Wild for game? You might be if you prepare it the right way

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 05:00:44 PM. Instead of the same old, same old, serve venison with mushrooms, braised rabbit with Canadian bacon and roast duck with spices.

Pluck a zucchini from a vine in the backyard then transform it to a plateful of fritters for supper, and the chin tilts a bit with pride. Pop the vacuum seal of plum tomatoes jarred in September then use them as a base for red sauce in January, and the chest puffs.

The real strutting begins, though, when the hunter brings home the bacon — or the deer or duck, quail or squirrel, as the case may be.

While the granddaddy of hunting seasons (antlered white tail deer for rifle) doesn't open until Deer Widow Day — which is on Nov. 27, the Monday after Thanksgiving — something always is in season in Western Pennsylvania. If it's not deer, then it could be perch or pheasant, rabbit or bear. The region's rivers and streams, woods and fields are teeming with the fixings for supper if your aim — and your heart — are true. Just ask any hunter or angler.

Odds are that if you open that same proud hunter's freezer you will find at least one wrapped parcel of something from last season. Or last year.

Often, that's because the thrill of the hunt and the pride of the catch has ended all too often with the ubiquitous deer chili, venison roast or bacon-wrapped duck breasts. Complaints about wild game dishes range from being same old, same old to too gamey to too dry to too gross. I'm thinking of my own reaction when my mother-in-law waxed poetic many years ago about how Daddy would create a thrill in Mother's kitchen when he walked through the door at suppertime with a string of squirrel or rabbit that Mother would fry in some rendered bacon fat. I wanted to hop in the other direction at the mere thought back then. Silly girl.

My aversion to eating wild game evaporated when I got a few tastes of some properly prepared catches.

If you're not buying the deliciousness factor, consider this: game meat is high in protein, lower in fat than many other good protein sources, comparatively economical and free of growth hormones.

If you're willing to give game a go-round, the most important point to understand about any game — especially wild game, as opposed to captive bred — is that it will always be leaner than domesticated meats. Game animals lead an unpampered life, fending for their own sustenance in the wild. That's not the makings for a lot of extra body fat.

And, if there are any layers of fat observable on the meat as you survey it on your kitchen counter, you must remove them. This tallow can be the source of an unpleasant gamy taste.

In the end, you will be cooking a meat that is nearly devoid of fat and that requires proper handling.

Firstly, marinade is your friend. Tenderness in wild game meat will be achieved with a marinade. Take your pick — a long bath of buttermilk, with its tangy acid; dry wine with black pepper; and a blend of soy sauce and lemon juice. The key is the acid.

As for cooking style, there are two main courses of attack — moist, as in low-and-slow braising; or quick, as in searing of game pieces such that the meat can be served medium-rare to rare.

If unaccustomed to cooking game, some aspects of the process can be off-putting.

Rabbit looks like a rabbit. The venison, when defrosted, can give off more blood than what might be expected. The cooking aroma can be strong. In the case of roasted duck, that's a particularly good thing because few meats smell as delicious as roasted duck. With venison, however, the olfactory stimulation can be bothersome. If the smell bothers you, put some lightly salted onion and garlic in the cooking pan with a bit of butter and oil. Problem solved.

If you don't have a hunter in the family, captive-bred game can be purchased from several regional purveyors. It won't be an exact match to that caught in the wild, but it will be close. For this story, I shopped at Strip District Meats on Penn Avenue. The market had dozens of exotic meats for sale, but it didn't have the less expensive venison cuts I needed. I was able to snag some leftovers from a friend's freezer.

If you simply can't convince your family to go whole-hog on wild game, yet you don't want to waste the fruits of your hunting labors, consider these subterfuge tricks. Cooking venison stew? Add a portion of beef to the pot. Making deer sausage? Mix in some pork sausage. And if all else fails, wrap whatever you're cooking in strips of bacon.

I hope it doesn't come to that.

