Wild game makes an interesting and savory addition to your menu. Game menus are a magnificent culmination of the bounty of hunting season. Although hunting regulations vary from location to location, it is safe to say that fall and winter are prime hunting seasons and choices should be plentiful—duck, goose, venison, turkey, quail and dove to name a few.
Game hunting and cooking are getting some positive attention on many fronts these days, from television shows to celebrity chefs. Wild game embodies a “locavore” philosophy embraced by the culinary world — it is local, organic and free range. It also happens to be lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than most other meat, and high in protein, iron and vitamin B.
Anne Kirkmyer, cookbook author and executive chef at the Hope and Glory Inn in Irvington, routinely includes a wild game menu on her list of dinner offerings. A native of Irvington, Kirkmyer grew up with hunters in her family and wild game of all sorts on the family table. After a career traveling the world as a freelance chef, and continuing culinary education in Paris and Europe, Kirkmyer finally returned home to pursue her passion of showcasing iconic local food and offering unique dining experiences.
She recommends wild game for its richness of flavor. “It’s a mature, sophisticated taste,” she noted, “for an adventurous palate ... something more exotic.”
Unlike domestic animals, wild ones have a deep, variable flavor, because they are often older at death, exercise freely and enjoy a mixed diet. Today’s farm-raised animals live a very different lifestyle than their wild counterparts — they are sedentary, eat a uniform diet and are slaughtered before they reach maturity. It is no surprise then that it takes a different approach to properly cook a wild animal.
Chef Kirkmyer recommends enhancing the wild flavor rather than covering it up. “Why change it?” she said. “Work with it. Make it evolve the way it should.”
Experienced game cooks recommend several techniques to successfully prepare wild game — aging, brining, marinating and not overcooking. But first, the key to fresh-tasting meat is to get it cool and skinned as quickly as possible.
Opinions vary about techniques for aging game meat. Proper aging, especially with large game such as deer, allows the meat to “rest” so that the muscular fibers begin to break down and the game becomes more tender. The larger the cut of meat, the more it improves with aging — wrapped in damp cloth and stored in plastic in a cool environment (below 40 degrees) for a few days to perhaps a week. When in doubt, it is best to consult a trusted source whether it is a hunter, game cook, or butcher.
Aging is a change in the activity of muscle enzymes. At death, the enzymes begin to deteriorate cell molecules. Large flavorless molecules become smaller, flavorful segments; proteins become savory amino acids; glycogen becomes sweet glucose and fats become aromatic. This breakdown of cell molecules creates intense flavor, which improves further upon cooking.
Most wild game animals are lean and do not develop a heavy layer of fat common to domestic livestock. Experts recommend, however, that whatever fat is there should be removed, because it has a very strong flavor that contributes to the taste people call “gamey.”
Brining is an old-fashioned technique that involves soaking meat or poultry in a flavorful saltwater solution to enhance its moisture and taste. The proper ratio is two tablespoons of salt to four cups of water, with additional seasonings added according to individual tastes and recipes. It is especially good for use with game birds and small, lean cuts of meat like loin. Brining does not break down proteins in meat in the way that marinating does. Instead, it carries salt and sugar inside the cell walls of the meat to trap moisture. The true purpose of brining is juiciness, whereas the true purpose of marinating is tenderization.
A marinade is best used with muscular cuts of meat. It imparts flavor and helps break up the connective tissue. After soaking the meat in a marinade for a number of hours, the liquid can be used to baste while cooking.
Game chefs agree that the surest way to render wild game inedible is to overcook it. Because there is less fat in wild animals, the moisture evaporates quickly, drying out the meat, turning it gray and giving it that gamey flavor. White meat birds should not be served rare, but can have a blush of pink in them. Dark meat birds, such as ducks, and red meat game animals like venison, should be served no more than medium-rare. While cooking, dote on the meat, basting and poaching, until the very last second, and be rewarded with a fine, rich flavor and texture.
In other words, don’t overcome it, enhance it. “Think simple, straightforward, full of flavor,” says Chef Krimmer.
