How does that make you feel? To know that people have been feeding you full of lies for years. Maybe it was an accident, and they didn’t know any better. Maybe they had other motives when they intentionally steered you astray? Maybe they thought it was for your own good. I know what you are thinking, “Grant’s back on the keyboard, this is going to be a long blog about guns, break out the tinfoil hats!”. Well if that’s what you were thinking, I’m sorry to inform you that you are wrong (even though I could totally go for a long rant about hunting rifles, effectiveness of personal defence pistols calibers, or the use of light’s and lasers on firearms). But today were talking wild game.
There are definitely 2 sides to every story, wild game is no exception. Some people will flat-out tell you that wild game is disgusting. Deer is too gamey, duck is too fatty, bear too greasy, catfish taste like mud, squirrels are just big mice, and rabbit are supposed to be pets, not your main course. The other side will tell you “anything with fins, fur or feathers is edible”. That is correct as for North American game, but we all know that just because you can, doesn’t always mean that you should. Take probably the biggest meat-eating, hunting, fishing, red-blooded American we have walking the planet right now, Steven Rinella, and listen to his Podcasts. He talks about it all the time because people always ask him if a certain animal is edible. To which he almost always replies(and I paraphrase), “Hell yeah you “CAN” eat it, question is if you want to, and how does it taste?” To an extent, I have a little bit of a soft spot for people who fall into the first class, because most times people make such broad judgements about wild game meat from personal experience (often times consisting of a single experience). Any one who has spent any amount of time hunting, and processing game meat knows that you have to treat wild game slightly different then you would domesticated stock. In that you will also get different flavor characteristics, and poorly executed “experiments” with game meat have been one of the leading causes of people’s dislike of game meat all together, and it would be hard to blame them. Imagine if you will, that you had never ate beef in your whole life, and someone offered to make you a hamburger. Not having any experience with burger, that would be your basis of what all beef is like. Now imagine that first burger was overly salted, overworked, and burnt to a crisp. What would your general feelings of all beef be? It’s dry, its dense, and it lacks flavor. You and I both know that a good hamburger is none of those things, they are always delicious, juicy, and tender. Even at that, a hamburger is not the measuring stick of which all beef should be measured. Each cut is different and perfect to be used in different ways to enhance the natural character of the cut. Wild game is no different. Without breaking down every cut from every game animal, I say we address some common misconception’s (read LIES) that I am sure that you have either read or been told through the years.
- “Deer is too gamey” : All animals have a distinctive flavor profile wild or domesticated, don’t believe me? Eat a piece of chicken fried steak and a piece a fried chicken back to back (if you are going to cook both in a single day, at least have the decency to invite me over). both cooking processes are the exact same, both coating the exact same, but neither one taste exactly like the other. Why? because beef taste like beef, and chicken taste like chicken. If all you ate was chicken, beef would have a “gamey” flavor, and vise-versa. Deer just has a more pronounced flavor than domesticated beef (and in all reality “beef” bought from a super market hardly resembles what beef use to be. If given the chance try grass finished beef, as opposed to grain finished beef. it is amazing how much more flavor the grass finished beef has over the counterpart. Any one who has had the privilege to having high quality beef knows exactly what im talking about.) Venison does have one thing that most non-hunters are not accustomed to. It is lean (lacking marbling from fat content.), a 3.5 oz. portion of beef has between 150-180 calories, 2-6.5% fat and 22-22.7 grams of protein. Mule deer on the other hand has 145 calories, 1.3% fat, and 23.7 grams of protein. Fewer calories, less fat, more protein, completely grass-fed, completely free-range, non-gmo, what else do people want? I would guess that more times than not, the real cause of overly gamey meat is due to poor handling, improper cleaning, cooling and aging techniques. Don’t stress the animal, clean and cool it as quickly as possible, and I would put money on the fact that you will have delicious tender meat. (And while you are at it, there is no need to cook venison to “well done”, if you don’t trust an eye test, use a meat thermomater and aim for 145 degrees. then let it rest before serving. You wouldnt cook a filet mignon to well done, and I would recommend that you treat deer filet the same way.)