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

Leg of Venison

PG tested

The venison is perfect with buttered carrots and new potatoes, a staple of the German kitchen.

Leg of boned venison, about 4.5 pounds, skinned

Buttermilk Marinade, to soak meat (recipe below)

3 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to lightly cover meat on all sides

3 ounces bacon

8 juniper berries

1/2 to 3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup sour cream

Parsley for garnish

Preheat 350 degrees.

Soak meat in buttermilk marinade for 3 days. 

Pat meat dry and coat with butter. Then season meat on all sides with salt and pepper.

Place a layer of bacon at bottom of roasting pan. Place leg facing down on top of bacon.

Cover meat with another layer of bacon and sprinkle juniper berries. Add mushrooms, onion and bay leaf.

Put roasting pan in oven and roast for 30 minutes, turning meat occasionally until it is brown on all sides. Add ¼ cup of water and continue to roast. Total cooking time is approximately 1 to 1½ hours.

Discard bay leaf and remove meat. Bring liquid to a simmer in roaster and whisk in flour to thicken slightly. After cooking for 1 minute, remove from heat and add sour cream.

Pour sauce over meat and garnish with parsley.

Serves 6.

— “Wild About Meat: Recipes From Northern Germany” by Rural Women's Association Wesermunde, District of Cuxhaven (June 2000)


Buttermilk Marinade 

PG tested

This marinade can be used for any fresh game. The recipe produces enough for up to 3½.pounds of meat. I've used this with pork chops, too, to delicious effect.

2 tablespoons juniper berries 

6 cups buttermilk, divided

1 lemon, sliced 

Moisten berries with some buttermilk and then mash the fruits.

Add berries and sliced lemon to the meat you are using and then pour in the remaining buttermilk.

Put in a cool place for three to four days or refrigerate it.

— “Wild About Meat: Recipes From Northern Germany” by Rural Women's Association Wesermunde, District of Cuxhaven (June 2000)

wild-for-game-you-might-be-if-you-prepare-it-the-right-way photo 1Hare(Rabbit) Hunter's Style(Karen Kane/Post-Gazette)

Hare(Rabbit) Hunter's Style

PG tested

Rabbit is very mild, and it easily takes on the taste of marinade.

For marinade

5 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Juice of one lemon

For meat

1 hare, cut into serving pieces

2 tablespoons butter

¼ pound Canadian bacon, cut into strips

5 tablespoons beef broth

1 tablespoon brandy

1/4 to 1/2 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped

Combine oil, salt, pepper, garlic and lemon juice for the marinade.

Let meat soak in the marinade overnight in the refrigerator. Remove meat and dry with paper towels. Save the marinade.

Melt butter in a Dutch oven and brown Canadian bacon over moderate heat. Add meat and saute for about 30 minutes over low heat or until it is evenly browned. Turn pieces often and press against bottom of pot.

Add broth, brandy, tomatoes and marinade. Let simmer in the covered pot for another 40 minutes over low heat until meat is tender.

Serves 4.

— “Wild About Meat: Recipes From Northern Germany” by Rural Women's Association Wesermunde, District of Cuxhaven (June 2000)

wild-for-game-you-might-be-if-you-prepare-it-the-right-way photo 2Roast Wild Duck(Karen Kane/Post-Gazette)

Roast Wild Duck

PG tested

The recipe gives an option of thickening the drippings after cooking with flour and cream. I opted to spoon the drippings over the carved meat without making a gravy.

1 duck

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper 

1 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon ground caraway

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons cognac

2 tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Rub cavity of duck with salt, pepper, marjoram and caraway.

Melt butter in a large skillet and brown duck slowly on all sides. Place duck in a roasting pan and roast in oven for 15 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of water to the pan drippings and baste duck occasionally. Let roast for another hour.

Mix cognac and ice water and pour over meat. It will sizzle.

Serves 4.

— “Wild About Meat: Recipes From Northern Germany” by Rural Women's Association Wesermunde, District of Cuxhaven (June 2000)

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