Another year has come and gone, which means it’s time to pause and reflect on the past in order set our sights to the future.
As I look back on this past hunting season, I am reminded of the incredible meals that came from time outdoors. That leads me to the question: What makes a meal so memorable? Is it the experience of trying something new for the first time, or is it the story of how that animal arrived on your plate? I believe it’s a combination of many different things. The more I hunt and cook wild game, the more I come to understand the direct correlation between effort in the field and effort in the kitchen.
The harder I work for something, the more I find myself utilizing every part of the animal that I can. Today, cooking with the odd bits has become habit regardless of how easy or challenging the hunt was, and I view whole animal cookery as a form of respect and a way to show gratitude.
My personal goal for 2019 is to create more memorable dishes. While the definition of this goal will be subject to every hunter’s own personal experience, what I can offer is a guide to utilizing under-appreciated animals and inspire others to eat nose to tail.
Below is a list of things that I look forward to cooking with this year. It also serves as insight for what you can expect to see from me in 2019.
1. Gizzards: These are the muscles of a bird’s stomach and can be quite dense and chewy. Most gizzards are reserved for Thanksgiving, but there are several other ways to enjoy them. I suggest confit gizzard tacos or pickled gizzards and hearts.
2. Whole heads: You heard me right. The head has a variety of muscles, textures and flavors to offer. Traditional Mexican barbacoa is a goat or sheep’s head slow cooked over a fire. You can make Steve’s Big Sky roasted venison head, which involves burying a deer head in the ground beneath the coals.
3. Bass: There aren’t many animals I won’t cook. There are a lot of bass fishermen in this country, but yet so few who eat them. This year I am bound and determined to develop a recipe to change perspectives.
4. Hearts: If I am going to be known for one thing, I hope it’s for cooking hearts. I save hearts from all species and enjoy them in several ways. Here are two: venison heart crostini and Michigan-style fried deer heart.
5. Throat Loins: I have heard a few different nicknames for the two long roasts that line the trachea, but sternocephalicus is the correct anatomical name for these muscles. While you can treat it like a roast and braise it in the oven, I plan to come out with a more adventurous recipe in 2019. Save this cut and keep your eyes peeled.
6. Tongue: If you can get past the thought of a tongue on your tongue, you’ll enjoy this delicious, incredibly tender, fatty piece of meat. I know everyone loves lengua tacos, but stay tuned for another killer tongue recipe coming out soon. In the meantime, check out the MeatEater Podcast where we dive into the subject of tongues.
7. Snow Goose: I have unofficially become the defender of the un-loved snow goose. Don’t buy into the myth that these birds are inedible. They are incredibly tender and I treat them the same way I would a mallard, which is seared medium-rare.
8. Fish Cheeks: There are small pockets of meat found below the eye, and a strong argument could be made that they are the best part of a fish. Cheeks have the shape and texture of a scallop and can be treated just the same. Collect a handful from halibut or salmon and sauté them with butter, garlic and lemon, or drop a few walleye cheeks in a seafood stew.
9. Neck: While eating bone-in neck is a personal choice, you can always carve off the meat and have a roast-sized chunk for slow cooked meals. Try my venison neck ragu.
10. Jackrabbit: Another unloved animal that just needs a little TLC in the kitchen, jackrabbits need to be cooked slow and low to tenderize the meat. It also helps to let them cure in a mixture of salt and spices the night before cooking. Jackrabbits are much darker than cottontails and can sub in for many venison recipes, such as wild game meat and cocoa chili.