Try a Little Tenderness

These cooking techniques will make even the toughest game tender and delicious

Photo © JOHN HOFFMAN, DU

By Scott Leysath

Among the complaints from those who don't like to eat waterfowl and other wild game is that the meat isn't tender. The toughness is usually a result of overcooking, but there are winged and four-legged critters that can be a bit chewy even when cooked properly. When grilled, a breast fillet from a mature giant Canada goose is never going to taste like one from a young specklebelly. Fortunately, there are remedies that can transform even the toughest meats into a moist, tender, and delicious meal.

Perhaps you have heard about one of the latest fads for foodies—sous vide (pronounced "soo-veed"). It's a cooking method that involves encasing seasoned meat in a vacuum-sealed or food-safe plastic bag and submerging it in a circulating hot water bath. Meats poach in their own juices, and even the largest goose breast fillets will be fork tender after several hours in 130-degree water. However, sous vide cooking won't brown the meat, so it's best to sear it in a hot skillet or on a grill before serving. You can buy a basic home sous vide unit for a little over $100. 

The more traditional go-to method for tenderizing tougher cuts of wild game is to first brown and then stew the meat in a flavorful broth with vegetables. Once cut into cubes, even old honkers will break apart after simmering for several hours. Many home chefs rely on slow cookers to make a hearty stew while they are busy doing other things. Nothing beats the inviting aroma of a warm meal after a long day at the office or in the field, and the pot did most of the work.

Any-Game Stew

Use this recipe as a general guide to make a hearty stew with waterfowl or other lean wild game. What goes into your creation is up to you, but it never hurts to start with rendered bacon fat. Makes: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cubed duck or goose fillets
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced thick-cut bacon, pork belly, or fatback 
  • 2 cups roughly chopped onion
  • 2 cups roughly chopped celery 
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic 
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 to 2 quarts beef or game broth
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups halved fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups potato, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions

[Step 1] Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a large pot, slow cooker, or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until it is evenly browned. Increase heat to medium high and cook cubed waterfowl fillets in batches until thoroughly browned.

[Step 2] Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic, Worcestershire, and enough broth to cover the contents of the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until meat is tender. Add remaining ingredients except parsley, cover, and simmer until potatoes are cooked (about 30 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper and top with parsley. 


Tools of the Trade 
Hand tenderizers that cut across the connective tissues of sinewy meats are an essential part of my game-cooking arsenal. I prefer the spring-loaded models that have a few rows of sharp, flat blades over those with needlelike pokers. In a pinch, give the meat several stabs with a fork or cut it into chunks and pound with a mallet or heavy skillet.