Caribou, also known as Reindeer when domesticated, is a very large arctic and subarctic deer. Very little of it comes to market because hunting is strictly controlled and most of the caribou in North America are taken by the Inuit for subsistence. I was able to get a very few pounds of caribou tenderloin during the fall hunting season and have been slowly eeking it out for Chef's Tastings ever since. As you might imagine with strictly limited supply and some serious transportation costs, carbiou is very expensive, easily the most expensive meat that we have ever served here at the restaurant.
I had never had caribou before this fall so I approached it as I would any other lean game meat; I have a vast amount of experience with White Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Red Deer, Fallow Deer, and Elk, all of which I love. The first thing I did, the first thing I do with just about any new meat, is grill a small piece of it to rare. While this is a great way to eat elk and other deer, it wasn't doing it for me for caribou. The texture was very soft and it had no flavor. At the same time, I noticed that the more well done outer bits had both better texture and flavor.
The next experiment was to sear a piece of caribou tenderloin and finish it in the oven to medium. The result was good texture; I'm now convinced that caribou (the tenderloin at least) wants to be cooked more than the average deer. But the flavor was just not there. Flavorwise, it was a not very interesting piece of lean red meat. Flavor to value ratio just not there. For the astronomical sums I paid for the meat, I expected it to both sing and dance on my palate. Bummer.
Henceforth, we have been trying to impart flavor to the meat with marinades and dry rubs. Our most successful essay to date has been to marinate a piece of tenderloin overnight in gin, then rub it in a spice mix strong on juniper berries, and then sear the hell out of it in a hot pan with a final couple of minutes in the oven.
So, I have checked caribou off my list and I enjoyed it, but seriously, a good heritage pork tenderloin for $5 per pound has got it whipped any day. Live and learn.
Photo courtesy of Dean Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.