Cougar, mountain lion, puma, catamount, painter — whatever you want to call it, if you get a text from a buddy who guides hunts for Felix concolor that reads, “Do you want a mtn lion backstrap?” you should answer affirmatively, and then beg for the hams, too.
When my fellow GunsAmerica writer, Riley Baxter, offered me the backstraps I got pretty excited. I hadn’t eaten mountain lion before, but I’d heard it was delicious. I took the kids and drove through a snowstorm to go pick it up. And you know what strikes you first? It’s how white the meat is.
I didn’t know what to expect so I used a small portion of the meat to do a test. As it happens, I had been fox hunting and had some fox to test, as well. I cooked both using a sous vide cooker. Set the temperature to 161 degrees F and cooked them for 4 hours without any preparation otherwise. I just needed a baseline.
It turns out that four hours at 161 degrees is too long for the fox, and the mountain lion definitely needs some tenderizing. The flavor of both was good, but the lion was a little tough. It tastes almost exactly like pork, even a similar texture.
Now I could get cooking. I made the following recipe for a dinner with my buddy and his family, and everyone, including my wife and kids, liked it and finished it off. I made it again for a pal visiting from out of state who had never had any kind of wild game, before, and he was hooked, too. (I later cooked my venison with pear sauce for him, and now he may be considering becoming a hunter himself.)
You can use the sweet and sour sauce below for all kinds of meat. Try it as a sauce for kebabs or on skewers over the fire.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
I see all these pictures of hunters hugging their mountain lions: It’s because they know how delicious they are!
You Need This Stuff
- 1 cup canned pineapple juice; I strain the juice from two cans of pineapple tidbits, and then use the tidbits in the sauce, too. You could use fresh pineapple chunks in the sauce, but you can’t use fresh pineapple juice.
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar, but you can substitute apple cider vinegar in a pinch
- 3 Tbsp ketchup (this is the secret ingredient)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 large white onion, or more, cut into bite-sized chunks
- Corn starch slurry: put 1.5 Tbsp cornstarch in a small bowl and add 2 Tbsp water and stir completely with a fork. Stir it up again before adding to the sauce.
- Optional: pineapple chunks, bell peppers (saute them with the onions)
- Mountain Lion Backstrap, about 8 inches’ worth, cut into cubes
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 egg
- If necessary a little water or another egg to completely coat meat
Cook the Meat Like This
Achtung: Mountain lion meat likely caries trichinosis, a nasty bug you don’t want growing your body. Don’t worry, this same bug used to be readily found in pork and it’s totally manageable just by cooking the meat thoroughly. Get the temperature up to 160 degrees F and it kills the germs. Be sure to clean your work station thoroughly, too, and don’t reuse soiled dishcloths without washing.
I used my sous vide cooker to cook the meat for a couple of hours at 160 degrees so I knew it was safe to serve. You can do that, or you can make sure it cooked well-done after battering. You might also marinate the meat overnight with your favorite marinade. Mine ended up firm but tender without marinating.
Start a pan heating over medium heat.
With the meat cut into cubes, you’re ready to batter it and pan fry it. If you have a favorite batter or a favorite way to fry, go for it. This is a simple way to add a little crispness without deep-frying and tempura battering (though that sounds good, too).
Mix the egg and flour in a bowl large enough to add the meat. You want it to be a thick batter that sticks to the meat. It should be thicker than pancake batter. If it’s too thin, add a pinch or two of flour. Add a little water to thin it, and double it if you want to feed more folks. Coat the meat well.
Now add a little oil to the pan and brown the meat on all sides. Do it in batches so your pan can stay hot. Make sure it’s nice and brown. If it’s blackening, your pan is too hot. Set the meat aside.
Cook the Sauce Like This
Now add the onions to your pan and cook them until they are just starting to get soft and a little translucent. They should be a little crisp — you definitely don’t want limp and slimy onions. If you overdo it, do them again, or just omit them from the sauce. Set the onions aside with the meat.
Put all the remaining ingredients except the slurry into the pan and mix together and bring it to a boil. Remember, it’s a sauce, not a soup, so it goes a long way when you serve it.
Stir the cornstarch slurry up, then add it to the sauce while stirring the sauce. It’ll thicken as you cook it for another minute or two. The sauce is done at this point, and you can pour it over your meat and save the leftovers.
I prefer to add the pineapple tidbits and the onions to the sauce for a minute to warm them up, then serve the sauce over the meat on top of rice. Sauteed bell peppers are a good addition. This is a dish your whole family will enjoy.
Oh, and my daughter wants me to tell you that the mountain lion was the 16th game animal she’s eaten.