Skip to Main Content

Find COVID-19 Information and Resources
TWRA Updates and Closures due to COVID-19

Cooking Wild Game

by Jim Casada
Thursday, November 07, 2019 | 01:13pm
Cooking Game

Game harvested as a result of hunting has been an important and integral part of the human diet for as long as man has walked on the earth.

Paintings on the walls of caves in locales as varied as France, the southwestern United States, and Africa's Kalahari Desert depict man as a hunter, and enjoyment of successful hunts have always been a vital part of the activity. Venison was considered meat "fit for a king" and graced royal tables in the medieval era. "The people of the deer," as the great Canadian writer Farley Mowat styled the Inuit who centered their lives around caribou, had an almost symbiotic relationship with one game animal.

Our own forebears spoke often of putting "meat on the table" through hunting. In short, as any student of history readily realizes, hunting is a vital part of mankind's heritage, and that in tum translates to consump­tion of game likewise belong to our lifestyles throughout the ages.

In today's world, it could be argued that such is less the case than ever before, but as someone who has always lived close to the good earth, I would beg to differ. We live in a time and a society where hunting ac­tually offers a return to our roots and a wonderful means of soothing the troubled soul, and enjoying game on the table can be about as joyous an event as one could wish. After all, the ethical hunter eats what he kills, and as these words are being written the state of matters is such that the economic benefits of game should by no means be overlooked.

But that's enough history and philosophy. Let's get down to the vital matter at hand, how to

go about cooking wild game in a taste-tempting fashion. Preparing wild game should not be a daunting or complicated task. With game in hand: along with some basic under­standing of practical matters such as how to make and use marinades; a few simple utensils; and use of a stovetop, oven, grill, or even open campfire, you are ready to get down to the rewarding business of cooking. Along with being relatively simple, game cookery need not, contrary to the impressions of many, be particu­larly restricted in terms of the types of recipes offered.

The vital starting point comes before you ever turn on the stove or add the first dash of salt or pepper.

Indeed, one of the greatest secrets to game cooking success involves proper care and cleaning. This is not the place for a detailed look at field dressing and processing. Suffice to say that getting the game dressed promptly, cooled rapidly, aged properly (in the case of venison), and stored sensibly can make a great deal of difference when it comes to the vital matter of taste.

Another important consideration is to get past certain mental blocks. Game need not be gamey, but don't expect it to have the same taste or texture, for example, of beef (in the case of venison) or domestic fowl (in the case of wild turkeys). Instead, just realize that you are eating meat which is far healthier than anything you'll find in the meat section of your local grocery and be prepared for exploration of new and notewor­thy differences in taste. Incidentally, since we've mentioned health, it's heartening to know that wild game has never been inoculated, never fed with growth-enhancing supple­ments, never exposed to hormonal treatments, or indeed been connected with anything except what nature provides. That's the ultimate in "health food."

That brings us to the actual pro­cess of how to cook game. The basic answer is to do it any way you want to, but keep certain basic consider­ations in mind. Here are a few points you should always keep in mind:

* Finer wild game is ruined by overcooking than in any other way. If a backstrap from a deer or a breast from a dove isn't pink, it has been cooked too long.

*Marinades can be magic, bring­ing tenderness and taste to every­thing from the toughest cuts of deer to the breasts from a tough old goose.

*Crockpots work wonders when it comes to adding moisture, allowing flavors to mix and marry, and turning tough to tender.

*Meat hammers, food processors, cubers, or turn­ing tough cuts into a burger all can be a real help to the game cook.

*Ethnic approaches-Tex-Mex, Greek, Italian (game and pasta), pies and pastries, and more-are an ideal way to use game.

*Always give thought to what compliments your game dish, and that can range from savory gravy to go atop cubed venison steak to a side dish featuring wild nuts, vegetables or berries.

*Almost anything you can do will work with venison as well.

*Always keep in mind that over­looked parts (ribs and neck meat in deer; legs in ducks; legs, thighs, neck, and giblets in wild turkeys; hearts of doves and other upland game birds and the like) can be used for stock, in soups or stews, for pate, and other delicious dishes.

*Herbs, sauces, and condiments can be great allies. For example, fruits with some tartness-cherries, apricots, currants, cranberries, and like-blend in scrumptious fashion with venison or waterfowl.

*Don't be afraid to experiment. If my wife and I have learned anything in the course of writing or contributing to a whole bunch of game cookbooks, it is that one of the great joys of wild game cookery involves trying new approaches. You won't always be rewarded, but more often than not the end results range from quite palatable to a real culinary discovery.

When it comes to the final word on game cookery though, there's nothing quite like sharing a few recipes that illustrate the general points made above. Those which follow all have graced our family table time and again, and they rank among the favorites drawn from a "family file" of perhaps 3,000 dif­ferent ways to prepare wild game. Some effort has been made to provide a cross-section of the simple and the complex, along with eve1y­thing from fancy fixin's too simple but hearty soups or stews. Several dif­ferent game animals are represented as well, although the Tennessee game animal which is most important to the game cook, simply because of the quantity of meat it provides, is unquestionably the white-tailed deer. Bon appetit!

