Wild Game and Wild Birds

Wild animals that are deemed fit for human consumption are considered game.  That leaves a pretty huge spectrum if you look at the United States as a whole.  I love to cook and eat wild game.  I enjoy it for many reasons: preparing meat that I have procured myself (or from friends); trying something new; being able to take something all the way from the field to the table–killing to cooking to consuming–and having total control of the process; using classic culinary techniques to make something delicious out of something that most people may not consider delicious; doing something well (i.e. cooking wild game) that not that many other people do well; and having people be willing to try something that they might not otherwise eat because they trust my skills.  I guess it’s the challenge of doing this that really motivates me.  I love to introduce others to wild game, and truly enjoy it when I hear, “Wow this is great!  I didn’t think I would like / didn’t used to like…”   I host an annual GameFeed (you can read about several of them here, and one was profiled in the WI State Journal), and start looking forward to it and planning it earlier each year.  I love to share this passion with others.  (You can listen to an interview I did on the Larry Meiller show here.)

Wisconsin game I have cooked include deer, Canada Goose, Ruffed Grouse, Quail, Mallard, Teal and Wood Ducks, Snipe, Coot, Cottontail Rabbits, Fox Squirrels as well as Red and Gray Squirrels, Black Bear, Raccoon, Pheasant and Snapping Turtle.  I know I am leaving something out!  On my list to yet prepare are Porcupine, Muskrat, Beaver, Skunk and Opossum as soon as I can procure them.  If there is any other Wisconsin Game out there, let me know!  If you can help me to procure some of them, you might even get an invitation to my GameFeed (and if you RSVP, you can even attend).

The following factors determines the quality of Wild Game:

  • The age and sex of the animal

Younger animals will be more tender, as with domesticated animals.  Females are often most tender and mild, as the males tend to be more hormonally-aggressive, creating a stronger taste and somewhat tougher meat.

  • What the animal ate

What the animal eats as a regular part of its diet totally affects the flavor of the meat.  Quite literally, “You are what you eat.”  Here are some examples of how diet can affect flavor.  Bear meat from animals that have been feasting on salmon will be fishy-tasting.  Bear meat from animals that have been eating carrion will have that taste.  The Rocky Mountain Pine Squirrel tastes like pine as it’s diet consists of mainly pine nuts.  Swamp bucks will be have a stronger marshy taste.

  • How the animal was killed

Ideally, the animal dies instantly with a clean killing shot.  If the shot simply wounds the animal, it will struggle and maybe run, pumping its muscles full of adrenalin and creating a strong taste.

  • How the animal was processed after killing

The animal should be gutting as soon as possible after killing, carefully removing any scent glands if present and allowing the carcass to dry out a bit and cool.

  • How the animal was packaged and stored after processing

Some hunters dry game into jerky, corn it, smoke it, can it or make sausage out of it.  Most hunters freeze game as a way to preserve it.  It is most important to tightly wrap the meat, not allowing any air to get to it.  Air is what causes freezer burn.

  •  What the cut of meat is and what condition it is in when it is ready to be used

As I mentioned in my column on venison, I always trim all fat and all connective tissue, leaving pure meat.  I try to do the same with all game.  If at all possible, I do this before I package and freeze it so that it is ready to cook when I thaw it slowly in my refrigerator.  Remember too that the more a muscle is used, the tougher it is going to be and the stronger the meat will taste.

Greek Style Game Sausages with Tomato Sauce

This recipe works well with Elk, Venison, Antelope and even Moose.  The key is to tightly roll very small sausages, about the size of a breakfast link.  This minimizes the chalky dry taste effect of very lean meat.  Chilling them before frying helps them hold their shape while cooking.

For the Sausages:

1 ½ pound ground game

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

¼ cup grated onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cumin

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sauce:

2 ½ cups tomato sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

2 bay leaves

1 head of roasted garlic

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

For the Garnish: (optional)

¼ cup chopped parsley

¼ cup chopped oregano

4 ounces crumbled feta

Method:  Combine all the ingredients for the sausages except the oil in a bowl.  Work the meat using clean hands until well mixed.  Form 16-20 small sausages.  If the meat mixture sticks dip your fingers in a bit of water.  Place hand rolled sausages on a tray and chill 1 hour.  Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a pot.  Bring just to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook stirring occasionally about 30 minutes.  While the sauce is simmering, place the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and heat on medium high.  When the oil begins to smoke a bit, add a few sausages, leaving room to turn them.  Cook the sausages in batches allowing them to brown on several sides.  They need not be cooked through, they will finish cooking in the sauce.  Once all the sausages have been browned, place them all back in the skillet and add the cooked sauce.  Stir gently to coat the sausages. Bring just to a simmer and cook 10 minutes to finish cooking the sausages.  Garnish as desired.  Serve hot.  Serves 4-6 as an entrée.

Thanks to Steve Ralser for this photo!

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