Cooking Wild Game Requires Special Touch


You got the license. You trekked around the back country. You made your kill.

Now what?

The sport of hunting isn't just a sport to many. It's a means of securing meat for the freezer to feed a family, but cooking wild game isn't always the same as cooking other types of meat.

Often times, the types of feed wild animals eat give their meat a "gamey" flavor many people find distasteful, but there are way of preparing the meat that helps eliminate that flavor and recipes that compliment or mask it.

"A marinade is definitely the best for taking away some of the gameyness because you're trying to mask the flavor of what they eat," said Mike Torello, chef at the Olde Town Pub in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

He recommends a vinegar-based marinade.

There's also a trick to cooking wild game. According to Torello, wild game is often lower in fat than beef and though that makes it healthier, it also makes it dryer.

"You have to be careful not to overcook it," he said. "The best methods are to sear it or grill it because that seals in the flavor and the juices."Most people are used to eating domestic meats that are slaughtered, cut and packaged by others. Professors at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences believe that people's distaste for wild game comes from their limited experience in cooking it.

Where the animal grazes and how it is hunted also influence the flavor of its meat.

Hunters who are thinking of putting meat on the table when they're in the field should shoot the deer in the area of the heart or lungs area because the target is large and the animal will bleed out well. Shots in the spine that do not damage large blood vessels will result in bloody meat.

A wounded animal that is chased some distance before it is killed may be tough to eat.

Some recommend bleeding an animal out after the kill, but if the heart has stopped beating, there is little to be gained and if the animal is alive, such a procedure is dangerous.

When a hunter is sure the animal is dead, field dress -- open the body cavity and remove the internal organs -- immediately. Well cared for deer makes fine table fare for many people. It is important to properly handle deer immediately after the shot.

How quickly the animal is field dressed and the meat properly cooled determines the quality of the meat. However, far too many deer are wasted or make poor quality eating because hunters do not follow the simple, common sense rules of good meat handling after the kill:

Check equipment

Before the hunt, check to see that you have all the equipment needed for hunting and handling your animal after the kill. Important items include a sharp knife for dressing, a light rope or nylon cord for dragging, a signed hide tag with attaching cord, a cloth to clean your hands, and a plastic bag for the liver and heart.

The trip home

After the animal is checked and sealed, the head may be removed and the animal quartered for easy handling. A car top carrier is ideal to transport the kill home, or you may prefer to put it in the trunk. However, don't park in the sun or in a heated garage.

Never tie the deer or antelope to the car where engine heat can cause deterioration. Warm meat spoils quickly.

Another option many hunters take is to haul freezers with them and place their quartered or processed animal immediately in the freezer.

Aging the meat

Age the carcass in a cool, dry place. Aging of well-cared-for carcasses at correct temperatures yields better-flavored, more tender meat. Best results come from a near-constant temperature, preferably from 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Aging for one to two weeks is about right for the best quality venison, depending on the age and condition of the animal.

Methods of cooking wild game Venison is the meat of antlered animals -- deer, moose, elk and caribou. It is of finer texture and much leaner but more watery than beef.

Liver, heart and kidneys are best if eaten immediately while the rest of the meat is still hanging. The heart can be washed, sliced and fried in butter.

Liver and kidneys are improved by cleaning and kneading gently in salt water to remove excess blood and then pan fried in butter.

Boneless meat takes less freezer space and cooks more evenly. Trim off bloodshot meat and as much fat as you can. The fat is tallow-like and sticks to the roof of the mouth unless piping hot.

Meat high on the upper hind legs and along the backbone is most tender.

Slice one-half to three-fourth inch thick for steaks and chops.

You can grind meat as you need it using scraps or less tender cuts from the freezer. An ordinary home food grinder will do the job. The trick is to use small pieces of partially frozen meat. To make this lean meat more interesting, grind it with fresh sausage (2 to 3 parts venison to 1 part sausage) or grind with 1 part beef fat to 6 parts venison.

Hints for preparation

Because venison is so lean, it is best when cooked quickly, over high heat.

For maximum flavor, avoid overcooking, venison is normally served medium rare.

Wild meats are good to eat and they are frequently higher in protein and vitamins and lower in fat than meats of domestic animals.

"I think a lot of people eat it to try something new, but it's also a lot leaner so it's better for you," Torello said.

Game meat cooking tips

The University of Georgia offers the following tips:

  • Game meats are low in fat, thus minimal shrinkage will occur.
  • Do not overcook. Grill or cook to a medium rare or marinate prior to cooking.
  • Do not salt prior to cooking.
  • Brush or marinate in olive oil to help to retain moisture.
  • Cook quickly at high heat.
  • Serve on preheated platter to retain product quality.

