Grills Gone Wild
How chefs are introducing game into their summer repertoires
Though diners are accustomed to seeing wild game on restaurant menus during fall and winter, there is no reason to confine these proteins to menu development during those seasons only. Per the USDA, uncooked wild game retains appealing texture, color, vitamin content and flavor for up to a year in a commercial freezer, allowing everything from elk to venison to shine when grilling and barbecuing takes center stage. Because these proteins are leaner, they can also appeal to lighter appetites during hotter months.
Consumers, however, may still be reluctant. “This is my favorite subject,” says chef Daria Parish of Reinhart’s La Crosse, Wis., division.
“Seasonal game is seen undesirable,” she continues. “How do you overcome that?”
She recommends thawing red meat game halfway before soaking in buttermilk or yogurt until it runs pink, as this will take out the funk. Lighter game may be soaked in salt water. Then season and marinade. Briquette choice also plays a major role, with hickory and mesquite best suited for red game and apple or cherry for lighter game.
Reinhart Foodservice division corporate chef Demetrio Marquez says the key to working with wild game is in the cooking process, navigating the hot and cool spots of the grill. After the briquettes have reached 350 F, mark and sear the game before moving to the cooler area at 225 F.
“Go low and slow with the lid down,” he advises. To keep some moisture in these lean meats, he often wraps them in bacon during the slow-roast process, as it fortifies the meat and keeps the fat in.
Venison is a summer staple for Marquez, who pulls the back strap off the deer and cuts into kabobs, basting in chimichurri and dressing with rosemary, garlic and wild mushrooms. Roasted squirrel plays off turnip greens, ramps or onions.
Parish also suggests sticking with what’s in season. “Dark berries and game meat is a match made in heaven,” she says, serving with venison and wild boar, adding, “quail and rabbit are very summery, so delicate.” (see page 56 for Chef Parish’s recipes.) For the former, she prepares with honeyed tequila apricots and hazelnuts; the latter with chermoula, a bright, garlicky herb sauce from North Africa.
Respect, ultimately, is the secret ingredient in working with wild game. “It’s the way our forefathers ate,” says Marquez. “Cooking over fire takes it to a higher level. It’s rustic and primitive, all natural and the time process involved makes people enjoy it even more.”