It’s the months of delicious, organic meat in the case of deer and elk, and the smaller but equally flavorful bounty that game birds provide.
But cooking wild game can be tricky. To get some culinary tips, we visited with a pair of experts – wild game blogger and cookbook author Randy King of Boise and Ryan Nelson, executive chef at the Flying B Ranch in Kamiah, Idaho.
King said game meat is best when it comes off the grill or stove after just a few minutes, or when it’s allowed to linger at low heat for hours.
“Cook it medium-rare or until it’s pull-apart tender, and there is not too much in between.”
People often describe deer and elk as “gamey” and they don’t always mean it in a good way. King rejects that idea. Just because venison steaks don’t taste like beef doesn’t mean they’re not good. But gaminess does need to be controlled.
“You notice that more when it’s well-done,” he said. “If a steak comes off the grill well done, you’re going to notice that gaminess more.”
But some cuts – like shanks, meat from the neck, ribs and brisket – are too sinewy to be enjoyed medium-rare. The solution is to cook it low and slow so the connective tissue breaks down. “I say make delicious, pull-apart meat,” he said.
Canning also is a good way to go with tougher cuts of meat.
“Pressure-canning meat is a great way to make instant whatever. We do it with just taco seasoning and break it out on the hill and make hot and tender, delicious tacos in like three minutes.”
King also likes to incorporate fall flavors like apples, elderberries, sage and time and brown butter with the better cuts.
“Once it starts to cool down just a little bit, people start to hit on those with big game,” he said. “Apple cider is a big one for me.”
He likes to make a beurre blanc or white wine butter reduction sauce and add things like shallots, garlic, thyme, lemon and the fall flavors to it.
With waterfowl, King says don’t toss the wings and legs. Instead, keep them and make confit – a process where it’s cooked slowly in its own fat and then sealed and stored in fat. King adds confit to dishes like pasta. “It takes (what some people consider trash) and turns it into gold.”
Five Spice Elk Meatballs with Sweet Chili Sauce and Green Bean Salad
1 pound frozen haricot vert (small green beans)
1 pound frozen shelled edamame
1 can black beans, drained
1/2 red onion, shaved thin
1 cup ginger soy dressing – store bought
For the salad
Bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil. Make an “ice bath” – basically, a large mixing bowl with a 50/50 ratio of ice and water.
When the water is boiling, add the edamame and the haricot verts. Let stand in water for 3 minutes, stir one time.
Drain vegetables into colander then add the vegetables to the ice bath. Let them cool, remove any excess ice and then drain in the colander. Refrigerate until ready to make salad.
When ready, toss the haricot verts/edamame mix with the drained black beans, shaved onion and ginger soy dressing. Serve cold.
For elk meatballs
1 pound ground elk meat
1 teaspoon five spice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sliced thin green onions
salt and pepper
1 cup sweet chili sauce
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-size mixing bowl add everything but the sweet chili sauce. Mix by hand for 2-3 minutes.
Using a small ice cream scoop, make 1 ounce meatballs; you should get about 18 from this recipe. Place each meatball on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. A little pink in the center is desired.
When done, carefully transfer the cooked meatballs to a mixing bowl. Add the sweet chili sauce onto the meatballs.
Carefully toss or stir to fully coat the meatballs with the sauce.
Garnish with thin sliced carrot and green onions. Serve hot.
Nelson said fine wild game and fish meals start with proper field care. For things like deer and elk, that means quickly skinning and cooling the animal. For fish like salmon and steelhead, he said bleeding them as soon as they are caught is essential.
Game meat, whether deer and elk or pheasant and chukar, is much leaner than beef and chicken. Wild game birds are also smaller than chicken. “You can overcook it very quickly,” he said.
“Chukar is my favorite bird. It’s kind of fragile. You can’t put it on high heat and expect it to be this tender piece of meat because it’s so small and fragile to begin with,” he said. “If I’m grilling chukar for a salad I try to cook it at medium-rare on the grill and put it in foil and let it finish cooking. If you it take off and it’s medium you are going to have an over-done bird.”
Some people like to smother game meat with flavors like teriyaki or drown it in heavy marinades. Nelson prefers light seasoning to bring out the natural flavor.
“I don’t like to get crazy with wild game. I like to taste the animal,” he said. “Just good olive oil and pepper and any herbs or garlic.”
Nelson shared his pheasant strip recipe:
Bourbon Buffalo Pheasant Strips
4 or 5 pheasant breasts
For bourbon sauce
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup bourbon
2/3 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
For seasoned flour
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Dice up half of a yellow onion. Place onion and 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan and cook over medium-high heat until onions become translucent (about 3 minutes).
Add 1/4 cup of your favorite bourbon and be careful with the flame. Add 1/3 cup of brown sugar and cook on low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add 2/3 cup of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and let simmer on a low heat for a few minutes.
Check 4 or 5 pheasant breasts for shot. Cut breasts into strips (about five per breast).
Dredge the strips in seasoned flour: Shake any excess flour off of strips and fry in 360-degree oil until golden brown. Toss the strips with the bourbon sauce and enjoy with a ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping.
More of Ryan Nelson’s recipes can be found at www.flyingbhunting.com/hunting-lodge.html.
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