Wild game is richer in flavor and lower in fat and calories than domestic meat, but cooking it successfully can be a challenge. With the step-by-step instructions in Dressing & Cooking Wild Game (Voyageur Press, 2014), by Teresa Marrone, you can ensure great-tasting dishes after every hunting expedition, from properly field dressing your game to choosing a preparation that suits it. The following excerpt is from “Big Game Recipes.”
Big-game meat, if cooked properly, is even tastier than choice beef. And because it’s leaner than beef, it also has fewer calories. But the lean meat can become tough and dry if cooked incorrectly.
To make sure big-game meat doesn’t dry out, cook it with moist heat or keep it on the rare side. One exception is bear meat. Always cook it thoroughly, like pork, because bears may carry trichinosis.
The external fat of big game is strong-tasting and tallow, so remove it before cooking. To tenderize tough cuts, marinate them in a mixture of oil and wine, or in a packaged beef marinade.
Most recipes for deer work equally well for antelope, elk, and moose. Generally, antelope and elk meat is finer-grained than deer and moose. Of the antlered animals, elk probably tastes most like beef; antelope, least like it. Bear meat is stronger, darker, and coarser than other big game, and is usually prepared with more seasoning.
How good the meat tastes, however, depends less on the species of the animal than on its sex and age, the time of year it was killed, and the care you take with it after the kill. A buck taken during the rut, for instance, is usually stronger-tasting and tougher than one taken earlier in the season.
The animal’s diet also affects the flavor. A corn-fed deer is much tastier than one forced to eat low-nutrition foods like red cedar. If you store meat from several animals in your freezer and notice that meat from one tastes particularly strong, mark all the other packages from that animal. Then you can prepare it in a way that minimizes the flavor.
Roasting Big Game
There are two basic ways to roast big game: with dry heat and moist heat. Dry-heat roasting includes high- and low-temperature methods. The most common method of moist-heat roasting is braising, which includes pot roasting.
Only prime roasts are candidates for dry-heat, high-temperature cooking. These include the top round, sirloin tip, backstrap, and rump roasts. The tenderloin of a moose, elk, or large deer may also be used. These prime cuts are naturally tender, and do not need long, slow cooking for tenderizing.
For high-temperature cooking, select a roast between 2 and 5 inches thick, or a thinner piece you can roll and tie. First, brown the meat in hot fat, then roast in a hot (400 and 450 degree) oven. With these high temperatures, roasts should be cooked only rare to medium. If cooked well-done, they dry out and shrink.
Low-temperature roasting is another option for these same prime cuts. And it’s necessary for such medium-tender cuts as the bottom round and eye of round, which needs longer cooking to ensure tenderness. Cover the meat with bacon or a sheet of beef or pork fat (available from your butcher), or baste it frequently. Cook it in a slow (300 to 325 degree) oven. With low heat, roasts may be cooked rare, medium, or well-done.
When roasting with dry heat, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. The chart below gives temperatures for various stages of doneness. Remove the meat from the oven with it reads 5 degrees below the ideal temperature; it will continue to heat on the platter. It will slice better if you wait 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
Moist heat tenderizes shoulder roasts and other tough cuts, and also works well with the bottom round and eye of round. Brown the roast in hot fat, then add liquid and flavoring and cover the pan tightly. Cook the meat until tender, on the stove top or in a moderate (325 to 350 degree) oven. When pot-roasting, add vegetables during the last hour or so of cooking. Braised meat is always served well-done.
Recipes from Dressing & Cooking Wild Game:
Reprinted with permission from Dressing & Cooking Wild Game by Teresa Marrone and published by Voyageur Press, 2014.