As hunters, we know why we prefer to serve game meats like venison, elk or even rabbit over the more mundane beef, chicken or pork. What we often overlook is the advantages of buying game from specialty shops.
Purchasing wild game from specialty shops or even online vendors first serves the practical purpose of allowing you to acquire preferred cuts fresh, exactly when you need them (meaning no need to defrost that frozen elk you’ve been saving since last winter). Second, the diversity in products offered at such establishments enables you to select multiple different types and portions, thereby facilitating elaborate, multi-course meals.
Access to a buffet of wild game meats can inspire the design and creation of impressive menus for family fetes, formal suppers, and neighborhood gatherings. Cookouts, for example, are brought to another level by pairing venison burgers with haute accompaniments such as slices of heirloom white pearmain apple, buttery, softy cheeses like a Saint Angel triple crème, and artisan
pretzel dough rolls. Meat so gentle and sophisticated requires cautious cooking; keep a close watch on the grill and anticipate browning each burger at high heat for a few minutes per side. You’ll also have to up the ante with the potatoes, and that means doing more than frying sticks of spuds in vegetable oil. Instead, coat chunks of white russet with rendered duck fat and roast until brown. Wash everything down with a craft beer, such as a locally-brewed IPA or barley wine, and for the junior guests, organic sparkling lemonade.
For fancier dinner parties, indulge in a more aesthetically pleasing showpiece like a rack of wild boar, whose appearance is barely eclipsed by the tender porcine flesh’s outstanding flavor. Fourth-generation professional butcher Dean Offenbach of Golden Gate Meat company in San Francisco recommends pan searing the rack of
boar for four to five minutes on each side, and then finishing it off in the oven at high heat for just under ten minutes. And because the powerful savory quality of the pig benefits from a sweet counter-balance in the form of a sweet glaze or sauce, dress the rack in a fruit reduction made from Mount Rainier cherries.
Prime rib, once relegated as a relic of square 1990s cuisine, has enjoyed renewed popularity among foodies in the 21st century and is once again found on trendy party tables. Up the ante, however, by going for elk prime rib, more supple and exotic than the standard beef rib roast. A cut of meat from a mature deer deserves equal treatment, so prep your roast by slowing massaging in your favorite seasoning (or just salt and pepper). Unlike, however, in the case of beef prime rib, Offenbach warns, an elk roast should be cooked for a short amount of time at high heat. “Elk is very lean,” Offenbach notes, “so the best flavor emerges when the meat verges on rare.” For those looking to add an extra layer of flavor, Offenbach advises applying a glaze of Dijon mustard, shallots, and extra Brut champagne. And don’t forget to buy an extra bottle of bubbly for you and your companions as the light carbonation and dry fruit notes wonderfully complement the venison.
Equally impressive in presentation though less labor-intensive in preparation is the masterful buffalo chuck roast. Think “low and slow” in terms of cooking and place the roast in the oven for four to five hours under low heat. By the time your guests arrive, the house will be infused with an earthy aroma that will have all attendees begging to skip straight to the meat course. Serve the roast over egg pasta or polenta and pair your entrée the with a robust California red, such as Concannon Petit Syrah. For a sweet coda, offer chunks of dark chocolate dusted with sea salt.
Hunting down your favorite game meat at a retail rather than rural location not only varies and elevates fare for domestic functions, but also, and perhaps more importantly gives you access to an invaluable living resource: the butcher. He or she is the best person to recommend what and how much to buy according to your headcount and can advise on appropriate cooking techniques. Plus, once you’ve found a good butcher, you’re likely to have also found a great grocer, a great cheese-monger, a great vintner, etc. Gourmet food and wine purveyors tend to be a tight-knit bunch and one excellent vendor can usually recommend another.
Follow the guidelines above for a successful carnivorous feast and you and your guests are guaranteed to have a “wild” time.—Joanna O’Leary