.
The olive oil poach would work with moose or caribou as long as its a cut that is not too tough, i.e. tenderloin, rib eye or strip.
Ever the competitor, Roger Andrews will soon be off to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for their annual seafood cooking competition.
This time hes hoping for a more commonplace ingredient like P.E.I. lobster.
Kudos go as well to Katie Paterson, an apprentice chef at Portugal Coves Atlantica. Paterson recently won the silver medal and $2,500 at the National Knorr Junior Culinary Challenge at Humber College.