It’s time to break out the grill, and you’ve got game, so what do you do with it? Here is an excerpt from our July issue interview with famed hunter Steve Rinella, where he gave us the scoop on cooking his favorite hunts.
Venison Diplomacy Made Easy
MEATEATER’S “CAN’T MISS” WILD GAME
Want to mimic Steve Rinella’s venison diplomacy, and possibly convert some of your friends over from the Dark Side of the anti-gun/anti-hunting universe? Serve them the following from your wild-game larder, and let the conversion begin:
Elk: “Elk meat is what people want from meat right now,” Rinella says. “It’s lean, flavorful, and easy to compare to beef. If you hold beef up as the gold standard of meat in America, but you’d change one or two things about beef, elk has ‘em covered. It’s leaner and more flavorful. People will eat elk for the first time and think ‘Where has this been my whole life?’ People are astounded by it.”
Squirrel: “You serve people squirrel and their first reaction is usually ‘Ewwwwww, rodent!’ but you’ll be surprised by how delighted people will be at how delicious squirrel meat is,” Rinella says. “It’s almost a joyful reaction. So many people will be almost excited almost to the point of laughter to find out how pleasant eating squirrel is. Their reaction is almost always ‘I can’t believe that’s squirrel.’”
Bone marrow: “People are always surprised by bone marrow,” Rinella says. “It’s almost impossible for most to picture it – the standard reaction is ‘I can’t believe that’s what’s inside a bone.’ I’ll take the femurs, slice them into 1 ½-inch discs, bake them on a sheet until the top just starts to liquefy, put an herb in there like a little fern planted in the marrow and serve it up on toast points. It’s like putting awesome butter on toast. You can’t prepare people for how dang good it tastes.”
Smoked black bear hams: “Black bear hams are a can’t-miss,” Rinella says. “I do them in a wet brine for 10 days and smoke them, and they always impress people. The meat comes out a deep, deep mahogany color. I like to serve it really clean; I’ll slice it then and serve it with some seedy mustard. I’ve done it with fig and date sauces, but you really can’t beat it with mustard.”
Game shanks: “Shanks are a preparation that surprises people,” Rinella says. “You’re just basically braising the forearms of game. People can’t believe how good they are. Wild game shanks aren’t so overpoweringly rich, like veal shanks.”
MEAT DONE THE MEATEATER WAY
Steve Rinella’s can’t miss recipes for squirrel, venison heart
In his first book, A Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, Steve Rinella dove headlong into a preposterously diverse array of recipes and techniques for wild game. Mirroring the techniques of famed French chef August Escoffier, Rinella’s “Scavenger’s” recipes ran the gamut from trout au bleu to pigeonneaux au crapaudine, with sauces and culinary accoutrements worthy of the famed London Savoy where Esoffier cooked.
The MeatEater’s wild game stylings have changed slightly since then.
“Right now, I like to serve things pretty clean,” Rinella says. “Wild game went through an era in the not-so-distant past where everything was cooked with bacon. Well, yeah, bacon is good. But so is wild game. There’s enough flavor in wild game that you don’t need to add much to it.”
Two staples of Rinella’s wild-game repertoire come from the most prolific big and small game animals hunted in the Unites States: squirrel and deer.
Rinella will serve squirrel as a hasenpfeffer or treat it similarly to fried chicken, with a heavy breading, browned in a pan and a finish in the oven. The grill comes out, though, for the following:
4 squirrels, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 T fresh garlic
2 T fresh thyme
Combine ingredients for marinade in ziploc bag. Before marinating squirrels, pierce thoroughly throughout with a two-tined serving fork to tenderize the meat. Rinella advises to “heavily perforate the squirrel parts,” before marinating. Allow to marinate for several hours before grilling on low heat.
“I borrowed that marinade from Jamie Oliver, who is probably the last guy you’d expect to see out hunting squirrels,” Rinella says.
One of Rinella’s can’t-miss recipes for diners who are a little uneasy about wild game.
“As clean as it gets: I slice venison hearts, marinate them and put them on my grill,” he says. “That just blows people away. I serve heart just a tiny bit on the other side of rare. Not bloody, with just a little bit of color, when the juices just barely start to run clear. The minute the meat becomes opaque, pull them off.”
Dear heart, cleaned thoroughly and sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
3 T of steak seasoning (Rinella prefers Montreal Steak)
Slice deer heart into uniform strips, trimming away the great valves and silverskin. Combine marinade ingredients in ziploc bag or bowl and add deer heart. Marinate in the refrigerator for one hour. Shake all excess oil off before placing on a low grill until meat is opaque. Fan out on a plate and serve.
“You don’t want to grill it over a hot fire because the oil will cause it to flare up – it’ll burn the oil and taste like turpentine,” Rinella says.