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Food for Thought
With a new year comes a bombardment of articles offering weight-loss and fitness suggestions. Drink more water. Eat more vegetables. Walk, walk, walk! Those are pretty basic, non-arguable ideas.
Then there are the articles that confuse me thoroughly. Depending on who is reporting, coffee, green tea, chocolate, bacon, bananas, corn, potatoes, whole grains, and alcohol are either a gift from above or a poor choice. Meat is also on this list.
Before you come at me with pitchforks, waving your torches, I want to go on record to say that I greatly respect those who embrace a meat-free diet, but I've tried it and failed miserably. My husband and I are meat eaters, though for the most part we don't overindulge, and the majority of our meat is game meat.
I'm not advocating a mass advance on the woods; there simply aren't enough wild animals to feed our population. I do, however, believe that game meat is superior to that purchased in grocery stores and is a good choice for those who have access to it.
We eat wild grouse and turkey when the family hunter has had good luck. Fresh seafood was a large part of our diet when we lived on the coast, but now it is an occasional treat, as we rely on good friends to bring us seafood when they visit. I pay them back with huckleberry jam!
Here in the Pacific Northwest, fish, fowl, deer, moose, bear, and elk are commonly harvested. We have elk, deer, and bear in our freezer right now and are enjoying (and sharing) the bounty.
Even the stodgy Mayo Clinic recognizes the superiority of game meat. According to them it is lower in calories and fat, and on the lower end of the cholesterol scale when compared to beef or pork. For more information, read Wild gameA healthy choice?
I found a wonderful article by the University of Wyoming, comparing the nutritional values of meat: Nutritional Content of Game Meat (scroll down the page to find the .pdf file). Surprisingly, the differences between game meat and beef weren't as large as I expected. Their study shows that wild meat is lower in fat, slightly higher in protein, and has more Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. However, considering that the wild meat also hasn't been exposed to as many chemicals and GMOs (I can't say they don't get any, because I've seen game animals eating out of farmers' fields), I'll choose game meat any day.
The Big Guys
Properly field dressed, aged, and butchered, wild game is tender and flavorful. Careful removal of the fat and gristle will keep the meat from being too gamey tasting. Where an animal lives and what it eats can also make a huge difference in its flavor; a coastal bear eating fish and (possibly) rooting through garbage cans is not going to taste as good as a bear in the hills that eats berries and smaller game.
I was pleasantly surprised this year to find that I loved the taste of bear. I can honestly say that I wouldn't have been able to tell it apart from beefexcept the bear meat was more tender. Elk is also very similar to beef in flavor and texture. Venison can be a little less palatable unless it's thoughtfully cooked. I soak my venison in brine or in buttermilk overnight before cooking it, which really helps.
For those of you who have access to elk, bear, antelope, or deer (or you can use bison, which is readily available in many stores now), here is my recipe for a bourguignon, one of my favorite ways to prepare wild game. I used elk in this batch.
Wild turkey can be tough, because instead of being stuffed in a cage and being fed grains and corn, they're out there doing what a turkey does . . . running around being social, and flying when they must. They are more sinewy than a domestic bird and need to be cooked differently. Personally, I only bake or slow-cook the breast meat, and turn the rest of the bird into delicious turkey stock.
I recommend brining or marinating before cooking, with a combination of wine (or orange juice), olive oil, and seasonings of your choice. I've heard of a dark beer and honey marinade, which sounds awfully good, too. I also like to place a couple of strips of bacon over the turkey breast and cover it lightly with foil before baking.
If you choose to roast the whole turkey, roast it breast side down and make sure to baste it often. Don't expect to get as much meat from it as you get from a domestically raised turkey; the wild ones are much leaner and don't have the leisure time to eat and become voluptuous!
We rarely eat grouse or pheasant. Frankly, there's just not enough meat on them to make it worth the effort. But . . . grouse are numerous where we live, so if the opportunity presents itself, I'll find myself with a few grouse breasts to cook. My favorite way to prepare them is to slice the breast thinly, roll the slices in seasoned flour, then dip them in buttermilk, and finally roll them in panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs found in most grocery stores). Fry the strips quickly in hot oil.
To accompany the meal, I make some lovely dark rolls. These are soft and flavorful, with a delicate crust and a hint of chocolate. They're perfect for sandwiches, too.
Speaking of chocolate . . . next month's column will be full of Valentine treats, my favorite. Go ahead and watch your calories in January, because you certainly won't want to next month!
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Also enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.