Cottontail rabbit chowder, bighorn sheep BBQ sandwiches, and three different dishes of mountain lion drew in students for Jeff Olson’s wild-game cooking course. Olson is a former South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks commissioner and a staunch conversationalist with a flair for cooking on the wild side. However, according the Rapid City Journal, he never got a chance to try his hand at cougar meat before last week’s class.
Faced with a lack of mountain lion recipes in conventional cook books, Olson decided to improvise. He took inspiration from what works well with antelope and went from there. Lion meat must be thoroughly cooked to kill possible parasites and has a lean texture comparable to pork. Olson prepared three distinctly different cougar dishes for his students: grilled tenderloin wrapped in bacon and sesame, a crouton, cheese and cherry stuffed backstrap, and cubed lion steak in pineapple sweet and sour sauce.
Reactions were positive, although some students didn’t know what to make of the strange meat.
“I thought it was … good,” said Steve Mueller, a student and avid hunter. “I didn’t know what to expect, so I just came into it with an open mind. It was more like a low-fat kind of pork.”
Mueller did express interest in hunting mountain lions for food. “It would be kind of interesting to have a bite with nothing on it at all, so I could discern the original taste. It was a little like those samples at Sam’s (Club). I didn’t eat enough to really judge it as a meal.”
South Dakota’s mountain lion season ends March 31. Jeff Olson will hold another cooking class at South Dakota’s Outdoor Campus West on February 7.