Deer season: 'Never cook game past medium'

and other tips you need to know for a delicious hunting season

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It's deer hunting season in New England and the odds are, at some point, a brown butcher paper-wrapped package of game will find its way to your freezer or refrigerator. But, how do you cook it?

Hunter/writer David Willette of North Adams has been hunting since he was 15. Since then, he has hunted locally and afar. For this phone interview, he called from the airport in British Columbia, Canada, where he was on an 18-day hunting trip that also included stops in Ontario and Montana. Earlier his year, he hunted grizzly bear in Alaska, and fished for stripers in Long Island Sound, catching a 46-inch, 35-pound striper. Add to those trips, a week-long bear hunt in Maine and an elk-hunting trip in Montana — bow and arrow, that is, and on horseback.

When it comes to cooking game, his top rule is "never, ever cook game past medium. Slice it and check it while you're cooking it." He added the best pieces of meat, called backstraps, can be found on top of the animal's spinal column, along the top of the animal's back. "It's the same as pork chops minus the bone. They are fabulous," he said.

He added the tenderloins, found underneath the spinal column is "so tender" because the muscles are hardly used by the animal. He personally finds leg meat tough, saying, "Deer and wild turkeys run and build muscles in their legs; cows don't."

When cooking venison, he said to trim off all the fat you can. "Wild animal fat is totally different then beef or pork fat," Willette said. "First of all, it tastes terrible and secondly, it adds nothing to the moisture of the venison. Always trim all fat and cook to medium. That can't be stressed enough."

One of his favorite ways to cook venison (deer, elk or moose) is to cut the meat into 1-inch thick strips and then shaking the strips in a plastic bag with a mixture that is 50 percent flour, one quarter pepper and one quarter salt. Shake them up and then fry them in oil. "Don't flip them too much because it knocks off the coating," Willette advised. "They are fabulous at medium — delicious. You can't tell the difference between the venison and beef."

When cooking venison steaks, Willette said he likes to brown them in a pan, like stew meat, and then place the steaks in a crockpot with a can of golden mushroom soup, a packet of French onion soup mix along with a bit of water. He then lets it cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. "Cook up some rice or noodles and top them with the venison. Voila!"

Willette also uses venison burger to make a homemade pizza. He browns the venison burger, rolls out the dough (store-bought is fine) and tops it with tomato sauce, "good stuff," he advised, and any topping desired. "It's easy-peasy and different. The butcher usually packages the ground venison in two-pound bags. After a few meals, you're sick of it, but this is a nice change to use any extra up."

He said wild turkey meat is very dry, more so than domestic turkey. "I use only the breast meat and cook it slowly." Duck and goose is very greasy, he said, and he usually makes jerky out of it.

"There's a joke among hunters that when you roast the duck or goose, you put a brick under it. When it's done, you toss out the duck or goose and eat the brick," he said with a laugh.

For striped bass, Willette said he likes to cut it into filets, and then into individual portions. He dips the portions into a mixture of oil, lemon juice, melted butter, "a drizzle of vodka." and spices of your choice (he recommended salt, pepper, oregano and parsley), and then wrap the fish portions in a foil packet. He then cooks it in the oven or on the gas grill for 15 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the filet.

When it comes to cooking bear, Willette said it had to be cooked until it is well-done to avoid contracting trichinosis. "Bear is very dry; it's not as forgiving as venison. There aren't many good cuts." He added bear burger has a taste similar to bison burger.

Berkshire Eagle outdoor writer Gene Chague reached out to his friends and readers for some more tried-and true recipes.

Dr. Richard Greene shared a recipe for pheasant, he adapted from a cookbook called "The Inn Cookbook" by Igor Kropotkin.

INGREDIENTS:


6 half pheasant breasts, boneless skinless, bite sized pieces

1/2 stick butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup water

4 tbsp. flour

1 cup dry red wine

1 pkg onion soup mix

1 clove garlic (or more to taste)

3 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp thyme (or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound mushrooms

DIRECTIONS:

Heat butter and oil and lightly saute the breasts on low heat, briefly, so as not to toughen them. Remove them and set aside.

Mix 1/2 cup cold water with flour until smooth. Add to the pan drippings. Add the remaining 1/2 cup water, wine, onion soup mix, garlic parsley, bay leaf, thyme. Cook until smooth and thick, scrape up browned bits on bottom of pan. Add back the pheasant and allow to barely simmer for 10 minutes.

In another pan saute the mushrooms in butter. Add to the pheasant. Serve over white or brown or wild rice or noodles with chopped parsley on top as garnish.



Ceil Hamilton of Lenox shared one of her favorite ways of serving rabbit:

Mock oysters (rabbit)

DIRECTIONS:

Assuming rabbit is skinned and cut up, debone the rabbit and pound the pieces with a meat mallet until flat, like a cutlet.

Dredge in flour, eggs and cracker meal. Fry up in oil.

Serve up with a seafood sauce. Serve with salad and French bread.


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