Forbes - January 8, 2015
By: Hunter Atkins
Meat lovers, make it your New Year's resolution to try antelope this year. A lean red meat calorically similar to chicken breast, Nilgai antelope is a more healthful and flavorful alternative to the standard boeuf du jour. And the best place in America to get it is from the Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, Texas.
"There's probably more Omega-3 in that meat than a piece of salmon because it is truly completely grass fed or brush fed meat," says chef Dean Fearing of The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas. "They’re not eating grain out there. They are the wild antelopes of South Texas."
The gaminess of wild animals like antelope comes from the fat, but anyone averse to that flavor will find Broken Arrow Ranch meats more palatable. The dry and warm brushes of Texas produce leaner and milder-tasting antelope compared with the harsher wintery areas farther north that force these animals to store more fat. Texas antelopes are also tenderer because they do not face the same predatory threats on the ranch.
In 1983, ranch founder Mike Hughes began purveying wild game as a personal passion. Now, the Broken Arrow Ranch relies on a network of more than 100 different ranches throughout central and south Texas to harvest animals from about 1 million combined acres.
The Broken Arrow Ranch is unique for how it procures, dresses and ages its game. It was the first ranch to ever receive government certification for a mobile processing facility, a trailer outfitted with slaughtering and butchering equipment. Skilled sharpshooters kill the game instantaneously to prevent the adrenaline rush that typically toughens meat. Handlers then immediately dress and harvest the meat inside the trailer. The meat is then cooled down quickly, dry-aged for five days and then wet-aged to develop flavor for 20-28 days. Then the ranch ships its high-quality meat worldwide. In addition to antelope, the ranch offers wild boar, lamb, sausages and quail.
Furthermore, the Broken Arrow ranch harvests its game as means of population control. "These exotic deer and antelope were introduced to this area in the 1930s and since then they've just thrived," Hughes explains of the Texas tradition. By the 80s, the ranch's business model changed everything. "These are wild animals and to try to trap them and transport them induces so much stress into their body that it ruins the meat. Instead of taking the animals to the plant, we wanted to take the plant to the animals."
Restaurants deplete the ranch's inventory in the fall and winter, when serving venison is most popular, but Hughes expects to restock by the end of January, when customers can purchase an array of Antelope cuts directly the ranch website.
Fearing grew up in Kentucky and when he began his career in Texas the Broken Arrow Ranch helped him endear his cuisine to locals. His antelope steak, which he says tastes like "a heartier strip steak," dressed with a smokey paprika vinaigrette has been one of his best sellers for years.
"Cooking it medium-rare over a grill is almost a must," he says. "That’s where that whole flavor of Texas comes in. I also think that glazing it with a type of sweetener is really good. Brushing it with molasses, a barbecue sauce, sorghum, maple, enhances the game meat." He also says cooks can "French it up" with a red wine sauce and some shaved truffles.
Hughes prefers to do things low and slow with a braised antelope osso buco, which is denser and more flavorful than the traditional veal dish.
Humble enough to eat rare off the grill, exotic enough to meet fine-dining standards, healthful enough to keep your cardiologist happy, any way you cut it, antelope is in this year.