Cooking With Wild Game

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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:

  1. It is almost always leaner than the farm-raised animals you are used to eating. Therefore, it’s a lot easier to overcook.
  2. Because of the lower fat content, most game (especially small game) takes better to pan-searing and braising than it does to grilling.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  • Onion
  • Bay leaf
  • Fresh parsley
  • Fresh oregano (optional)
  • Black peppercorns
  • Olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients above to make a marinade.
  2. Marinate rabbit for at least 24 hours, and up to a week. The longer the better.
  3. 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.

Enjoy!

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Recipe: Roasted Tomato & Leek Soup

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Most people think of soup as a winter staple, but tomatoes and leeks are at their prime in the late summer, and they are the star of this dish. This soup is bright and acidic, and pairs wonderfully with complimentary sour and/or fruit-based beers.

What you’ll need:

  • Tomatoes (any variety, as fresh off the vine as possible)
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oregano (preferably fresh)
  • Thyme (preferably fresh)
  • Olive oil
  • A sour or fruit based beer (low IBU)
  1. Quarter the tomatoes; cut the leeks in half; remove garlic cloves from skin and cut in half
  2. Mix all vegetables in a large bowl with olive oil, and go light on the salt and pepper
  3. Mix in a small handfull of fresh thyme and oregano. Leave the stems on, we’re going to be blending the soup later.
  4. Pour just a few ounces of the beer and thoroughly mix all ingredients
  5. In a covered pot, bake at 350 degrees F for one hour (Note: The visual brightness of this soup is as important as the taste. It’s imperative you don’t color the vegetables)
  6. Remove from the oven and gently pour the content into a blenderBlend on high, ensuring the solids break down
  7. Pour the contents through a fine sieve, agitating to remove the liquid into a pot below
  8. Discard the remaining solids, and what you’re left with is a beautiful bright colored liquid
  9. Whisk a generous tablespoon of butter into the liquid, and bring to a boil if you find the consistency is too thin
  10. Lastly, season with salt and pepper for taste

I like to serve this soup with sourdough croutons (simply, day-old sourdough, salt, pepper, butter) because I find the sourdough plays well with the soup and the tart beer pairing. Other good options are Mexican crema (firm sour cream) or pickled radish.

Beer Pairing: Bellwoods Jelly King or Burdock’s ORIA Black Currant

 

Brewery Visit: Great Lakes Brewery (Etobicoke, ON)

Situated in Toronto’s up-and-coming Etobicoke borough, Great Lakes Brewery (GLB) has won the best brewery in Canada award twice (2013, 2014) and has established itself as craft brewing force in Ontario. It’s flagship beers — Canuck Pale Ale and Pompous Ass English Pale Ale — can be found in LCBO’s across the province, and were part of the first beers to hit Loblaw’s shelves this year when Ontario finally passed a bill allowing for beer to be sold in grocery stores.

As a craft beer fan, you’ve got to love what GLB has done with it’s Project X and Tank Ten series lines. Project X is a members-only program that allows GLB fans to a monthly tasting of GLB’s experimental beers. These beers are also sold out of the brewery’s bottle shop in very limited amounts, and they sell out quickly. Among 2015’s most memorable Project X brews includes Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder, GLB’s Harry Porter infused with cherries.

GLB also uses it’s Project X program as a test pilot for experimental beers. If a Project X brew has rave reviews, they may move it to the Tank Ten series, casting a wider production net. These beers are seasonal and may, on occasion, be available outside of the brewery’s bottle shop. In my opinion, Tank Ten is where GLB produces some of their best beers. Standout’s include Thrust! An IPA (possibly the best Canadian IPA on the market), Karma Citra, Audrey Hopburn and Octopus Wants to Fight.

The brewery is unassuming, on a small side street sandwiched between the Gardiner and the Queensway. Though they do have a small taproom, most of the best beers in their offering can be snatched up in the bottle shop. The staff is always super cool, and because GLB does a lot of tap takeover’s across the GTA, they become familiar faces on the Toronto beer scene.

Lastly, and worth mention, is GLB’s Blonde Lager. In my opinion, it’s very underrated, and one of the most refreshing beers in the Toronto beer market. If I’m out fishing, or headed to the cottage, this is one of my go-to brews.

Notable Brews

Blonde, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder, Thrust! An IPA, Life Sentence IIPA, Imperial Bout Imperial Stout