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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

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November 07, 2007

How to Cook a Skunk, and Other Helpful Info...

In the course of putting together the food section this week, I found that I had more information about game than could possibly fit. So, I saved a bit of juicy stuff for the blog. David Coolidge, a chef-instructor at NECI, took the time to give me some tips on cooking on the wild side. Here are a few of them...

Q-Many chefs stick with chicken and beef. Can you explain why you're so into game?

A-"My philosophy is that game meats are far healthier to eat than the farmed meats we consume on a regular basis. I think if we consumed more game meats, even farm raised game meats, it would be a healthier diet for the general public. Less saturated fat."

Q- Do you cook a lot of wild game?

A- "Well, generally I don't hunt any more. It's cause I've gone and broken down animals for somebody else. Sometimes I get a prime cut and will grill up a nice steak. I like to keep it very simple 'cause I want to taste the meat itself. I'll just cook it up in a little butter or grill it. With the lesser cuts I'll do stew or braise."

Q-Do you deal with any of the more unusual beasts?

A- "I've done possums and skunks. Possum I'm not really fond of, it's too greasy for me. Skunk is sweet and delicious, but the cleaning process is difficult. One wrong swipe and you've ruined all the meat. My grandmother taught me to work with them. The scent sack is right there around the anal gland. That's the trickiest part, once you've got that done, it's easy.
    I'll treat skunk like I would a rabbit. Braise the legs and do a pan sear with the loins. I kind of wing 'em as I go. My grandfather would every once in a while bring one in. There are other people out there who swear by possum.
    Squirrel is very similar to rabbit, tends to be more tender, and you can make a beautiful pan gravy with 'em. I had a student who was from Tennessee and was really into the squirrels."

Q- Farm-raised game tastes different than the woodsy stuff. How do you prepare it?

A- "I find that it [farm raised game] generally isn't very gamey, it's pretty mild. A trick to bring some of that game back into it is when making a marinade, add some cooked red wine to it. I like to use many wild foraged ingredients in my sauces to accompany game. Wild ginger, wild leeks, any of the fun stuff we can pull from our own woods here. Think wild, think what the animals are exposed to: Use juniper berries and rosemary to bring up the pine. "

Q- What about birds?

A- "We do a fair amount of pheasant, here [at Butler's]. We would do things like mushroom stuffed pheasant or guinea hen and wrap that in caul fat and serve it with a nice demi of some sort, maybe on the sweeter side with dried cherries in it."

Q- Do you serve mashed and a salad on the side, or does an unusual meat dish call for something a little more interesting?

A- "I'm kind of sadistic. I'll use my sides as the vegetables or plant life that the animal itself might have been feeding on. With rabbit I serve carrots and leafy greens. With venison, because they tend to go into the beech nuts, I'll do a grain pilaf incorporating some nuts."

Q-If readers will only remember one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

A-"Because game meats tend to be so lean, it's important not to overcook them. That's the biggest taboo: People seem to cook the living crap out of 'em. Game should be cooked all the way through, but not to the point where it's starting to get dry out. It doesn't have that nice marbling when you're cooking it [like traditional meats do].
    When you're dealing with farm raised, you can get away with medium temperatures. On wild game cook it [just] all the way through to between 145 and 150 degrees."


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