Cooking venison

Because venison is a watery meat with little fat marbling, the key to cooking juicy, tender steaks and chops is to hold the water in the meat. To do so, cut pieces no thicker than 3/4 inch, fry quickly in a liberal amount of fat and do not crowd in the pan.

1. Heat a heavy frying pan until sizzling hot.

2. Add two tablespoons butter.

3. Place meat in the hot pan. Sear on both sides, turning only once.

4. Reduce heat slightly to finish cooking. Turn if necessary. If water seeps out of the meat, the fire is too low or pieces are crowded.

5. Remove to a warmed platter when meat is still pink, just before it seems done

6. Serve.

For a real hunter's feast, serve with lemon butter or hot Cumberland sauce.

Lemon Butter

1/4 cup butter (do not use margarine)

1 teaspoon minced parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 to 1-1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon white pepper, optional

Cream butter until soft. Add salt, pepper and parsley. Add lemon juice very slowly while creaming. Serves four.

Hot Cumberland Sauce

This sauce has many ingredients, but you can omit some or substitute with what you have on hand.

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cup blanched, slivered almonds

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons water

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup red currant jelly

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup orange juice

1-1/2 cups port or other wine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup seedless golden raisins

1 tablespoon grated orange and lemon rind

Combine first 8 ingredients in heavy saucepan; simmer 8 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in water and stir mixture slowly into sauce. Simmer 2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Serve hot. Makes 2 cups.

Roasting (round, loin)

1. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Place on rack in uncovered pan; cover surface with bacon strips.

3. Do not add water; do not cover.

4. Roast in slow oven (300-325 degrees F) allowing 20-25 minutes per pound.

Ground venison casserole

1 pound ground venison

Dash pepper

1/2 chopped onion

4 large potatoes, sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 can mushroom soup

Brown ground venison and onion. Add salt and pepper. Boil potatoes until tender; drain. In baking dish, put layers of potatoes, venison and mushroom soup. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes.

Venison Swiss steak

1/2 cup flour

2 bay leaves

2 pounds venison steak

1/4 cup chopped green peppers

Bacon drippings

2 tablespoons sugar

1 package dry onion soup

1 small jar mushrooms

2 cups canned tomatoes

Pound flour into meat. Cut meat into 1-inch thick strips. Brown meat quickly in small amount of bacon drippings. Drain off excess fat. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer slowly for 2 hours or until meat is tender. (Salt and pepper not needed because onion soup mix has enough.)

Country-fried venison

1 1/2 pound (3/4" thick) venison

1 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 cup bacon drippings

2 cloves garlic; minced

4 cups water

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons bottled brown bouquet sauce

1 medium onion; thinly sliced

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms; sliced

Hot cooked rice

Prepare venison by trimming all fat and removing connective tissues. Cut meat into serving-size pieces, and pound each piece to 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thickness. Combine 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and seasoned salt; dredge the venison in flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in a large, heavy skillet; add garlic, and sauté until golden. Remove garlic, and set aside. Add remaining bacon drippings to skillet; cook venison until it is lightly browned on both sides. Remove from skillet, and set aside. Gradually stir about 1/2 cup water into 1/3 cup flour; mix until smooth, and add the remaining water. Stir flour mixture into pan drippings; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in bouquet sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Return venison and garlic to skillet; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add onion; cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add mushrooms; cover and simmer 15 minutes. Serve over rice. 6 servings.

Country-style venison stew

1/2 pound bacon or salt pork

2 pounds venison steak

4 tablespoons flour

6 cups water or beef stock

1 large tomato, chopped

2 medium carrots, sliced

2 medium stalks celery, sliced

2 medium potatoes, in 1-inch cubes

1 dozen small white onions

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 cup fresh green peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut bacon into 1-inch cubes and sauté in large saucepan until lightly browned.

Remove and set aside. Cut venison into 1 1/2 or 2-inch pieces and brown over high heat in 4 tablespoons bacon drippings. Stir in flour. Lower heat and let brown 2-3 minutes, stirring several times. Add liquid and let it simmer 1 hour or more until venison begins to get tender, add more liquid as necessary. Add all the other ingredients, except peas, and continue to simmer to make a thick stew. Simmer peas in a separate pan until done. Strain and spoon over or around stew when served. Great accompanied by buttered corn muffins and a salad.

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