Photography and prop styling by Holly Heyser
IF THERE'S ONE THING WE'VE LEARNED OVER THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS, IT'S THE VALUE OF FAMILY.
Many of us have had the opportunity to spend more time with those we love, and one positive outcome of all this has been the resurgence of the traditional family dinner. It's been many years, I would guess, since so many families have cooked together, gathered around the table to enjoy homemade meals, and even lingered after dinner to discuss the topics of the day.
In this spirit, perhaps now is a good time to look at your freezer inventory. Chances are, you have the makings of a sensational wild-game family feast. Here is a selection of tasty recipes for families who love the outdoors and spending time together. Most of these dishes are for relatively large families, but if yours is small, you can cut the recipes in half or divide the finished product into small batches and freeze for a no-fuss meal later on.
Save a boatload of money by preparing this simple and delicious dish at home. Once cured, the salmon can be kept for a week or two in the refrigerator or tightly wrapped and frozen. Use it on salads, Benedicts, or as a great appetizer with mustard sauce and crackers.
- 1 side salmon fillet (2 to 3 pounds), skin and pin bones removed
- 1 large bunch of dill, chopped
- 1/2 cup kosher salt (not the table-grind variety)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- Thin slices of lemon and lime
SPICY MUSTARD SAUCE
- 1/2 cup jalapeño jelly
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
[Step 1] Combine 1/4 cup of the chopped dill with kosher salt, sugar, and pepper. Spread half the mixture over the bottom of a glass, plastic, or ceramic baking dish. Place the salmon fillet on top of the mixture. Distribute the remaining mixture evenly over the top of the fillet. Arrange lemon and lime slices on top.
[Step 2] Wrap a thin board or heavy piece of cardboard with plastic wrap or foil and place it on top of the salmon fillet. Add weight to the board or cardboard by placing plastic- or foil-wrapped bricks on top. Leave in the refrigerator for three days, turning the salmon and pouring off the juices twice daily. After three days, pour off all the juices and pat the fish gently with paper towels.
[Step 3] Stir the mustard sauce ingredients together. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut the salmon into thin slices. Arrange on a platter, sprinkle with the rest of the chopped dill, and serve with spicy mustard sauce and crackers.
CHEF TIP: FREEZING FISH
The best way to prevent freezer burn and extend the life of frozen fish is to first wrap the fresh fish with paper towels to absorb some of the juices. Then place the wrapped fish on a baking sheet and set it in the freezer for an hour or two. Once the fish is semi-frozen, remove the paper towels and vacuum-seal the fish.
When making stuffed venison dishes, many cooks use backstraps, but other cuts from the hindquarter can be just as tender and good tasting. Even the somewhat tougher eye of round can be butterflied and lightly pounded to make it more tender. Top and bottom rounds are great candidates for stuffing. Makes 10 to 12 appetizer-size servings.
- 2 pounds venison backstrap or hindquarter, trimmed of all silver skin
- Olive oil
- 1 diced medium apple
- 1/4 cup diced red onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Black pepper
- Butcher string
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
[Step 1] Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay the venison on a flat cutting surface. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife, start cutting into the meat from one side. Slide the knife toward the opposite end of the meat, but don't cut all the way through. This will leave a sort of hinge in the center and allow you to open the meat like a book. Pound it with a mallet or heavy skillet until the meat is about a half-inch thick from edge to edge.
[Step 2] Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add apple, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and jalapeño pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar. Allow mixture to cool, then mix in the cheese.
[Step 3] Rub a thin coating of oil into the meat and season with salt and black pepper on both sides. Lay seasoned meat flat, with the inside facing up. Spread stuffing over meat and press down to flatten. Leave the outside edges "unstuffed" so that, when tied, the meat will bind together. Roll the meat up on one end and secure with butcher string, and then work your way to the other end. While pressing stuffing into meat, continue to hold the roll together snugly while turning the ends inward and securing with string.
[Step 4] Heat a thin layer of oil in a medium-hot, oven-safe skillet. Brown meat on all sides, then place the skillet into the preheated oven for 7 to 12 minutes, depending on the diameter of the stuffed meat and desired doneness. For medium-rare, the internal temperature should be 130 to 135 degrees.
[Step 5] Once the meat has reached the desired temperature, remove it from the skillet and set aside. Return the skillet to the heat, add the red wine, and stir to deglaze the pan. Remove from heat and whisk in chilled butter.
