- Keith Sutton
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I've lived my entire life in the South. In this region, for many of us, hunting isn't just a way of life, it's a way of living. We take game to feed our families. We kill to eat.
There are some who hunt purely for sport, but they are, I believe, an insignificant minority. I base this observation on the hundreds of hunters I have known.
For most, food is still at the core of hunting. And though none of us would starve if wild game did not reach our tables, it is equally certain than many of us would not live as comfortably, either.
Many pounds of wild game are served at our tables each year game that replaces costly domestic meats, such as beef, chicken and pork.
"But hunting is expensive," many folks will tell you. "By the time you figure the expenses involved, that meat costs $30 a pound."
Bah! You can kill a deer with a 50-cent cartridge on a morning hunt, and it'll feed your family for weeks. A limit of cottontails or squirrels killed with $2 worth of shotshells will provide dinner for two for several days.
It's likely that most of you reading this are like me: You enjoy the rich flavors only found in meat that comes straight from nature's larder.
But we eat wild cuisine for other reasons, too.
In her cookbook "Eat Like a Wild Man," Rebecca Gray notes, "One of the very best reasons for eating what you've caught or shot is that it conjures up an event, a nice memory, the time and place of when you caught the fish or shot the critter."
That, too, I believe, is part of our incentive. When we dig into a freshly cooked quail, we're back in the field behind a dog on point. A taste of venison conjures up visions of running deer, beautiful woods and good friends.
In his book "A Rough-Shooting Dog," author Charles Fergus said it best:
"We kill the game to eat it. Tasting it, we thank it. Thanking it, we remember it; how we hunted it, how it tested us, how we overcame it, how it finally fell." Only the hunter can truly understand the compassion of the eater for the eaten.
For most of us, it's not the shooting that matters, but what we do with this food we gather: how we prepare the game to eat, how we share it with friends and family, how we raise our glasses before we eat and thank the animals for their lives.
This is why we are hunters because we want this kind of intimate relationship with the food we eat, and because we want our food to be good.
Over the years I've been fortunate that many fellow hunters and family members have shared some wonderful recipes for wild game recipes that are delicious and unforgettable.
Let me now share five I consider among the best of the best. You're sure to enjoy them, as will those who join you for dinner.
Sutton's special venison grill
In our household, venison is a favorite, and though we butcher and freeze 50 to 150 pounds each year, we rarely have enough to satisfy our desire for this flavorful treat.
We prepare venison for breakfast, lunch and dinner; fried, grilled, broiled, roasted, sautéed and smoked; in soups, stews, casseroles and pies.
But the recipe that follows, which incorporates a simple marinade, is our favorite of favorites.
2 pounds venison steak or loin, cut 1/2 to 1 inch thick
Unseasoned meat tenderizer
1 garlic clove, sliced and mashed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon each: lemon pepper spice, ground ginger, coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup soy sauce
Sprinkle meat tenderizer on both sides of the venison, and pierce the meat all over with a fork. Transfer to a glass baking dish, and allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes while you mix the remaining ingredients to create a marinade. Pour the marinade over the meat; refrigerate one to four hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Remove meat from marinade, drain and cook to desired degree of doneness on the grill or beneath the broiler.
Grandma's rabbit stew
Few wild game meats are as delectable and versatile as rabbit. The flesh is delicate, white and lean, with just a hint of gaminess. It can be cooked in every conceivable way, from simply fried, baked or roasted to stews, casseroles and pies. But in my mind, rabbits are best when cooked in a stew, like this one my grandmother used to make.
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 or 2 rabbits, cut in serving pieces
5 cups water
2 cups coarsely shredded cabbage
2 cups fresh or frozen whole-kernel corn
1 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped green onions
1 cup peeled potatoes, diced
½ cup peeled and sliced carrots
½ cup chopped canned tomatoes
¼ cup green beans
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup uncooked rice
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper, and rub into rabbit pieces. Place the meat in a large stewpot, add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, two to three hours or until rabbit and vegetables are tender.
For quicker cooking, place ingredients in a 7-quart pressure cooker, seal and place over high heat. Cook until pressure reaches 10 pounds, or about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow pressure to reduce to zero, which takes about 45 minutes.
Poor Boy duck fingers
Duck can serve as the basis for a wide variety of mouthwatering recipes. The meat is dark and less moist than domestic duck, with a much more pronounced and, in my opinion, pleasing flavor. This quick and easy recipe, shared by a cook at Arkansas' Poor Boy Duck Club, makes the most of this wonderful game.
Breast fillets from 2 ducks
1 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Slice the fillets crosswise into ¼-inch-wide strips. Salt and pepper lightly. Combine milk and eggs in a shallow bowl. Dip duck strips in milk/egg mixture, then roll in cracker meal. Fry in hot oil until golden brown.
Smoked bacon-wrapped dove breasts
Tasty treatments for mourning doves, America's favorite game birds, need not be complicated, as evidenced by the following recipe.
Any number of dove breasts
Italian salad dressing
Sliced jalapeño peppers
1 slice bacon per two dove breasts
Place dove breasts in a zip-seal plastic bag, cover with Italian dressing and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Remove breasts and use a knife to slit the breast along the bone that runs the length of the breast. Insert one or two slices of jalapeño in each slit. Season breasts to taste with garlic salt and black pepper. Wrap each breast with a half-slice of bacon. Secure bacon with a toothpick through each breast. Cook in a smoker for 90 minutes to two hours or until done to taste.
Baked goose breast fillets
This delectable recipe can be used for preparing any type of goose Canada, snow, white-fronted and Ross' using boneless fillets cut from the breast.
Breast fillets from 3 geese (6 pieces of boneless meat)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 (10.5-oz.) cans cream of mushroom soup
2 soup cans' full of milk
Season fillets with salt and pepper, and roll in flour. Put butter or margarine into a skillet, and heat to frying temperature. Brown fillets on both sides. Place the fillets in a glass-covered casserole dish and bake one hour at 325 degrees.
Mix soup and milk, and pour over meat. Reduce heat to 275 degrees and cook 30 minutes to 45 minutes or until breasts are done.
55mEric D. Williams