*** RECIPES TO INCLUDE***

Turkey Tenders Parmesan

- 1 egg, beaten

- ½ bottle prepared ranch dressing

- 1 ½ - 2 cups bread crumbs

- ¼ - ½ cup parmesan cheese

- 8-10 strips wild turkey breast

- 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine egg with ranch dressing. Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dip turkey strips in dressing/egg mixture. Then dredge in bread crumb mixture. Heat olive oil in a non-stick fry pan. Be sure olive oil is hot before adding strips. Brown turkey on both sides and cook until turkey runs clear. If the turkey is not tender, cover the pan and simmer a few minutes. Tip: Beat turkey strips, which should be cut across the grain, with a meat hammer before dredging.

Barbecued Duck

- 1 cup ketchup

- ½ cup lemon juice

- ¼ cup brown sugar

- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

- ½ teaspoon salt

- ½ teaspoon pepper

- ½ teaspoon paprika

- 1 teaspoon hot sauce

- 2 wild ducks, halved

Mix sauce ingredients in a saucepan. Heat to a low boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Place duck halves on a rack in roasting pan. Spread with barbecue sauce and cover with foil. Bake covered at 325 degrees for 1 ½ hour. Remove foil and spoon on the remaining sauce. Bake uncovered for 20 more minutes at 375 degrees.

Meatballs with Currant Sauce

- 1 ½ pounds ground venison

- ½ cup dry bread crumbs

- ½ cup milk

- 1 egg, beaten

- ¼ cup finely minced onion

- 1 ½ teaspoon salt

- ¼ teaspoon pepper

- 1 garlic clove, finely minced

Mix ingredients well and shape into one-inch balls. Place in a baking dish and brown in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Drain if needed.

Heat a 10-ounce jar of red currant jelly and a 12-ounce jar of Heinz chili sauce in a large skillet. Add meatballs and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot in a chafing dish.

Blueberry Backstrap

- 2 tablespoons melted butter

- 4 venison loin steaks, cut one-half inch thick

- Juice and peel of large, fresh lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

- 1 cup chicken broth

- 4 tablespoons butter

- 1 cup fresh blueberries

- Several generous dashes ground cinnamon

- Few dashes ground ginger

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet and cook venison loin steaks until medium-rare and browned on both sides. Place on a platter and keep warm. Deglaze skillet with lemon juice and peel and chicken broth. Cook over high heat to reduce liquid to about a half-cup. Lower heat to medium and add 4 tablespoons butter, whisking in a tablespoon at a time. Add blueberries, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and pepper. Pour blueber­ry sauce over steaks and serve immediately.

Pasta e Fagioli (Soup)

- ½ cup chopped onion

- 2 garlic cloves, minced

- ½ cup chopped celery

- ½ cup grated carrots

- 1 tablespoon olive oil

- 1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth

- ½ pound ground venison, browned

- 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

- 1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans

- 1 (19-ounce) can white kidney beans (cannellini)

- 1 cup cooked ziti

- ½ teaspoon black pepper

- 1 teaspoon parsley

- ½ teaspoon parsley

- ½ teaspoon basil

- 1 ½ teaspoon Italian seasonings

- Salt to taste

Saute onion, garlic, celery, and carrots in olive oil until tender-crisp. Add chicken broth and simmer. Brown ground venison. Add venison, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Drain and rinse red and white beans; add to soup. Chop ziti with scissors and add to soup. Add seasonings. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Tip: Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese when served. A hearty, delicious soup which, with cornbread and a salad, makes a fine meal.

Crab, Shrimp, and Scallop Sauce

- 2 tablespoons olive oil

- ½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

- 2 cups whipping cream

- ¼ cup white zinfandel wine

- ¼ cup butter, cut into 12 pieces

- ½ pound crab meat

- 8-12 pounds crab meat

- 8-12 medium shrimp, cooked and shelled

- 6-8 scallops, cooked and chopped

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add mushrooms and saute 5 minutes. Add cream and wine and reduce until thick (10-12 minutes). Season with salt and pep­per. Stir in butter one piece at a time incorporating each piece completely before adding the next. Add crab meat, shrimp and scallops; heat through for about one minute. Pour over venison and serve immediately.

This is the outdoorsman's surf and turf at its finest.

Loin Steaks with Crab, Shrimp, and Scallop Sauce

- 1 tablespoon olive oil

- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

- 1 pound loin steaks, cut one-half inch thick

- Salt and pepper to taste

Place olive oil and butter in a large skillet and quickly cook venison loin until me­dium-rare. Keep steaks warm on a platter. It is best to cook loins after the sauce has started to thicken.

Editors Note: Jim Casada is a widely published author who has won more than J 50 awards for his writ­ing and photography. To learn more about his writing, including how to order cookbooks he and his wife, Ann, have written, visit his web site at www. jimcasadaoutdoors. com.