Spice-Cured Elk Tenderloin with Dried Cherry Sauce
(Photo: Brad Trone)

Spice-Cured Elk Tenderloin with Dried Cherry Sauce

Spice-Cured Elk Tenderloin with Dried Cherry Sauce

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If the isolation and meat shortages during the pandemic piqued your interest in hunting, you’re not alone. Last year many states saw a jump in purchases of first-time hunting licenses, according to Pew Trust, including a 9 percent rise in Maine and a whopping 67 percent increase in Michigan.

Hunters eat pretty well: Meat from elk and white-tailed deer contains more protein than beef. Venison and elk are also rich in B vitamins, iron, and conjugated linoleic acid, which studies suggest boosts brain function, improves energy and endurance, and helps manage blood sugar.

We tapped Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater, the Native co-owners of Red Mesa Cuisine in Santa Fe, to create an easy elk recipe for new hunters. “Everyone we have cooked this for says it’s the best wild-game dish they’ve tasted, and we tend to agree,” Frank says.

Whitewater says it’s traditional in Native communities to honor fresh game with an offering—in this case, branches from a piñon pine, which infuses the meat with an earthy flavor. No piñon where you are? Don’t sweat it: the recipe is still delicious without it. Whitewater likes to serve this over a creamy sweet potato mash.—Adriana Velez



Spice rub

  • 2 elk tenderloins (approximately 2 lbs total)
  • 2 tsp. whole coriander (toasted and ground)
  • 2 tsp. whole cumin seed (toasted and ground)
  • 4 tsp. anise seed (toasted and ground)
  • 3 tsp. dried thyme (finely crushed or ground)
  • 8 tsp. mild dried New Mexico red chile powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sunflower oil
  • Pinon pine branches (optional)

Dried red cherry sauce

  • ½ cup dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup dried sweet black bing cherries
  • 3 cups black cherry juice
  • ½ cup chokecherry syrup
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt


1. Prepare the meat by trimming any fat or silver skin from the tenderloin. Set aside.

2. Combine the dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix well, making sure there are no clumps. Rub about one tablespoon of sunflower oil all over the meat and then rub on the spice mixture so that it covers every surface.

3. Place the tenderloin on a sheet pan. If you’re using pine, place a branch underneath and on top of each piece of meat. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in the fridge.

4. To make the sauce, combine the dried tart and the dried sweet black cherries with the black cherry juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium to high heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until it reduces and the cherries are soft. Add the chokecherry syrup and stir. Remove about of the mixture and blend until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan, heating until the sauce thickens, and add kosher salt as needed. Set aside.

5. The next day, remove the meat from the refrigerator. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of sunflower oil over high heat until it’s hot but not smoking. Sear the tenderloin for approximately three minutes on each of the four sides, then place it on a sheet pan or roasting pan.

6. Bake the tenderloin for approximately 12 to 14 minutes for medium-rare (internal temperature of 130 degrees F) and longer for more well-done meat (140 degrees F). Remove from the oven and let rest. Slice the tenderloin and serve hot with some of the dried black cherry sauce spooned on top.

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