I just had one of the best steaks of my life! Even better, my kids and husband agree. The steaks were so buttery soft that my 7-year-old did not need me to cut her meat for her. There were no gratuitous arguments at the dinner table with the kiddos trying to bargain their way out of cleaning their plates. And the whole meal took about fifteen minutes to prepare. This, my friends, is the holy grail of family meals – quick, delicious, and drama-free.
What was this miracle steak? Yak, my friends, yak. Grassfed, happy yak to be specific. My daughter called it “yakiness.” Like happiness but with yak. My kiddos are really into puns right now; there was also an earnest discussion of who would like yak more – Michael Yakson or Yakie Chan.
I should preface that when I first started volunteering at The Wild Ramp I was keeping a vegan kitchen – no meat, no dairy, no eggs. I had been a vegetarian a couple of lifetimes ago (in my late teens/early 20s) and the transition to veganism seemed like a move forward in my search to feed my family healthily. My erstwhile vegetarianism was based on the feedlots and egg “farms” that I witnessed while living in rural Washington State. I didn’t mind eating animals; however, I was horrified by the living conditions of the animals I witnessed there. I chose to step out of the feedlot food chain rather than know I was eating animals that led horrific, sickly lives.
I started volunteering at The Wild Ramp in August 2012, just after it opened. I began to get to know the producers that came in regularly during my Tuesday morning shift, Martin of Four Seasons Farm, Barney of Twin Maples, and Stephanie of Mil-Ton Farms. Through our talks, visiting farms, and reading about their farming practices (Stephanie has a great blog that documents her family’s farming life) I realized that I could eat animal products again. At least I could eat animal products from farmers I know and trust. I started with eggs and cheese and quickly moved into ground beef and sausage. I became mildly obsessed with the Italian sausage from Rolling R. It took a little longer to get into cooking actual cuts of meat and whole chickens but I love poring over cookbooks to learn more about the business of cooking meat. I’ve even tried more exotic cuts like beef tongue.
Enough back story, let’s get back to the yak. This yak was raised just 66 miles away in Otway, Ohio at Koehler’s Heritage Farms. Garrett and Leslie Koehler are focusing on
heritage breeds and heirloom vegetables. They are also marrying old-world sustainable practices with newer agricultural technology. I used the ground yak a couple of months ago and defaulted to when I was just getting back into eating meat and smothered the yak in salsa, onions, and garlic. The dish was good, similar in taste to beef or bison – but the yak was certainly not the star of my dish – and that was because I covered it up so much. This time I wanted to really taste and see the yak itself so I chose top loin steaks.
These delicate steaks were approximately 4 oz. each. Small is not the first thing that I think of when choosing yak meat but I loved the duality of an enormous animal being divided into such delicate portions. After reading some online articles about preparing yak I realized that yak meat is, in fact delicate. It does not do well with high heat and can dry out quickly due to its low fat content. Yak is best served rare. I have developed an inordinate love of rare red meat so this seemed like a good match. I decided to go very simple – yak steak with minimal seasoning and yellow squash (from Killer Bee Honey/Goodwater Farm) sautéed in coconut oil with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
I started the yellow squash first and then moved to the yak as the squash cooked. I decided to pan fry the yak on the stove over medium heat. I used bacon dripping as my cooking fat (you’ll definitely need additional fat as the yak is so lean) and added fresh garlic chives and a sprig of rosemary as the pan heated up. I placed the steaks in the pan and seasoned them with freshly ground pepper and salt from J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works. I flipped the steaks at 2 minutes, seasoned again with salt and pepper, and cooked for 2 more minutes. I flipped again and heated for another minute. I pulled the steaks from the heat and let them rest as I pulled my plates and cutlery together. I plated the squash and then the steaks. I added a dab of grassfed butter to each steak and served.
The positive response was immediate. My first bite was so juicy and tender. The kids quickly chimed in with their enthusiastic responses. The only pitfall for me was I did not care for the fat – it as a little too chewy for my taste – but there was not much of it and I only just recently started truly enjoying the fat on my beef steaks. In a few months I may love it as well. Our roommate John loved the meat and the fat.
I spent approximately $31 on this meal for a family of four – definitely more than our usual weekday meal but much less than dining at a sit-down restaurant. The yak was $29, the yellow squash was $1, and the coconut oil and seasonings were negligible. Will we eat more yak in the future? Definitely! Grassfed red meat is a nutritional powerhouse and the more variety in your diet the better. Next I think I’ll try a different cut – but I’m still going to keep it simple – this meat shines without any need to be dressed up.