Wild game cooking is a celebration of the hunting season and an authentic connection to our special place on the planet. It also recognizes a natural fact — that meat doesn’t just come from the grocery store. The reality of our biology is that one life sustains another.
Perhaps Jonathan Miles, Field and Stream magazine’s “Wild Chef” said it best in the introduction to his cookbook. “I take to the woods and water to feed an old and particular hunger: a hunger for honest meat, for meat with that sublime range of flavors that only the wild provides... .”
Bobalicious Game Marinade
(Contributed by Bob Waring)
1 bottle of soy sauce;
1 bottle of sesame oil;
2-3 bay leaves or basil leaves;
1 tablespoon oregano;
1 teaspoon cumin;
1 teaspoon pepper;
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional).
Whisk all ingredients together until combined. Pour over meat and marinate in the refrigerator
for at least four hours.
Asian Grilled Quail
(From Anne Kirkmyer.)
– Serves 4
8 cleaned quail (dove breasts may be substituted);
1 cup hoisin sauce;
1/3 cup soy sauce;
4 tablespoons chili garlic sauce;
2 tablespoons minced ginger;
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds.
Combine liquid ingredients, ginger and sesame seeds in a bowl and mix well. Place game birds into a flat container and cover with marinade.
Rub sauce over birds and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and allow to marinate
for a few hours.
Grill birds on a hot grill, skin side down, for two minutes. Turn birds and grill for another two minutes. Remove from grill and allow to rest for
a minute or two.
Serve grilled birds over a bed of quinoa,
couscous or brown rice mixed with dried
cherries and pine nuts.
Chateaubriand with Roquefort Sauce
(Adapted from Cooking With Anne Kirkmyer.)
– Serves 4
1 venison tenderloin, trimmed and cleaned;
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil;
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary;
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme;
Salt and pepper to taste;
1/2 cup Roquefort sauce (recipe to follow);
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub tenderloin generously with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Roast in hot oven for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to rest for ten minutes before slicing. (Venison will be rare.) To serve: Carve the Chateaubriand in half-inch slices. Drizzle with Roquefort sauce and garnish with rosemary sprigs.
2 tablespoons butter
ounces Roquefort cheese
(or Gorgonzola or blue cheese);
2 tablespoons heavy cream.
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Simmer and whisk for two minutes.
with Cherries in Port Wine Sauce
(Reprinted from Cooking With Anne Kirkmyer.)
– Serves 4
4 large duck breasts (thawed if frozen);
Salt and pepper; Port wine sauce with cherries (recipe to follow); Rosemary sprigs.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sear the breasts, skin side down, until skin is brown and crispy and fat has been rendered (about four to five minutes). Remove breasts from pan and place on a baking sheet. Reserve duck drippings. Remove skin from breasts and discard. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for eight to ten minutes. Allow to rest five minutes before slicing.
To serve: Slice duck breasts thinly and place on plate. Serve topped with port wine sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Contributed by Craig Brooks
Remove silver skin from backstrap (best to use straps from a young deer or doe).
Marinate in VERI VERI TERIYAKI- this is Craig’s marinate of choice because it contains fresh garlic, ginger, sesame seeds ,preservative free soy sauce, and expeller preserved oils.
Marinate at least two hours.
Wrap backstrap in bacon and pin down with toothpicks until completely covered.
Grill over medium heat on gas or charcoal grill. Grill until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees (bacon is usually done).
Serve with carrots, baby red potatoes and pearl onions
Great appetizer or served with rice
and stir fry vegetables.
Contributed by Craig Brooks
Duck Breast-skin and cut cross grain into cubes
Sweet Onions-cut end to end to make as long
as possible-cut into wedges
Jalapeno Peppers-cut lengthwise
Bacon-cut in a length to wrap once and pin
Assemble a cube of duck breast, a wedge of onion and a piece of jalapeno pepper in a stack. Wrap with bacon. Secure with toothpick. Marinate in VERI VERI TERIYAKI for up to 2 hours. Place on a hot grill (gas or charcoal) for 8 to 10 minutes (time can vary depending on grill). Usually the bacon is done but be careful to not overcook)