- Ron Schara
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He's everywhere. On television. On radio. In books. In videos. Giving talks. Doing seminars.
He is Chef John, the "Game Gourmet," with his world headquarters the kitchen of Schumacher's New Prague Hotel, a touch of old-world Europe in downtown New Prague, Minn.
He also is also John Schumacher, a Wheaton, Minn., farm boy who grew up in the back forty hunting pheasants or fishing country creeks.
In other words, this Game Gourmet is not an act.
"The way I was raised, if you went hunting, if you shot something, it was your duty to clean it and make it ready for the kitchen," Schumacher said.
"My mother wasn't fond of wild game unless it was ready. And guess who started lighting the stove and tending the pheasant breasts?
"That's when I first realized I had a fondness for cooking, for food."
Eventually, the kitchen also turned out to be Schumacher's ticket to success, that and overcoming dyslexia along the way to turn a recipe into "good eatin'."
"I added wild game to my restaurant selections starting back in 1974," he noted. "Hunting and fishing were my passions, so why not make it a part of who I am?"
Call it good timing.
Preparing wild game and fish is never a dull topic. Plus, wild game poses some cooking challenges.
"Everybody wants their wild game to taste like chicken. But each game species is unique and that's actually the fun part. Each has its own unique flavor," Schumacher said.
"When you prepare wild game, you have to rethink a few things. Sometimes you're dealing with a strong flavor. All wild game is low in fat so that requires a different cooking process."
As a general rule, Schumacher said wild game should be prepared boneless, fat trimmed and silver skin (connective tissue) removed.
Big-game cooking tips
"Red meat should be cut to no more than 1-inch thickness. If it's too thick, it'll take too long to cook. If it's too thin, it'll get dry," he Schumacher said.
Don't add salt until served. Salt during the cooking process adds toughness. A marinade needs 72 hours to be act as a tenderizer.
How the venison is thawed is important. Thawing should be a slow process in the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter.
To conserve venison juices, only turn over a steak once during the cooking process.
To improve strong-flavored venison or antelope, serve with a sauce to mellow.
Venison or any red game meat is best served medium rare.
Bear is like pork and should be thoroughly cooked to at least 170 degrees. Serve well done.
Upland game bird cooking tips
"The No. 1 question I get from Boston to L.A. is how to fix pheasant," said Schumacher. "Pheasant poses problems because it is very fat free and therefore you can't cook it like chicken, which has fat."
Pheasant is best prepared in small pieces, sautéed and cooked on low temperatures for long periods.
Grilling game birds is almost impossible without adding moisture, such as bacon strips.
Game birds with dark breast meat, such as sharptail grouse, should be prepared similar to pheasant.
Waterfowl breast has more fat content than pheasant and, thus, can be cooked fast and short or long and slow.
Wild duck cooked whole in deep fat fryer will maintain moisture inside with crispness outside. Ideal oil temperature is about 350 degrees. If too hot, the bird will burn outside; if too cool, the oil will be absorbed.
Always check breasts to remove birdshot.
Fish cooking tips
The most common fish-cooking mistake is overcooking. Fish should be served medium rare. A walleye fillet is done when the color of the fillet turns from skim milk white to bone white.
For fish frying, oil temperatures ranging from 350 to 375 degrees is extremely important. Oil too hot will burn fish; oil too cold will be absorbed into the fillet.
Cut fish fillets to maintain similar thickness for ease in cooking.
Don't thaw fish fillets in water; place in refrigerator.
To avoid freezer burn, double wrap fish in plastic bags. Store for only 90 days.
Vacuum packing is best to freeze fish.
The Game Gourmet's favorite: Game medallions
(Recipe taken from Minnesota Bound Game Cookbook by John Schumacher.)
Marinate 2 pounds of venison roast in herb dressing for 72 hours.
Cut venison into 2-inch cubes and wrap in bacon, fasten with toothpick.
Peel and slice onion into thin slices. Place butter and onions in heavy sauce pot on medium heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add barbeque sauce, beer, brown sugar and paprika. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 more minutes.
Stir with wooden spoon.
Heat a heavy frying pan. Add vegetable oil. Add cubed venison steak.
Brown and turn. Cook to desired doneness, splash with Worcestershire sauce.
On hot serving plate, place caramelized onions and top with steak and serve.
2 pounds boneless venison steak or roast
1 pint herb dressing
8 strips bacon
4 cups sliced onion
1/3-cup barbecue sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4-cup vegetable sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Game is healthy
A 3.6-ounce lean-beef hamburger has 18 grams of fat and 272 calories.
Venison has 2 grams of fat and 124 calories. The same serving of elk has 1gram of fat and 111 calories. Moose has 0.7 grams of fat and 102 calories.
The cholesterol levels of red game meats also are lower than beef, with antelope being the exception.
Oddly, wild duck is higher in cholesterol than domestic chicken, according to information from the USDA.
January through March 2003, "Backroads with Ron & Raven" airs Sundays at 7:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Ron Schara's short feature of the same name airs Saturdays on ESPN2 at 7:55 a.m. ET. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.
3hEric D. Williams