Wild Game: Recipes for Healthy Meat Alternatives

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Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin with Root Vegetables, created by Chef Jody Denton, won the Wild About Game Cook-Off’s second-place award.
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Roasted Elk Loin Rack from Chef John Sundstrom of Lark Restaurant in Seattle.
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Sauteed Quail Breast from Chef Scott Staples of Seattle's Restaurant Zoe.
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Chefs at the annual Wild About Game Cook-Off use local, seasonal produce to prepare gourmet gammeat entries.
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Chefs race through the kitchen as they prepare for the cook-off.

With growing concerns about food sources, more and more people are turning to wild game as an alternative to industrially farmed meats. Many species are high in omega-three fatty acids and have all of the protein of traditional livestock, but with less unhealthy saturated fat.

More often farmed than hunted these days, game meat, such as venison, buffalo and duck, still has the same genetic markers as its forebears. There are fewer health and humane-treatment concerns with game as with factory-farmed meats, but check the source of any meat you eat. (Game meat is subjected to voluntary U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection only.) Seek out elk, bison and deer that have been grass fed. While game animals aren’t treated with growth hormones, ask whether birds, such as duck and geese, have been treated with antibiotics.

Chefs and diners in Portland, Oregon, find new ways to enjoy game meat every September during the Wild About Game Cook-Off sponsored by Nicky USA, a West Coast game-meat purveyor. During the competition, the contestant chefs draw a slip of paper to determine what kind of meat they will cook, and they spend the day preparing feasts using a variety of local, seasonal ingredients. Meanwhile, guests peruse booths featuring Oregon’s bounty, from wines and seafood to produce.

1st Place: Roasted Elk Loin Rack

Chef John Sundstrom, Lark Restaurant
Seattle, Washington

This recipe is part of a beautiful multicourse meal called Elk Tasting, which includes Elk Loin Chop with Celery Root and Truffle Salt, Elk Liver with Pearl Onions and Quince-Vanilla Bean Gastrique, and Elk and Wild Mushroom Crépinette.

2nd Place: Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin with Root Vegetables

Chef Jody Denton, Merenda Restaurant
Bend, Oregon

Grill buffalo to an internal temperature of no more than 110°F to 120°F, as buffalo meat contains very little fat and will become tough and dry if overcooked.

3rd Place: Sautéed Quail Breast

Chef Scott Staples, Restaurant Zoë
Seattle, Washington

This is a simplified version of Chef Staples’ elaborate original. When you want to pull out all of the stops for guests, you can find his restaurant-ready version at NaturalHomeMagazine.com.

Consume with Caution

A fatal neurological ailment called chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected on venison farms in several states. Scientists are unsure whether humans who eat sick deer or elk could be infected. If you’re concerned, most states offer testing for CWD. Check CWD-info.org or APHIS.usda.gov/vs/nahps/cwd for more information.

Tips for Cooking Game

Wild game species found in North America include alligator, antelope, bison, caribou, deer, elk, moose, rabbit, reindeer, squirrel, turtle and wild boar. Game birds include duck, grouse, pheasant, partridge, quail, wild turkey and wild geese.

Farm-raised game has a stronger flavor than domesticated species, but is milder than wild game. Game animals haven’t been bred for the fat marbling that produces tender meat, so cook it slowly and never overcook, which toughens meat.

The best resource for game meat may be your local gourmet grocery. Eatwild provides a searchable index of grass-fed meats, including wild game. 

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