When game hunting was necessary for survival in the American West, there were no moral dilemmas to ponder before taking a bite of supper. It was either eat Bambi or die. Wild venison was the boneless chicken breast of the pioneer era.
In her new cookbook, "Wild About Game" (Broadway Books, $30), Janie Hibler says American game consumption took a nose dive in 1918 with the passage of the Migratory Bird Act, which made the sale of hunted birds illegal.
Game was done in by cultural forces as well. Given the choice of trudging out into the cold to fetch supper or stopping by the local butcher to pick up a roast beef, most Americans chose the butcher.
Game never disappeared entirely, and in the ebb and flow of culinary trends, game is making a strong comeback as a business and an eating trend. Upscale restaurants and upscale supermarkets regularly offer venison, duck, rabbit, buffalo, ostrich and other exotics.
Most of the game sold today is not wild; it's raised on ranches. This means that the strong flavor of game that made it different from beef and chicken has largely disappeared from commercial game. Those in the game business tout the meat's milder flavor because they want to appeal to a mass audience. Neither is it as troubling to eat for meat eaters who draw distinctions between food that is raised and food that is stalked.
But game is different enough from beef, pork and chicken to make a game cookbook useful. Hibler, who had written a game cookbook directed largely at hunters in the early 1980s, decided to write a game cookbook for nonhunters when she realized how much game has become available to consumers in recent years. The problem, Hibler says: "People don't know how to buy it, and they don't know how to cook it."
She quickly points out in a phone conversation from her home in Portland, Ore., that the rules of cooking game are not complicated once you know some basics.
"There are only two things you need to know about cooking game," Hibler says. "Hot and fast; slow and low. Hot and fast is for meat that is the farthest from antlers and hoofs -- that means steaks, loins and tenderloins, the most tender meat. Slow and low -- moist braising or stewing -- is for the shoulder, neck, chuck and shank, those tougher parts closest to the antlers."
Even experienced game cooks have a thing or two to learn in this new era of commercially raised game. "I've always used marinades on wild game to help tenderize the meat," Hibler says. "But in doing this book, I've found that you don't want to marinate commercial game more than a couple of hours."
As for determining when game is properly cooked -- Hibler likes most game medium-rare; more than that and it can get a livery flavor -- she uses visual cues.
"Instead of cooking with a meat thermometer, I use a 98-cent metal cake tester, especially for game birds. I go strictly by the color of the juices, which should be a nice rose color. If you like your meat more well-done, cook it until the juices are golden or clear. If no juices come, you've overcooked it."
The following recipes are from Hibler's "Wild About Game."
Makes 4 quarts
2 carrots, cut into 3-inch lengths
1 onion, cut into eighths
5 pounds venison bones
3 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs parsley
1 stalk celery
5 black peppercorns
4 juniper berries, optional
Roast carrots, onion and game bones on baking sheet with sides at 400 degrees, shaking pan every few minutes, until bones are brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer carrots, onion and bones to large pot. Pour 1 cup water onto baking sheet and scrape with spatula to release caramelized cooking particles. Add to pot with bones and vegetables.
Tie thyme, parsley and celery stalk together and add to pot with peppercorns and juniper berries. Cover with 5 quarts cold water and bring almost to boil over high heat. Just before stock boils, reduce heat and simmer 4 hours. Set aside to cool.
Strain stock and discard solids. Store cooled stock covered in refrigerator up to 5 days or put in plastic freezer containers and freeze up to 3 months.
Note: Never use game bones that have strong gamy odor, or your stock will be strong and gamy, too.
Active work time: 20 minutes; total preparation time: 5 hours
Each cup: 22 calories; 17 milligrams sodium; 7 milligrams cholesterol; 0 fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.19 gram fiber
Smoked Game Hash
1 pound unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes, shredded
6 ounces smoked duck, goose, pheasant, turkey or chicken breast, diced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground horseradish
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup regular or low-fat sour cream
chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional
Toss together potatoes, duck, shallot, salt, pepper and thyme.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, loosely arrange half of potato-duck mixture over bottom of pan. Don't press down potatoes; air between potatoes keeps center from becoming soggy.
Cook hash without turning until bottom of potatoes is dark golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over uncooked side of potatoes. Shake pan to loosen hash and flip over, or, if you're not so daring, turn hash over with pancake turner. If hash falls apart, just push it back together and gently pat down.
Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 more minutes, until potatoes are done and dark golden brown on bottom.
Keep warm in 200-degree oven.
Heat additional 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet, add remaining hash and fry as above, adding remaining 1 teaspoon oil before turning hash as before.
Stir together sour cream and horseradish. Divide hash among 4 plates and serve each with dollop of sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Active work time and total preparation time: 30 minutes.
Serving suggestions: It's a great brunch hash served with a poached egg on top, and it's terrific for dinner accompanied by a green salad.
Per serving: 294 calories; 343 milligrams sodium; 49 milligrams cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrate; 16 grams protein; 0.70 grams fiber
Roast Duckling With Ducky's Port Sauce
3 (5-pound) ducklings (see note)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup orange or lemon juice
Ducky's Port Sauce (recipe below)
Trim wing tips and neck fat from ducks and remove giblets. Pat birds dry with paper towels, then rub inside and out with salt, pepper and cumin. Sprinkle with orange juice.
Put ducks on rack in roasting pan and roast at 500 degrees 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast until skin is golden brown and juices are rosy-colored to yellow, about 40 minutes. Meat thermometer should read 160 to 165 degrees.
Remove birds from oven and let them rest at room temperature 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
Discard fat from drippings. Pour drippings into Ducky's Port Sauce and heat. When hot, pour sauce into sauce boat and serve with roast duck.
Carve each duck into 2 boneless breasts and leg-thigh portions. Serve each person 1 breast and 1 leg-thigh.
Active work time: 20 minutes; total preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Note: Hibler created this recipe for Pekin (also called Long Island or Peking) duck. It works well with Muscovy ducks as well. Hibler points out that ducklings do not have a lot of meat for their size. You need one bird for every two guests.
Per serving, with sauce: 1,251 calories; 380 milligrams sodium; 220 milligrams cholesterol; 113 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrate; 32 grams protein; 0.03 gram fiber
Ducky's Port Sauce
Makes 1 cup
2 cups port, preferably tawny
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 heaping teaspoon peach chutney
2 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
2 heaping teaspoons blackberry jelly
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup frozen butter, cut in small pieces
Bring port to simmer in 2-quart saucepan, then add orange and lemon juices. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat.
Stir in garlic, Worcestershire sauce, stock, chutney, jelly and onion. Reduce heat to medium-low and reduce sauce by half, about 30 minutes. Strain and continue cooking until sauce turns dark brown and has syrup-like consistency. Whisk in frozen butter.
Active work time: 20 minutes; total preparation time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.
Each 2-tablespoon serving: 198 calories; 272 milligrams sodium; 16 milligrams cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram protein; 0.04 gram fiber
Loin of Venison With Cranberry-Chipotle Sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons clarified butter or oil
1 (4- to 5-pound) venison loin or beef tenderloin
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 garlic chives or chives, minced
2 cups cranberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup dry red wine
2 1/2 cups reduced Game Stock (recipe below, left)
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon chipotle chili puree (sold canned in most supermarkets)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Heat clarified butter in large skillet over medium heat until lightly smoking. Season venison loin with salt and pepper to taste and sear on all sides in skillet, 30 to 45 seconds each side. Remove from skillet and place on baking sheet.
Roast loin at 350 degrees about 15 minutes for medium-rare venison (135 degrees internal temperature) or beef (145 degrees internal temperature).
Pour all but 1 tablespoon butter from skillet. Add shallots and garlic chives and cook 20 seconds. Add cranberries and sugar and cook 30 seconds longer.
Deglaze with wine by adding wine to pan over high heat and scraping up any browned bits. Reduce wine by three-quarters over high heat (about 8 minutes). Add Game Stock, chipotle chili puree and chopped sage. Reduce by one-third, about 5 minutes, then strain through fine sieve. Press cranberry mixture with back of spoon to force as much sauce through sieve as possible. Return sauce to clean saucepan and heat to boiling. Whisk in butter, remove from heat and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Active work time: 25 minutes; total preparation time: 40 minutes.
Per serving for 10: 295 calories; 434 milligrams sodium; 115 milligrams cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrate; 34 grams protein; 0.27 grams fiber
Pub Date: 02/03/99