Cookbook outlines a good game plan

Preparation: The rules of cooking game are not complicated once you know some basics.

February 03, 1999|By Laurie Ochoa | Laurie Ochoa,Los Angeles Times

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."

Game Stock

Makes 4 quarts

2 carrots, cut into 3-inch lengths

1 onion, cut into eighths

5 pounds venison bones

water

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

Serves 4

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.

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