Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tips for "eating wild"

I'm going off of the AR topic for a post here to something a little bit lighter that I've been wanting to do. Do any of you fellow hunters out there feel that your game cookery isn't quite all you'd like it to be? Perhaps you are new to hunting and you're not quite sure how to go about preparing your quarry. My wife and I both grew up in avid hunting families and grew up eating a lot of game, so I speak from experience. Obviously, game is not like domesticated meat and requires some special attention and preparation that store-bought regular meat wouldn't. When properly prepared, game should be nutritious, delicious, and satisfying. If you find you have to use a lot of sauces or heavy spices to cover up undesirable flavors, something isn't right, usually in either how the game is dressed/cleaned/cared for or in how it's prepared/cooked. Here's a few tips:

- Gut/field dress ALL game, not just big game, immediately. You'll find that small game, upland birds, and especially waterfowl, will all taste better if you take a few minutes to do this simple step ( do remember to leave evidence of sex intact until final cleaning as required by law ). Always clean all game very thoroughly.

- Learn the proper cooking times for different cuts. Some cuts of big game, such as backstraps and steaks, are best served grilled rare ( this is how I like it ) to no more than medium. Roasts, on the other hand, are best if they cook slowly at low temperature all day. A good game cookbook will give you ideal cooking temperatures and times for all kinds of meats.

- Some people find waterfowl difficult to prepare. I think duck is best smoked, but if you are going to roast it, use a light glaze and baste frequently to keep it from drying out. Also remember that duck is actually best just slightly undercooked. Overcooking will dry it out and ruin the delicious flavor of waterfowl.

- Big game like venison, elk, moose, and antelope should be allowed sufficient aging time, just like beef. If you don't know how to properly cut and butcher big game meat, or like me don't really have the time to do it right, have a professional meat cutter do it for you. It will cost you a little, but it can save you a lot of headaches. Deer/elk/moose goes in, burgers, steaks, sausages, and roasts come out.

There are a few things every "wild gourmet" should invest in if you haven't already:

- A smoker. Almost all game is great smoked. Smoking imparts pleasant flavors, some stronger and some subtle, and can cover any strong "gaminess" without the need for excessive sauces. Using the right wood is important. I like to use stronger flavored woods like hickory or mesquite for big game, and lighter or fruit woods like cherry, apple, peach, alder, or pecan for birds, as well as fish. You can also order specialty woods that impart unique flavors, such as wood chips from Jack Daniels ( made from used whiskey barrels ) and Tabasco ( made from used pepper paste barrels). I have some of both of these, and like them a lot.

- A vacuum packer. Vacuum packing your meat in airtight bags and containers can greatly extend its usable freezer life. Don't skimp on this important piece of equipment. Cheap packers usually don't make as airtight a seal as better models, and you'll be happier in the long run if you get a good one.

- Some good game cookbooks. I've collected my share over the years and now have a small library of them. Most of them give good, clear directions on how to properly field dress, clean, and prepare game meat. Many will have you trying flavors you've not experienced before. You can find them at Barnes & Noble or Borders, or at outdoor retailers like Cabela's or Bass Pro Shop.

Remember that "eating wild" isn't just a hobby or a pastime, it's a way of life! I'll post some favorite family recipes during the upcoming hunting season. I'm considering at some point perhaps writing a game cookery book myself ( if I can ever find any time for such a thing ) and would like to get some feedback on recipes from others who try them.

WILD GAME: Because regular meat is boring, and tofu sucks!


grizzlycountry said...

As someone new to hunting your column was a nice one to read! Have you had a chance to put up any of your favorite recipes. I am looking to cook some deer and antelope that was professionally butchered for me after my last hunt.

grizzlycountry said...

As a new hunter I found your post very interesting. I was wondering if you'd had a chance to post any of your favorite recipe. On my last hunt I brought in 2 deer and 2 antelope. I had them professionally butchered and prepared and now I'm ready to start eatin'! Any specific suggestions on preparation?