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Tips on gourmet game cookery.

Fall is the time of the year when many homestead diets are supplemented with wild game. Unfortunately, some diners (and cooks) shy away from this meat, often citing its "gamey" flavor or dry toughness. (The same principles might apply to some homestead-raised meat.)

Blame the hunter

Strong-flavored meat can usually be blamed on the hunter, rather than on the cook or the animal. Gamey flavor can result from a poor bleed, careless field dressing, poor trimming, and inadequate cooling. Imagine how your beef would taste if the steer ran around at top speed for an hour before it was killed, lay dead for another hour before being dressed out, had its stomach slit while dressing, and then was carried across the state on the hot hood of a car.

One of the main problems encountered with cooking game is fat. First, game meat is much leaner than beef. (Beef has 12 times as much fat as moose, for example.) In addition, wild game fat has poor flavor, and should be trimmed off. With no fat there can be no juicy roasts, and to avoid a dry, leathery piece of meat, fat must be added.

This can be accomplished by rubbing the surface of the meat with butter, larding the meat with slivers of salt pork, basting, or laying bacon strips over roasts or breasts of game birds. For ground meat and sausage, pork fat or beef suet is added. We add 10-15 percent (by weight) for burger or ground meat.

With the fat problem solved, the next consideration is the cooking method. This too can apply to homeraised domestic animals if they're not fed or slaughtered like those that end up in the supermarket meat cases.

Consider the age, type, and cut. Meat from younger animals is naturally more tender than meat from old patriarchs.

Dry heat cooking methods, such as roasting and broiling, are fine for most loin and rib cuts. Moist heat should be used for cooking less tender cuts such as shoulder, shank, neck, rump, and the round steaks of older animals. In general, members of the deer family can be treated like beef, while bear and wild boar should be cooked like pork. (However, remember that health officials don't recommend eating rare venison. It doesn't have to be well-done, but it shouldn't be pinkish inside.) A meat thermometer is advisable when cooking game, especially when preparing oddsized roasts or other pieces of meat.

Don't let game birds dry out while cooking. Lay bacon over roasting birds, or baste frequently. Older birds are better cooked by a moist-heat method. You can determine age by the tip of the breastbone. If it is soft and pliable, the bird is young.


There is some debate about marinades in game cookery. Many cooks think they're necessary to either hide or enhance the gamey flavor, while others prefer the natural flavor. There can be little argument that a good marinade will make almost any piece of meat more tender, whether wild or domestic. And marinades are so versatile, it isn't necessary to destroy the natural flavor of the meat if you don't want to, although they can provide a welcome change even for whatever domestic meat is the staple on your homestead.

There are many recipes for marinades. A marinade is simply a savory sauce, (often acidic, for tenderizing), that meat or fish or even vegetables) are soaked in before cooking. They can be based on wine, vinegar, tomato sauce or juice or lemon juice, but after that the possibilities are endless. We almost always include olive oil, onions and garlic, but depending on the meat and the result you're aiming for, consider Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, basil, oregano, bay leaves. thyme, mint... whatever you, as a cook, want to include to enhance any particular piece of meat or to complement other items on the menu.

Also consider smoke cooking, which definitely puts something like pheasant, grouse or teal in the gourmet class.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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