Some great, some bad but an adventure every time
WORTHINGTON -- With the turn of the page we will soon be living in the month of September. Hunting season will be starting for Minnesota doves on the first. The early Canada goose season also starts on the same day. The start of the grouse season in both Minnesota and South Dakota is Sept. 15 and the Minnesota pheasant season opener is Oct. 13.
Many of you will be looking at the remaining wild game that occupies the back of some of your freezer shelves and wonder what you can do with it before you start accumulating more when the 2012 seasons begin. Wild game for many is the "out of sight out of mind kind of meal." Many wives and girlfriends will opt for the traditional beef and pork entrée when deciding what to prepare because it was the last item put in the freezer and is closest to the front.
Wild game meat is actually some of the leanest and most nutritious options for your dinner table but many, if not all, cooks will say that it is too hard to prepare without drying it out. It is true that wild game is leaner and if cooked too long it will turn into a really good substitute for the sole of your shoe but that is no reason to let it get freezer burned on the back shelf.
I have a couple of ideas that will work for just about any wild game you have left over from last season. And with Labor Day just around the corner now is the time to get the necessary ingredients to enjoy these tasty treats over the long weekend. For most wild game cooks the wild game is usually dumped into a crock pot and left for days. It's hard to dry out the contents of a crock pot which is why it is so commonly used. Once safely hidden in the crock pot the next thing most cooks try is to completely cover the taste of the wild meat with enough mushroom soup to disguise it as something else. This has been done for decades and will get you an edible meal.
I would like to suggest a few other methods that will break the mold of the traditional wild game cover up. Start with about 4 aluminum bread pans. Buy the ones that are about 8 x 4 x 4. Then go to the store and pick up a selection of different sauces. For this afternoon I tried the Jack Daniels marinade and three others that all had differing tastes. Try something that you never tasted before. Teriyaki sauce is one that everyone that tries my wild game loves. I thawed out several packages of goose breasts a while back for a Turkey Day barbecue and cut them into cubes about an inch square. I took the aluminum pans and put them on the top shelf of my grill and added the meat chunks and one distinct sauce and a little extra water to each pan. I grilled/roasted them very slowly with the sauce just lightly bubbling. You will need to add additional water occasionally as the sauce starts to condense.
After about 60 minutes of slowly grilling/roasting the goose pieces I added a few foil pouches of baby red potatoes to the grill and an additional 60 minutes later I served this to my afternoon guests with some French bread. I did not tell anyone what they were eating and the vast majority of those in attendance just loved it. There was one person who liked it just fine until they found out it was Canada goose and then immediately changed their vote to "didn't like it anymore", imagine that. Most could not identify what it was but they kept coming back until it till it was all gone just the same. This is an easy and tasty way to prepare wild game. It matters little if this is deer, pheasant, goose, or any other wild game. You can even do chicken and beef this way if you want. It was super tender and moist just the way it is supposed to be. Cooking for me is an event, especially if I am doing it outside. Tending the grill and preparing game that me and my dogs worked together to harvest and turning that into a great meal is part of being a hunter. This is one of aspects of hunting that most non-hunters never quite grasp.
The second alternative method of wild game preparation also uses a grill but cannot be done properly with bacon. There is a commercial on TV that says everything is better with bacon and in the world of wild game it is certainly true. The two biggest problems with cooking wild game with bacon are the flame ups that will certainly result and the wild game is usually overdone before the bacon is crisp. There are several ways to work around that. The first is not my favorite but you use aluminum foil on the grill and cook on top of that. This works but I think you lose something in the process.
A better method is to buy thick cut bacon and then microwave it just a little. This will get rid of a large portion of the grease that drips unto the burners and creates the fires. It also makes it easier to get the bacon crisp at the same time as the pheasant bits or other wild game is done. The key to successfully cooking wild game in bite size pieces on a grill is adding something to the effort to keep the meat moist. My favorite is a water chestnut. Take a pheasant chunk seasoned with you favorite season salt and wrap it in a partially cooked slice of bacon and tuck a water chestnut inside and stick it with a tooth pick to secure it.
Others will use a jalapeño or a little chunk of pineapple. What you use is up to you. A little apple slice is another choice but this is where your imagination steps in. Be it doves, pheasant, rabbit, waterfowl or venison, all of these tastes great if you don't overcook them and the added flavor of the grill adds that little something extra.
If you are still determined to use the crock pot at least substitute sour cream or other heavy cream for the mushroom soup. This is a great alternative if your heart doctor will allow it. If you experiment with your wild game recipes and cooking methods not all of your dishes are going to turn out but to have tried and failed is better than letting it get freezer burned into something out of a science fiction movie and then throwing it away. Experiment long enough and you will end up with large gatherings at your house on Turkey Day helping you empty your freezer of last year's wild game harvest.
I have a lot of new cooking experiments to try and here's to a great upcoming hunting season with lots of opportunities to shake the crock pot mentality of wild game preparation.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.