Outdoorsmen take a lot of pride in their skills, and while the friendly wagers on who catches the most fish or bags the most birds are fun, the ability to effectively shoot, catch or trap your own food is a powerful thing.
Another thing hunters and anglers take pride in is how they prepare their game and fish. Whether it’s blackened red snapper or white-tail backstrap, freshly caught and harvested food takes on more importance than just some pork chop from a grocery store meat department.
Cooks have always held esteemed positions in societies. Eating is essential to survive, but the right touches can make the process of getting nutrition into a form of enjoyment and entertainment. The deer camp cook holds as high a rank as anybody, and back in the old days, a cattle drive would stop in its tracks if the chuck wagon was destroyed or stolen.
I grew up knowing how to cook. I watched my parents, grandparents and others go through their preparation and execution, and by the time I was a teenager, I could put a meal on the table that’d make people ask for the recipe.
Ask just about any hunter or angler their favorite ways to cook something and you’ll spend the next half hour getting the finer points of marinating meat or getting the right ingredients and proportions for breading fish fillets.
Speaking of marinade, having the right mixture and using it the right way are key steps in preparing some of the more strong-tasting meats. A lot of people don’t like fish that tastes too fishy or game that tastes too gamey, and a good soaking can go a long way towards moderating strength and flavor.
Marinating meat also helps tenderize tougher cuts and moisturize lean ones. Venison has about half the amount of fat as beef, and doesn’t cook up as juicy, so a good marinade can help add moisture without cutting in too much added fat.
I prefer a cooked marinade because I like having the ingredients blended thoroughly together. Here’s one that hasn’t disappointed:
Chop up one cup each of onion, celery, and carrot. In a pan, heat ¼ cup of cooking oil and sauté the chopped vegetables until they start to change color. Add 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of water, ½ cup of chopped parsley, 6 crushed garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, and a tablespoon each of thyme, basil, cloves, and freshly-ground black pepper.
Simmer for an hour, then strain and cool. It can be stored in the fridge and used on a variety of meats. Most game requires at least a day in the marinade bag, which should be agitated and flipped a few times per day for even distribution.
Feeders in vogue
Wildlife biologist and avid outdoorsman Josh Sears is loving his new grill, and is experimenting with wild turkey breast recipes that call for the meat to be cut into the thickness of a steak.
“They also cook more like a good, rare loin steak,” Sears said, adding that 5-6 minutes per side over 400 degree heat is all it takes.
But like hitting a game-winning 3-pointer, it takes some preparation to taste success. “The brine is the game changer when cooking wild turkey,” said Sears.”I mixed mineral water with Himalayan sea salt, Chupacabra Rub, and brown sugar. Let the strips soak in the brine for at least seven hours, then pat dry.”
From there, he’s experimenting with different things to find the right combination. “I’m using a teriyaki-based cider Worcestershire seasoned with smoked paprika, fresh garlic, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt, the rub, and honey mustard with chopped bacon bits,” he said. “Get the texture sticky, and rub generously before placing the skewered strips on the grill.”
Sears says hunters should find this year’s herds more dependent on feeders than in the past few seasons.
“The deer have been hitting the bait stations well,” he said. “The lack of natural acorn production has made the corn feeder option a very popular place to be.”
On a recent trip out to the western part of our region, where mature live oaks are plentiful, Sears noticed the forest floor that’s typically covered with acorns this time of year was virtually empty of them, but he did manage to locate some areas with trees still holding their nuts.
“After positively identifying deer activity in an oak mott, I decided to switch gears and hang a set in the old-growth mammoth trees. I hunted this tree line for 2 consecutive mornings and was able to punch my coveted #7 tag on October 6th.”
Fish prep tips
Down at the sandy shore, former Centex landlubber Tyler Thorsen (Lago in the Morning on www.us947.net in Corpus) said that the cold fronts have been reaching the coast, and the pompano should be kicking off along with the fall finger mullet run. This should bring plenty of red drum into the surf, as well.
Thorsen is another one of those outdoorsmen with a golden touch in the kitchen, and his Vortex Kitchen page on Facebook offers lots of tips, tricks, and other information on handling, preparing and eating your freshly shot or caught dinner.
Scroll down and look for how to bleed out your redfish for whiter, tastier fillets. I wonder if it’ll work with other species. Guess I’ll have to go do a little scientific research of my own – starting with a fishing trip.
Space doesn’t allow today, so tune in to the Tribune-Herald outdoor column next Sunday for Thorsen’s “Mistake Buck Chili” recipe – plus the story behind the name.
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