Faks on Yaks
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When my favourite bison producer closed up shop and discontinued retail sales, I was stymied. Since beef is not an option for me (and is not for many others, too), where was I to get my red meat fix?!
The bison retailer that replaced them at the farmers’ market had much higher prices, and I just couldn’t see our grocery budget accommodating the increase. Elk meat is another delicious and nutritious alternative to beef, but it is hard to find in Alberta and also carries a hefty price tag ($14/lb at Calgary Co-op!!!) So what’s a girl to do?
The answer came to me as I wandered the aisles of Community Natural Foods one day when I was there to restock my guilty addiction to bacon. While perusing the frozen section, I spied my favourite sign! The bright pink paper proudly and loudly proclaimed a “New Product” was contained within! What was this mystery product? Why, it was my new favourite source of iron, yak meat!
Of course I was familiar with yaks from my trips to the zoo, but I had never heard of them being farmed for meat, at least not in Canada. There are only about 1,000 yak in Canada, which is unfortunate given their supreme aptitude for thriving in cold climates. They are big, beautiful, docile creatures that possess a presence and grace all their own.
Yak are naturally grass fed, making them an excellent source of good quality fats. Because they hail from the Tibetan mountains, they are made for cold-weather climates where food can be hard to come by. As a result, yak are very efficient animals, requiring only one third of the resources of cattle. Now there’s some green energy for you! And if that weren’t enough, yaks give back while still on the hoof. The fibres of their coat have a variety of markets, from the cashmere-like down to the coarse guard hairs used for tents and ropes. In their native Tibet, yak are considered primarily dairy animals, and yak butter tea was the original bulletproof beverage!
From a nutritional standpoint, yak meat is an excellent choice. It is naturally a very lean meat, with roughly one third the fat content of beef, as a result of the fat layering between the skin and the muscle for insulation purposes, rather than marbled throughout like beef. Because yak are naturally grass fed, what fat there is, is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, our anti inflammatory friend. A 2011 nutritional review found that yak meat contained a ratio of 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3, which falls well within the 4:1 ratio recommended. When it comes to micronutrients, yak meat packs a punch. It is high in iron and is very dense with a host of other vitamins and minerals!
While yak is lean, it is anything but dry. Yak meat has a higher moisture content than beef which results in the meat being deliciously juicy! It has a delicate, almost-sweet flavour with no gaminess at all and could readily pass for excellent quality beef. Because it is so lean and to preserve the wonderful flavour, it is important to keep from over-cooking yak meat. It cooks very fast!
In honour of my new-found nutritious find, let me share a favourite yak recipe that has been a hit in our house this grilling season! This recipe also adapts well to meatballs.
- 1 pound ground yak meat
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 4-6 large lettuce leaves (Buttercrunch or Iceberg type works best) and any other desired burger toppings
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix by hand until seasonings are well distributed through the meat, but be careful not to over-mix as this can make the meat a little tough.
- Shape into patties. This recipe should yield 4-6 good-sized patties.
- Grill at 425F for no more than five minutes per side. If you live at lower elevations, you may want to increase the temperature to 450F and decrease the cooking time. For a well done patty, move to the warming rack of the BBQ for a couple of minutes until there is no pink left inside.*
- Enjoy with avocado Mayo-no-naise wrapped in a lettuce leaf with a side of Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges (which happen to adapt very well to the BBQ) and wash it all down with some Ginger Orange Water Kefir!
*All grills are different. These are the guidelines I have used with success, but you may need to make further adjustments to suit your particular BBQ or environment.
I hope you enjoy all the (AIP) treats of summer!