Last year, at 32 years old, and in the name of knowing more about where my food comes from, I made a couple life-changing decisions.
First, I applied to intern at what is, arguably, the best restaurant in the country. Second, I cut down on store-bought beef and chicken (not pork; there are some things we should just never live without). Lastly, I made the decision to get my hunting and gun licenses.
I grew up butchering and eating wild game — my father, grandfather and uncles are all hunters. I have very vivid memories of family dinners where deer, moose, duck and rabbit were the star of the table. I know grown adults who would wince at that sentence, but it was just normal — and delicious — for me.
Despite growing up in a family of hunters, I never really took interest in hunting myself. As much as I enjoy eating them, I am, through and through, an animal lover. It took me more than 30 years to realize that the modern hunter is as much responsible for the conservation of the animals they harvest as they are for putting food on the table. Canadian hunters contribute hundreds of millions every year to game conservation.
There are, however, plenty of hunters who do it purely for the sport. To me, those people are cowards. The real work comes post-kill. Dressing and butchering an animal is not easy work. In today’s world, where the most we ever see about where our meat comes from is the cellophane-wrapped cuts at the grocery store, the effort post-kill is, for me, the most rewarding part of the food cycle. It’s emotional, exacting work. And if you really care about where your food is coming from, you recognize the responsibility you have to the animal who just gave its life so your family can eat.
I get the same primitive, bone-deep satisfaction from a successful hunt that I do from building, staring at and cooking on fire. If you’ve sat around a glowing fire with friends and family, you know exactly what feeling I’m talking about.
There are a few basic rules about cooking with wild game:
- It is almost always leaner than the farm-raised animals you are used to eating. Therefore, it’s a lot easier to overcook.
- Because of the lower fat content, most game (especially small game) takes better to pan-searing and braising than it does to grilling.
- Let the animal sit in a cool place for 3-5 days post-kill before you cook it. Enzymes will break the flesh down, naturally tenderizing it.
- Offal– heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, tongue, and all the good bits — are exceptions to rule #3. They should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. And if you are not eating them, you damn well should be.
It is generally easier to skin an animal than it is to pluck it, so you are not often left with the skin after you’ve butchered it. The skin add’s plenty of fat and flavor, so to compensate, you can add it back in by cooking the game with pork sausage (if you are braising) or duck fat or butter (if you are frying).
Of all the delicious ways to cook game, my favorite is rabbit braised Portuguese-style. Here’s how you make it:
- Rabbit (here’s a good article on how to break one down)
- White wine
- Beer (lager, or something light)
- Fresh garlic
- Bay leaf
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh oregano (optional)
- Black peppercorns
- Olive oil
- Combine all ingredients above to make a marinade.
- Marinate rabbit for at least 24 hours, and up to a week. The longer the better.
- Combine all ingredients in a covered pan, sprinkle with salt and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until meat is falling off the bone
I like to remove the rabbit, strain the liquid and use it to cook rice. Alternatively, you can also add Parisienne potatoes to the pot.