I'm not going to lie to you. Some of the best wild-game preparations are exceedingly difficult and require a massive amount of know-how. For instance, I was once outside of Nha Trang, Vietnam, with a farmer who had just shot a squirrel-sized marsupial out of a banana tree with an air-rifle. This guy tossed the whole critter into a fire and stirred it around just long enough to singe off all the hair without burning through the skin.
Then he gutted the animal and rubbed it in a homemade concoction of salt and dried peppers before wrapping the whole thing in leaves from that same banana tree. He steamed the leaf-wrapped marsupial for a half-hour over a bed of coals. Once it was tender, he laid it on a homemade grill of saplings and crisped the whole thing over an open flame before chopping it up with a machete and €¨basting the parts in a sauce that he'd made using limes, €¨soy sauce, coconut milk, the animal's own innards and what seemed to be some sort of homemade rice wine.
It was an utterly sublime meal, though I walked away knowing that I'd never be able to replicate that process in a million years even if I was lucky enough to find a squirrel-sized marsupial hanging from a tree in my yard.
Thankfully, not all great recipes require such hard-to-find ingredients and a lifetime of dedicated experimentation. Here I'm going to lay out a handful of wild-game preparations that are so simple and fail-safe that just about anyone could pull them off — so long as you have access to a basic stove and a basic store. But these recipes go well beyond simplicity. They are spouse- and crowd-pleasers; once you try them, you'll use them for the rest of your life. They are staples in my own kitchen.
Corned Game Meat (deer, elk, antelope, moose, caribou, etc.)
Take a roast, maybe two to five pounds, and soak it in your fridge for two or three days in a brining solution containing eight cups of water and two cups of Morton Tender Quick. Remove the roast from the brine and put it in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover it. Cook at 10 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. Serve with mustard. If you're feeling ambitious, you can add a plate of boiled potatoes, cabbage and carrots, along with some melted butter.
Take a piece of big-game loin (it doesn't matter what species), anywhere from a six-inch chunk to the entire thing. Pour a palmful of vegetable oil — or corn or peanut oil — on the meat and rub it around so that the whole thing is covered. Sprinkle the outside of the loin with Montreal steak seasoning, making sure to cover all surfaces. Since you're going to be slicing the loin up, you want to apply the seasoning about three times more heavily than you would a regular steak on your plate. Place the loin on a very hot grill, about eight inches above the flame. Wait five minutes and flip it. Close the lid and wait maybe five more minutes. Check the temp with a meat thermometer. Remove the loin when the inside hits 140 degrees. (160 degrees for bear meat.) Let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes, then slice it as thin as possible with a sharp knife. Serve with anything.
Squirrel or Rabbit €¨Hasenpfeffer
Take anywhere from one to four squirrels or from one to two rabbits. Cut them into pieces so you have four legs and one back for each animal. Discard the ribs. Cover the meat in a brining solution containing two cups water, two cups apple cider vinegar, two teaspoons each of salt and sugar and one teaspoon of pepper. If you have time, add a sliced onion and a bay leaf, but it's not essential. Put the tub in your fridge for two or three days. When you're ready, pull the pieces out of the brine and dust with flour. Or just toss them around in a bowl of flour. Shake off excess flour and lay the pieces in a pan with a half-inch of hot frying oil. Cook two minutes, flip, and fry the other side for two more. Then put the pieces in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, so they form a single layer in the bottom. Add enough of the brine to just barely cover them and simmer for an hour or so over low heat — until the meat is falling off the bone. Or put the pot in a oven set at 300 degrees for an hour or so. Serve with mashed potatoes, instant or homemade.
This is best with puddle ducks, such as mallards, but you can do it with diver ducks in a pinch. Pluck the breast of a whole duck and then fillet off the two breast pieces, leaving the skin on. If you want, remove the drumsticks so that they stay attached to the breasts by the skin. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Then lightly oil a heavy, oven-safe skillet, such as cast iron, and heat it over a burner until it's so hot that it pops and sputters when you flick a wet finger €¨at it. Lay the two breast fillets on the pan and let them cook there for three minutes. The skin should start to get crispy. Flip the pieces so that the skin's facing up and then put the pan in the oven. Let cook there for 10 minutes. Then pull it out and let the meat cool on the counter for 10 minutes. Slice €¨very thin, less than a quarter-inch thick, leaving a little strip of crispy skin on each. Serve the slices with crackers and maybe a drop of plum jam or chutney.
Now get cooking — and good luck.
Tune into Steve's new show Meat Eater on The Sportsman Channel.