[Step 6] Allow the meat to rest for a few minutes before removing string. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, slice the stuffed meat into medallions. Arrange on plates and drizzle with sauce or serve it on the side.
CHEF TIP: BRINING
Soaking your duck or goose meat in a brine solution will leach out the gamey taste and add flavor and moisture. Mix 1/2 gallon of water with 1/2 cup coarse salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Let the meat sit in the solution overnight in the refrigerator. After you remove it from the brine and pat it dry, it's ready for any recipe.
If a grinder is not available, simply cut duck breasts into chunks and pulse in a food processor. The duck meat will be easier to process if it is partially frozen. Makes 20 stuffed mushrooms.
- 2 cups ground duck
- 1 cup ground pork
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 green onions, minced
- 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, minced
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 20 large mushroom caps, stems removed
[Step 1] Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine all ingredients except mushroom caps.
[Step 2] Take a small spoon and scrape out the dark gills on the inside of each mushroom. Divide the filling mixture into 20 equal parts and stuff each mushroom cap.
[Step 3] Place stuffed mushrooms, stuffing side up, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until filling is thoroughly cooked.
CHEF TIP: CHECK YOUR TEMP
It's important to cook game meat to the proper temperature. For waterfowl, especially, it can mean the difference between a mediocre dish and a great one. A duck breast grilled to medium-rare, for example, will be juicy, tender, and flavorful. Cooked past medium-rare, that same breast will become tough and livery tasting. The solution is easy: Get an accurate meat thermometer and use it often.
PHEASANT CAESAR SALAD
Tender pieces of grilled, smoked, or baked pheasant make the perfect topping for this classic dinner salad. But just say "no" to bottled dressing, store-bought croutons, and canned, grated Parmesan. Make it all from scratch. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/3 cups olive oil
- 4 cups cooked and shredded pheasant meat
- 3 heads romaine lettuce, outside leaves removed
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups croutons, preferably homemade
- 2/3 cup chopped black olives
[Step 1] Add all dressing ingredients except olive oil to a food processor or blender and pulse for 30 seconds or until mixture is smooth. While motor is running, add oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Adjust flavor to taste.
[Step 2] Chop the lettuce and toss with all the other salad ingredients in a large bowl with half the dressing. Add additional dressing as needed and serve immediately.
CHEF TIP: LOW AND SLOW
Some game meats, like braised deer shanks, waterfowl legs, ground game, and other tough cuts, are good candidates for slow cooking. Often combined with sauces, the cooked meat can be shredded and kept at serving temperature in a warmer.
Slow-roasted and paired with a spirited barbecue sauce, the flavor of the goose meat is very similar to pulled pork. Make a large batch, vacuum-seal, and freeze in smaller portions for later. Makes 20 sliders.
- 3 or 4 skinless goose breast fillets
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons each freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and kosher salt
- 3 cups barbecue sauce
- 20 slider buns
- 5 cups coleslaw
[Step 1] In a bowl, combine paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and salt. Use the mixture to coat breast fillets on all sides. Arrange fillets on a tray for the oven or load onto racks for a smoker or grill.
[Step 2] Place fillets into an oven, smoker, or grill set at 225 to 250 degrees. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees.
[Step 3] Place three or four large sheets of aluminum foil on a work surface. Arrange each cooked fillet on the center of one of the foil sheets and top with barbecue sauce. Roll up foil and return to oven, smoker, or grill. Cook for another hour or until meat reaches about 205 degrees and shreds easily.
[Step 4] Place shredded meat on slider buns and top each with about 1/4 cup of coleslaw.
CHEF TIP: PERFECT GRILLED DUCK BREASTS
Brine some duck breast fillets (skin on or off) overnight. Pat them dry, rub with olive oil and your favorite seasonings, and allow them to sit for several hours. If the skin is intact, score it with a knife a few times to keep it from curling when cooking. Place the fillets on a hot grill skin side down. Cook for several minutes or until the skin is crisp, then flip over and cook for several minutes more, until the internal temperature is 135 degrees. Slice into one- or two-bite portions and drizzle with your favorite sauce.
Get the grill white-hot, toss the vegetables with your favorite vinaigrette or dressing, and grill until you see grill marks. Flip over, grill for a minute or two more, and allow them to cool completely if they are not going to be served right away. Drizzle additional dressing over the vegetables and serve at room temperature, or pop them into a 350-degree oven until warm.