The tools of the trade include oven thermometers, so you can make sure 350° is 350°, as well as simple timers, though these days I mostly tell Siri to set the timer. (I’ve even set Siri’s voice to have an Irish accent; though I wish I could have Julia Child’s voice on my smart phone.)
Then there are all the meat thermometers: I have my Mom’s favorite though the numbers are pretty faded, plus my cheap electronic one and a covey of stick-it-in the meat devices (though I wish those had a ringer for when the meat reaches ideal temperature). For every day, it’s the electronic one I reach for. It’s simple. While I don’t agree with this reviewer’s pick for the very best meat thermometer, I did enjoy the thoroughness of her search. Seems there are leave-in meat thermometers now with (literally) bells and whistles. If you’re looking for something better than you have on hand, check this out: 5 Best Meat Thermometers – May 2022 – BestReviews
Fixing The Overcooked: Part 1
We’ve all done it. Put the steak on the grill and then the phone rings. Or the neighbor calls from the other side of the fence with an invitation to cocktails. Worse, your 5 year-old falls—there’s a scrape–and next thing you know, it’s a hockey puck, not the lovely little elk/whitetail/antelope/moose steak you so carefully aged, cut, flavored and looked forward to.
The greater Canada you lugged 40 pounds of decoys on your back, back and forth, at 4AM in a late October snow squall to bring home. Or it’s that rooster pheasant you walked 3 miles to flush, retrieve, dress and age. Doesn’t matter if you were grilling or roasting, how long you searched for the perfect marinade for venison, or that je ne sais quoi board sauce for geese and ducks; poured over the internet for never-fail goose breast or chukar recipes. Field dressed it perfectly, butchered your wild game animals with panache? Too late. You’ve burned it and it’s now called ‘toast.’
Now what? There’s a fix. Actually two.
Let’s start with red meat: steak or waterfowl.
This recipe came from my friend Rob, who overcooked a pair of duck breasts many years ago, and couldn’t get anyone to eat it. Including himself. So, he checked out the pantry, threw a few things together and—voila. Good food. Over the years Rob has used this same recipe for some of the gamiest of big game and scariest tasting ducks he’s shot and served it to hunter and non-hunter alike. It’s one of those happy mistakes, the cream cheese and spices curing almost all ills and providing a delicious wild game snack spread for a lazy weekday dinner or a holiday party.
Here’s how it works: Remove the overcooked meat from the grill/skillet, oven, etc., and let it cool, at least enough to handle easily. Now cut it into chunks, drop the chunks into a food processor, and pulse it enough to make it into a paste, albeit a very dry paste at this point.
Now, for each cup (½ pound) or so of paste/meat, add:
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 2½ tablespoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
Pulse it a few times to mix. Taste, and adjust the flavors to taste, serve immediately on toast or crackers, or wrap tight and freeze for later.
The fix works for all red meat, be it elk, antelope, mule deer, waterfowl—even prairie grouse. The thing to remember when spicing it though, is that overcooked meat not only dries out, but that drying out makes any off flavor more intense simply because there’s no moisture left to dilute it. It’s the same reason you wouldn’t want to overcook game meat anytime, by mistake or on purpose.
Just for fun, taste the meat paste once the cream cheese has been incorporated into it. Trust me, it will moderate any gaminess, and add the fat that’s always missing from our healthy, delicious, and hard-won wild meats. Just that one element makes a huge difference.
Then go with the above combo, or start with the meat and cream cheese, and add your own favorite commercial or homemade spice mix to your taste.
Next week, I’ll offer up an even easier fix for overcooked birds. It’s perfect for pale-meated game birds, but also can work on waterfowl and those dark, pungent prairie grouse that we Westerners love to start our bird dog pups on, but have trouble cooking. (That label does not apply to the lucky sharptail that’s been gorging on buffalo berries for a day or two. As a bird hunter, I can testify that buffalo berry sharptails are a whole different bird. Quite mild and sweet tasting.)
PS: If you have my Tenderize the Wild cookbook you already have this second fix in hand. Page 84, The $5 Solution, otherwise known as the Backwards Marinade.