From a very young age, I remember seeing antelope dotting the desert next to the highway as we drove to Salt Lake City. It seemed at first the white deer-like creatures with their vibrant splashes of orange, oddly hooked charcoal-colored horns, and sensational eyelashes (if you haven’t seen one up close, you should Google those eyelashes) spent their time grazing only outside the city limits of Wellington, Utah. As time went on, I started seeing them closer to Green River and nowadays they are even near the Moab airport.
While I often saw antelope on my trips to Salt Lake City, they still always seemed like an alien creature to the area. They live in arid, desolate places seemingly lacking in vegetation, water sources, and evidence of living things. They also appear to be unrelated to not only other animals in the Moab area—deer, elk, mountain goat, cow—but basically any animal in any area. They’re just their own thing.
Growing up, they were always referred to as antelope. Even in many hunting proclamations, the rules are for the “antelope hunt,” but these creatures sprinkled throughout the southeastern Utah desert aren’t antelope at all: they’re pronghorn.
“Antelope” is a species native to Asia and Africa. It includes gazelles, impalas, and elands; the animals are classified by their long but powerful legs, divided hooves that create two toes, and their horns. The species is part of the “Bovidae” family, which also includes cattle, sheep, and goats.
Pronghorns are the only remaining members of the animal family known as “Antilocapridae.” The other species within this animal family went extinct during the last ice age. They share some similar characteristics to the antelope, like their horns and foot structure, but they aren’t closely related. In fact, the pronghorn you see racing across the deserts of the United States are more closely related to the giraffe.
Looking at the antelope of Asia and Africa, it is difficult to see why the two are considered such distant relatives. Pronghorns are the only known animal that sheds their horns—antlered animals, such as deer, elk, and moose, are antlered, and shed their antlers annually, but other horned animals, like cattle, bison, and bighorn sheep, don’t shed their horns. The North American pronghorn carries a thin crown of two black horns that they shed the sheath from annually.
Like most everyone else I know, I use both names, pronghorn and antelope. Even though I know they are different I will probably continue to do so—but I do enjoy that growing as a hunter also stimulates my desire to continue learning about the world around us.
Pronghorn grillades and grits
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds pronghorn steak (works well with deer or elk too), cut into bite-size pieces. A tougher cut can be used for this recipe since the cook time is low and slow.
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons high-temperature cooking oil (I used bear fat for this recipe)
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 3 to 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 to 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 15 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
- 2 cups beef or vegetable broth (I like to use homemade bone broth for wild game recipes)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cheesy Grits and Cajun chickpeas
- 4 cups water (for a creamier finish, use 2 cups water and 2 cups milk)
- 1 cup grits (I like to use stone-ground white grits for this particular recipe)
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup parmesan, shredded
- 15 oz. can chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning
- Garnishment options: hot sauce, cilantro, parsley, extra cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a heavy bottom pot, preferably a Dutch oven (the pot needs to be both stove top and oven-safe), heat one tablespoon of the cooking oil over high heat.
3. While the oil is heating, place the bite-size cuts of pronghorn in a bowl and sprinkle over 1/3 cup flour and Cajun seasoning. Stir to evenly coat the steak bites with the flour.
4. In small batches, brown the pronghorn steak in the Dutch oven, about two to three minutes. Avoid over-filling the pot with the steak so the oil temperature remains hot and a caramelized sear develops on the steak. Set aside.
5. Add the other tablespoon of cooking oil to the pot and bring to temperature. Once the oil is hot, add onion, celery, and carrots. Allow to cook for two to three minutes and then sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the vegetables. Stir and cook for an additional two minutes.
6. Add the bell peppers and minced garlic to the vegetable mixture. Stir and cook five minutes.
7. Deglaze the pot with the 2 cups of bone broth, stirring the bottom aggressively after the addition to break up all the flavor goodness you have developed that is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
8. Add the can of diced tomatoes, liquid included, and return the seared pronghorn to the pot. Nestle in the bay leaves.
9. Add the Worcestershire sauce and rice wine vinegar to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and cover.
10. Place the Dutch oven in the preheated oven and let cook for two hours.
Cheesy Grits and Cajun chickpeas
1. In a medium pot, bring the water, and milk if using, to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
2. Once boiling, gradually whisk in the cup of grits, stirring to break up any clumps that may have gathered. Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.
3. Slow simmer the grits following the time instructions on the package (if you have an instant quick grit, it will be between five to seven minutes. A traditional stone-ground version can take up to 45 minutes).
4. Check the grits often while simmering. Stir to keep grits from sticking to the bottom and add more liquid if they become dry before finished cooking.
5. Once the grits are soft and done cooking, turn off the heat and add the salted butter. Stir in and then add the cheeses one at a time—incorporate each fully before adding the next. Taste test and add more salt if desired. Set aside.
6. In a frying pan, add the teaspoon of cooking oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the can of garbanzo beans and sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Stir and then sear the garbanzo beans for five to seven minutes, until they are lightly crispy on the outside.
7. To plate the pronghorn grillades and cheesy grits, add a generous scoop of cheesy grits to a bowl. Top with a heaping spoonful of pronghorn grillades. Sprinkle Cajun chickpeas over the grillades. Garnish with additional parmesan cheese, chopped cilantro or parsley, and hot sauce.
Lindsey Bartosh, an eighth-generation Moab girl, loves hiking, hunting, fishing, cooking, writing, photography and working on her website www.huntingandcooking.com.