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Posted on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 10 a.m.

Caribou Tenderloin has unique Arctic flavor, toothsome texture

By Peggy Lampman


Caribou Tenderloin

Peggy Lampman | Contributor


My Holiday Cookbook may be of assistance in your celebration strategies. Strapped for time? Check out the well-tested Super-Simple section.

I hesitate writing a recipe that would require a trip to the Arctic Circle to purchase (or hunt down) the main ingredient, but here you have it. Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if Bob Sparrow (Sparrow Meats in Kerrytown) could get you a caribou tenderloin if you wanted one.

Our friend, Jack, went hunting with friends on the Arctic Circle for caribou in October. It's too late for outsiders to go caribou hunting now, as it's become so cold the hunting is left to the locals and native tribes in this frigid northwestern Arctic region.


The spice blend is a phenomenal rub for wild game.

Jack and his cronies bagged a caribou and he brought back a tenderloin for me to mess around with — a first for me, but I've always enjoyed wild game and a culinay challenge. Jack tells me that the natives like to leave the fat on the meat, which is some of the most flavorful in the world. Most of caribou killed in the region are taken by locals, not sport hunters, and caribou is sustenance for the natives.

I could only find two recipes for caribou online (!), one of which was a very complicated recipe from Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah, that incorporates spicy gingerbread, boniato squash puree, and a cranberry-port wine jus. The only element of his recipe I adapted was the rub used, which was a perfect marriage of flavor with the caribou.

We relished the flavor of the meat, which was mild and tasted of lichens and moss, the  Arctic fauna on which the animals grazed. The meat was "toothsome," like grass fed, lean cuts of beef. The next time I'm lucky enough to have this meat, I'll tenderize it by cutting them into individual steaks and marinating 12-24 hours before cooking. After that, I'll use the same recipe below — it was marvelous.


This was meat from the second caribou catch of the hunt. The men butchered the first animal caught by a stream, bundled it up, then returned to the tents to sleep. The next morning the tarp was gone and the meat was stolen from the game bags. The thief was so confident the men wouldn't come after him, he didn't cover his tracks, which were the footprints of a large grizzly — much larger than Jack's size 13 boot (pictured).

Says Jack...."We thought we were at the top of the food chain until the bear came along."

Excellent served with Balsamic Red Cabbage. For additional photographs from the hunt and cooking process, click here. 

Yield: 4-6 servings
Refrigeration Time: 6-24 hours
Active Time: 35 minutes
Roast Time: 20-30 minutes


2 teaspoons cardamon seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay dried leaves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 - 3 pound caribou loin
3 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 stick (1/8 pound) unsalted butter
12 or more simmered and peeled white pearl onions


1. In an herb or coffee bean grinder, grind cardamon, coriander, juniper, garlic powder, black peppercorns, bay leafs, and brown sugar.

2. Season both sides of caribou loin with kosher salt. Rub ground herbs over both sides of loin and rub over caribou.

3. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24. Let come to room temperature before cooking.

4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

5. In a cast iron skillet or heavy bottom fry pan, heat grape seed oil to high heat. Sear caribou on both sides, at least 5 minutes per side without jiggling pan, or until golden brown on both sides. Remove and place on foil-line baking sheet or in a roasting pan on middle rack of oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees, and cook 20-30 minutes depending on thickness of fillet. (Caribou is best served rare until an internal thermometer registers 120-130 degrees.)

6. Deglaze cooking skillet with wine and stock. Reduce a couple of minutes over high heat, scraping sides of pan with a whisk, reduce heat to low and stir in butter and onions. When caribou is cooked, with a very sharp knife, cut into slices against the grain, and stir into sauce to coat both sides of caribou. Serve.

Peggy Lampman is a real-time food writer and photographer posting daily feeds on her website and in the Food & Grocery section of You may also e-mail her at



Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 1:10 a.m.

Nothing says "locavore" quite like caribou from the Arctic Circle.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Wow, a reindeer recipe, just in time for Christmas! Bob Sparrow might not be able to get North American caribou, but in Scandinavia and Russia there are semi-domesticated reindeer herds that are the same species... As recently as the early 1900's there were still woodland caribou in the U.P. They were wiped out by hunting and habitat destruction, and now they rarely get to the northern shore of Lake Superior. As the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age, caribou lived in the conifer forests that covered Michigan. There are caribou remains from Macomb and Livingston counties. By the time Europeans got here, were still in the U.P. but gone from the southern L.P. Radlib2, at the level of the whole species, caribou aka reindeer aka Rangifer tarandus, are not endangered. However, this widespread species (all across northern North American and Eurasia) has evolved into subgroups that are adapted to very different habitats. There are woodland populations, tundra populations that migrate in huge herds, and mountain populations that migrate too, following different routes and in smaller groups. A number of these subgroups are threatened by over-hunting in Russia, by logging in Ontario, by oil drilling and industrial development in Alaska. Also by climate change, directly as the habitats they've adapted to change, and indirectly because warming allows the northern expansion of white-tailed deer, and the deer carry a parasitic worm that is lethal to moose and caribou.

Peggy Lampman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

Thanks, Epanger, for the insightful information; in effect, the information Jack gave me on our visit. These animals sustain the native population through the winter. But I understand Radlib on a certain level - even though the low meat prices are tempting, I do everything to avoid patronizing factory farms.

Jeff Renner

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5:31 p.m.

Sounds delicious, but I think that the "grisly" that stole the carcass was really a grizzly. ;-)

Peggy Lampman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

oops! not even a grisly bear? thanks for the catch, Jeff!

Stephen Landes

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

My reading of endangered species (specifically Canadian lists) shows that woodland caribou, a sub-species, is endangered, but the other sub-species are not.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

Wrong! They're in mortal danger due to climate change. True they are not officially listed, this doesn't mean we should trumpet their consumption. People are so cruel and greedy.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5:13 p.m. Note the range for this sub-species is Idaho and Washington in the US and parts of Canada.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 5 p.m.

Get with the times, caribou are endangered! This is a contemptible article; it has no right being published. You want to eat them why? Because they taste good? How shortsighted and pathetic!


Tue, Nov 6, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

Killing for pleasure...what's there not to hate about that?

Rick Taylor

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

Endangered Caribou??? It is a free country to post your opinions but you reduce your credibility when you post things like endangered and the like. You don't have to like it but don't make things up out of thin air either. Just say you hate hunting and be done with it.

Rick Taylor

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

Hi Peggy! I first tried caribou meat about 15 years ago while at a friends house. I loved the taste so much that I've been on two different caribou hunts in northern Quebec. The meat is profoundly delicious and isn't gamey at all. I loooove caribou! Rick Taylor

Rick Taylor

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

Radlib2, you just haven't lived until you eat dove breasts marinated in italian dressing with a slice of green pepper wrapped in bacon on the grill. Honest to God, absolutely delicious. I just wanted you to know this since you brought up carrier pigeons. Also, caribou are about as endangered as whitetail deer.


Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

So it tastes good, that's your justification? Apparently so were carrier pigeons.

Peggy Lampman

Mon, Nov 5, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

It really is wonderful and agreed on all counts! Thanks for the info.