- “Duck is just to fatty for me”: This may very well be true as to domesticated duck which is around 4.25% fat, but wild ducks tend to be less then half of that at around 2% fat. No they are not as lean as domesticated chicken (at around .7% fat) but what they pick up in fat, they also gain in flavor. Wild duck meat is surprisingly dark and muscular. To quote the writer Jim Harrison ( The author of “legends of the fall”) “it is a crime against God and man to skin a game bird…” In truth, duck breast that has been boned out, with skin plucked and left attached is truly one of the greatest gifts from mother nature. The skin crisps quickly, and seals the juices into the meat. I tend to go with my “6 minutes or 6 hours rule” meaning I will sear them quickly on a grill and eat them medium rare (I know what you are thinking “Pink center bird meat! Your gonna get salmonella.” but in all actuality, wild ducks, having never been domesticated, carries almost no chance of salmonilla.) or I want to slow cook them all day. Waterfowl tends to toughen up when cooked too long (say to “medium well” doneness). But, much like beef brisket, if you cook water fowl for extremely long times at very low temperatures, the meat fibers will break down and become tender again. Smoked pulled duck sandwiches anyone?
- “Catfish taste like mud” : If I have heard this once, I have heard it a thousand times. Yes sometimes catfish do have a muddy taste, and sometimes they taste as clean as could be. Until lately I never knew why, it turns out that the sometimes muddy flavor that you get from catfish is mostly held in the belly meat and the fat of the fish. So how do we guarantee that we will have better tasting catfish? Firstly stay away from the belly, or any meat that takes on a yellow tint. Secondly, when processing out catfish fillets you will notice that there is an area where the back and side meat come together that will often have a look of light purple or red (kind of looks like a bruise that runs the whole junction between the two parts) that is the area where a lot of the fat is stored, remove it and you will have removed most of that muddy taste. Keeping the fish in ice-cold water before trimming will also help you more easily trim the fat away from the fillets, as well as clean the fish. Then all that’s left is to do is start-up the fryer, mix up the hush puppies, and get prepared for a wonderful non-muddy catfish fry.
- “Bear meat is greasy”: Well lets look at that observation a little bit. We have all heard that bears are closely related to pigs… Turn out that isn’t true either. (now you can bust out that aluminum foil hat) pigs belong to the Suidae family, and bears belong to the Ursidae family. Pigs are actually closer related to deer, camels, giraffe and cattle. Bears on the other hand are closer related to dogs, seals and skunks. Now that I can take my Carl Linnaeus (considered to be the father of taxonomy) members only lab coat off, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about bear meat. Bear meat should be handled and cooked like pork, both tend to (depending on the time of the year) carry a bit of fat, the animals can both be cooked in similar manners (I have a friend whose father makes wonderful bear bacon), and any recipes that calls for pork, you can substitute bear meat into. Bears and pigs both share one more thing… Potential for trichinosis, or a round worm like parasite that can infect you if you do not cook the meat up to spec. Best way to deal with the potential risk is to cook all pork and bear the same, get it up to 165 degrees and rest easy knowing that you killed what ever parasites were inside. Bear meat is tasty, but the way that it is prepared is the usual reason why people believe that it is greasy. Most people (under the advise of their butcher) make bear into pepperoni sticks and summer sausages. Both of those products are incredibly greasy to start with. If you ask a knowledgable butch (or better yet a hound hunter who pursues bears) most will recommend getting the shoulders turned into hams and roasts. both are super tasty and a fun way to better experience your game. Slow smoked bear roasts finished in the crock pot make for one of the better pulled style bbq sandwiches, or enchilada fillings that you could ask for. Neither will be greasy in the least.
When it comes to wild game we have all been misled, misinformed, or just been the victims of crappy cooking. What is important is to not perpetuate these mistakes. Each time a new person tries wild game and finds it tasty, we add another friend to the cause. Meals created solely from food that we have harvested are made wonderfully special, and are a great way to come together not only as families, but as sportsmen. Next time your buddy starts hassling you about getting home late from hunting and how your spouse is going to make you eat crow, just tell them you have recently visited crowbusters.com and come to find out they have a dozen recipes that don’t look to bad.
-Grant Willoughby 05/21/2017-