Autumn brings many things to dining room tables: apples, cider, pumpkins and, in many homes, wild game. With so many options for cooking wild game, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Any professional chef will tell you there is nothing magical about preparing a delicious wild-game dinner. Before you embark on any recipe for wild game, you need to know the basics. Here are the fundamentals to follow, according to executive chef Gene Cammarota of Omaha:
Leaner, but drier: Game is leaner than domestic meat because wild animals walk, run, fly and roam freely all the time. Wild game meat is high in protein and low in fat, but higher specifically in Omega-3 fats. With cooking, due to the leanness of wild game, it runs drier than most domestic meats, so recipes that keep it moist are a must.
Short time on high heat, long time on low heat: Your game meat will be succulent if you cook it for a short time on high heat or a long time on low heat. Game meat needs to be cooked thoroughly, but is best done medium-rare or until it pulls apart. The exception is deer, elk and pronghorn patties should be cooked closer to medium temperature.
Grilling versus smoking: The split between grilling and smoking for game meats is similar to traditional domesticated meats. Steaks and chops are best when cooked quickly on a hot grill. Cuts with a lot of connective muscle tissue (shoulders and ribs) that must be broken down are best suited for the low-and-slow heat of a smoker.
Younger game, older game: Younger game birds and animals generally taste better and are tenderer than older ones. Use young game in most recipes; reserve older game for stews and braising. Canning is also a good way to go with tougher cuts of meat.
Give it a rest: By allowing game meat to rest for several minutes immediately after cooking, you will give the juices a chance to redistribute. During the cooking process, the juices tend to concentrate in the coldest part of the meat, which is in the center.
Fresh herbs: When a game recipe calls for herbs, purchase them as you need them from the grocery store or start a small herb garden. Preferred herbs to use with wild game are rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, onion, bay leaves and juniper berries.
Let it soak: Let wild-game meat soak in marinades or brines overnight, or at least for several hours. This will help add moisture and flavor to your meat as well as tenderize it.
Rub it in: Sprinkle herbs and rub seasonings on game meat with your fingers and then let it sit awhile before cooking. A general rule of thumb is one tablespoon of spice mix per pound of game meat. Brush a light coat of olive oil on meat that has been dry rubbed to help seal in flavors and moisture.
The premier part of serving wild game is that it is in concert with the trends that modern-day foodies embrace — it is natural, locally produced, free ranging and a renewable resource harvested in a sustainable manner (hunting).
For more fundamentals of wild game cooking, read my blog “In the Wild,” at magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/category/in-the-wild.