Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Looking for something different to serve for your holiday party and have some wild game in your freezer? Try these recipes from our lead writer and galloping gourmet, Tim Hovey. The following appears in the November issue of California Sportsman:
By Tim E. Hovey
As the holiday season draws near, I start thinking about a family tradition we have at the Hovey household.
During Thanksgiving and Christmas, I like to create unique meals or side dishes out of wild game meat from animals my daughters and I have hunted during the season. A few weeks prior to the holiday gatherings, my family starts thinking about what we’d like to prepare.
In the past, we’ve presented some rather one-of-a-kind dishes at holiday parties. Deer tacos, crow nachos and sautéed bobcat are appetizers we’ve served. My family has become used to giving me a sideways glance as I place our wild game offering on the community table.
Over the years, nothing has been off limits. As a matter of pride and principle, we eat just about every animal we hunt. This means that our freezer can contain just about any game meat within a season. Since the holidays are right around the corner, I thought I’d share a few of the more popular dishes we’ve created over the years.
Most wild game meats are lean and contain very little fat. This means they are extremely easy to overcook. Care should be taken during preparation and cooking. Low, consistent heat is the general rule for wild game to keep it from drying out on the grill. Adding fat to the meat will also assist in keeping wild game moist.
When my daughters were just getting into the outdoors and before they were old enough to hunt with me, we used to go out on snake runs in the back hills behind my house. We would mostly just take photos of the different species and send them on their way. However, when we’d occasionally encounter a larger rattlesnake, I’d kill it and bring it back home to barbecue.
After skinning and cleaning the meat, we marinate it in teriyaki sauce for 24 hours. After heating up the grill and laying down some foil, we cook the meat for about 15 minutes until it becomes flaky. Using a fork, I remove the rib bones, leaving just the white, flaky, delicious meat.
I let the meat cool a bit and then spread cream cheese on a Triscuit cracker. Then add diced jalapeños and a thin slice of tomato. The snake meat goes on top and the appetizer is complete. We’ve served this dish at a Thanksgiving dinner; despite some initial hesitation, my family completely consumed the concoction.
During 2015 and 2016, my daughters and I were lucky enough to tag out in Wyoming on our annual deer hunt. I process all my own game meat and since my family best utilizes ground meat, with the exception of the back straps all the deer meat we brought back was ground up and vacuum-packed.
We’d make everything from deer chili to deer tacos to deer spaghetti with the ground meat. All dishes were delicious and had a unique flavor. In fact, my daughters consider any of our deer meals their favorites.
Last year during a holiday party, I decided to prepare the deer meat using a unique meatball recipe. I wanted to treat my guests to a wild game dish that would be out of the ordinary a bit.
I use 2 pounds of ground deer meat and mix in one egg, Italian breadcrumbs, seasoning and diced jalapeños. After mixing thoroughly and forming into balls, I place a small chunk of mozzarella cheese into the center of each meatball.
In a frying pan, I lightly brown the meatballs in butter and garlic, being careful not to overcook the dish. The browned meat is placed into a sloe cooker with marinara sauce and set on low heat for two more hours.
We’ve served this dish as an appetizer as well as a side dish, and our family absolutely loves it. The mildly wild flavor mixes well with the sauce and ingredients. We’ve also tried this dish with a white sauce and it comes out just as good.
WILD RABBIT STEW
Besides being one of my favorite small game animals to hunt, cottontail rabbits are where my daughters started their hunting journey. As they became more interested in hunting, they got better and they started bringing home more rabbits for the freezer.
For this recipe I use the meat from two adult cottontails. The rabbits are quartered out and the small but tasty backstraps are removed. After cleaning, I debone and dice up the meat, season lightly with salt and pepper and let it chill in the refrigerator.
Cottontail rabbit meat is white and will pick up the flavor of any marinade. For this stew recipe, I skip the marinade step and flavor the meat during the browning process.
In the slow cooker I add diced potatoes, carrots, celery and sliced onions. Add two quarts of chicken stock and flour to thicken the broth. This mixture is seasoned to taste and then set on low heat for four hours.
In a frying pan, add butter and the diced rabbit pieces to brown. I’ll lightly season the browning meat with garlic salt. After browning, add the rabbit meat to the stew mixture and let it cook on low heat for another hour.
We served this dish at our annual Christmas party and many remarked that it tasted better than chicken. Once again, the dish was completely consumed.
WILD PIG SLIDERS
Here in California, wild pigs are popular big game animals to pursue. They are a serious challenge to locate and bring down. Their habitat is rough and of all the big game animals I have hunted, I find them the most difficult to chase. But bringing one home means some fantastic table fare.
After a successful hunt, I debone all the leg meat and run it through a grinder. As with most wild meat, pig is lean and overcooks easily. To assist with flavor and the cooking process, I like to mix in beef fat. I add 25 percent fat to the pork meat and mix well. I’ve even grinded the meat a second time to really mix the ground meat with the added fat.
The next step allows for some creative flavoring. The most flavorful seasoning I’ve used was a wild pork sausage seasoning, which added a unique flavor to the wild pork. After thoroughly mixing the seasoning and meat, I place the mixture in the refrigerator for a few hours to chill.
I form the meat into small patties and cook them over a low heat on the grill. The low heat and the beef fat keep the patties from overcooking and drying out. Add cheese if desired and serve as small sliders. The seasoning adds a slight sausage flavoring to the burger; they are delicious.
GO OUTSIDE THE NORM
I’ve found that wild meat is the perfect place to start when my family looks to create unique dishes. Many of the lighter meats, like rabbit, will pick up flavors easily and the darker meat, like deer and pork, are great table fare when prepared and cooked properly. And personally, I take it as a challenge to expose those who don’t normally eat wild game, to have them at least give it a try.
If you’re a hunter, get creative with your wild game by preparing a unique recipe this holiday season. If you’re a nonhunter, be adventurous if someone in your family offers you a wild dish and give it a try. Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are a time for family and friends to come together and enjoy this time of year. Sharing good food – even rattlesnake – is how the holiday seasons should be celebrated. CS