As the calendar flips over again, forget about resolutions — it’s time to designate a meat product that will be the acknowledged culinary superstar for the remainder of 2015.
Care to guess what the “meat of the year” is for 2015?
Sorry, beef, pork and chicken.
According to the editors of Forbes magazine — and as the self-styled arbiters of “finance, industry, investing, marketing, technology, communications, science and law,” they should know — this year, the center-of-the-plate star is antelope.
The high-profile business magazine in a story this week claimed that antelope meat is “trending among meat lovers everywhere” and deserves to be named the latest food craze of 2015.
Why “Because antelope is lean, mild and tender, traits long associated with game animals eat their natural diet.
“There’s probably more omega-3 [fatty acids] in that meat than a piece of salmon,” Dean Fearing, the chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas, told Forbes. “It is truly completely grass-fed or brush-fed meat. They’re not eating grain out there.”
Although Chef Fearing is correct, the idea of eating antelope meat would drive vegetarians crazy. It’s one thing to post photos of cute baby piglets or newborn calves to trigger an emotional reaction against meat-eating. But there’s not a whole lot of glamour associated with a full-grown sow living its “natural” life wallowing around in a shallow trench out in field somewhere.
Antelope, however, are graceful animals well-suited for captivating nature videos and wildlife postcards. They’re practically the poster critters for the notion that we mustn’t eat anything with a face.
That’s why it is so interesting to realize that antelope are being harvested — as a natural, renewable resources, let’s not forget — on dozens of ranches in Texas and processed for the high-end foodservice trade. Best of all for those veggie purists who can recoil in horror when people, instead of animal predators, kill for food, the method of harvesting is as in-your-face as it gets.
Consider how one of the leading antelope ranchers, Chris Hughes, owner of the Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, Texas, about 75 miles northwest of San Antonio, handles the harvesting.
“Instead of transporting the animals to a processing plant we take the plant to the animals [with] a mobile processing facility that allows us to field-harvest animals and process them under full government inspection,” Hughes told Forbes. “Our harvest crew (shooter and skinner) and a government meat inspector quietly search for deer and antelope. Animals are harvested in the field from long-range, typically 50 to 200 yards, using a sound-suppressed rifle and a high-power Leupold scope.”
The Leupold scope, for those who know, is the preferred tactical scope for the military.
Hughes uses the field harvesting procedures to reduce stress during slaughter, a major factor in controlling meat quality. As the Forbes story noted, “A wild animal that senses a threat react with an increased flow of adrenaline, which in turn creates a rapid increase in lactic acid within the muscles. This acidic condition causes the meat to become tough, strongly flavored, and reduces the shelf life of the meat.”
Even farmed-raised deer or elk are typically herded into funnel-shaped pens, then loaded onto trailers and trucked to a packing plant. Although they’re often fairly tame, even the gentlest handling induces stress. For antelope, the field harvesting technique used in Texas ensures that the meat tends to be uniformly high quality.
One other interesting factor was pointed out in the magazine story: The climate in South Texas is warm enough that the antelope do not store as much subcutaneous fat as animals do in colder climates, which produces meat that is leaner. Also, the antelope graze on grasses, bushes, herbs, trees, berries and nuts distinctive to the Lone Star State.
The Broken Arrow Ranch’s website touts their antelope as “the only fully inspected, year-round harvesting of truly free-range wild game meat. And at prices ranging from $21 to $36 a pound, depending on the type of cut, the margins appear to be impressive.
And here’s the best part: Since it’s Texas, the ranch also sells a product called “Tenderized leg muscle cutlets, perfect for chicken-fried antelope.”
You gotta love it.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.