One of the best podcasts about food, meat, and eating is the MeatEater podcast hosted by Steve Rinella. I listened to the full 2+ hour podcast episode 073 about Wild Game Cooking with Chef Josh Gaines to learn more about Wild Game Cooking. Here’s what I took away.
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Handling Game to Optimize Flavor
The chef discusses the importance of how wild game is handled after being harvested to get the best flavor. He aims for a quick, clean kill so the meat has a “pure” taste without the flavors released when an animal struggles or experiences distress.
The chef advocates for head shots when hunting to achieve instant death. After harvesting, he chills the meat quickly to preserve freshness. One technique he uses is running a wire down the spine of fish to rapidly relax the meat. Proper handling prevents rigor mortis from setting in quickly, keeping the texture tender.
Aging Game Meat
Aging venison and other wild game for weeks or months allows enzymes to break down the meat, making it more tender and enhancing flavor. The chef ages meat in temperature and humidity controlled rooms set at around 45 degrees Fahrenheit with good air circulation from fans.
He hangs cuts individually and dries the surface daily, trimming any mold to prevent spoilage. Aged game develops deeper, more savory flavors compared to fresh harvested meat. The chef has aged deer for over a year wrapped in a protective layer of mold. Aged meat can be eaten rare due to the controlled conditions.
Using Overlooked Cuts
The chef strives to use every part of the animal, not wanting to waste any potential flavor. He transforms items most people discard like fish skin, intestines, cartilage, ribs and bear paws into delicious cooked dishes with proper handling and cooking methods.
The chef cleans, boils and chills fish skin, then steams it to make a tender garnish. Fish intestines become crunchy fritters. Cartilage and connective tissue from meaty ribs get chopped into a sticky sauce and grilled. Bear paws are blanched, braised into stews and grilled for multiple layers of texture.
Cooking Over Live Fire
Rather than traditional stove and oven methods, the chef cooks primarily with a large open hearth fueled by natural wood. The live fire imparts subtle flavors into ingredients while grilling, smoking, braising and otherwise cooking wild game.
Careful fire management with wood selection, arrangement and ember harvesting allows for diverse techniques. Perforated pans, grates and skewers suspend foods at varied distances from the embers to control doneness. The chef also “grill fries” items by drying battered foods then cooking in oiled, perforated pans over the fire.
Pursuing Wild Ingredients
In addition to hunted and fished game, the chef sources wild plants, seaweeds, mushrooms and other foraged foods. Local species of fish and seafood not typically part of the commercial food chain also feature prominently.
The chef employs fishermen to provide marine ingredients just hours from harvest. This allows diners to experience foods at the peak of freshness with true wild flavors. The chef operates a farm to grow produce with heirloom seeds selected specifically for flavor.
Knowledge and Skills Take Time
The chef explains expertise develops gradually through years of experience. Hunting, fishing, foraging, butchering, cooking, tasting and learning from others gives him a deep understanding of how to handle wild ingredients. There is always more to learn as the chef constantly explores new species and techniques.
Wisdom develops from assessing practices, rethinking assumptions and innovating solutions. The chef aims to rediscover lost traditions, revive ignored flavors and show appreciation for the gifts of nature.
Source: Rinella, Steven. “Advanced Wild Game Cooking featuring chef Josh Gaines.” The MeatEater Podcast, MeatEater, https://www.themeateater.com/listen/meateater/ep-073-advanced-wild-game-cooking