A recent survey by the Hearth, Barbecue and Patio Association tells us that 75 percent of U.S. households own a grill or smoker. The survey also indicates that the main reason we use them is for improved flavor. I can’t think of anyone who has ever had a snoot full of the wafting aroma of seared meat and said, “What’s that awful smell?” Combined with the sizzling sound of a hunk of meat hitting a white-hot grill, people pay attention. Something good is about to happen.
You just can’t get outdoor grilled flavor when cooking indoors. That explains why many of us take to an open flame even in the dead of winter. It is no great sacrifice to fire up the grill when the payoff is more flavorful meats. Besides, you can always warm your hands over the grill and good grilling doesn’t take much time.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Whether your grill is gas, charcoal or wood fired, the grate has to be clean, hot and greased. Take a wire brush and remove any leftover burnt bits from the last barbecue. Wipe it down with a clean, wet cloth to remove any debris. Nobody wants to eat stray wire bristles from the brush. Apply a coating of oil with a clean rag before ignition.
Wild game is leaner than domestic meats. Fat equals flavor which explains why so many of us insist on wrapping game with bacon. To add more flavor, rub salt, pepper and other dry seasonings into the meat and refrigerate for several hours. Season liberally since much of the seasoning will fall off while cooking.
TIME AND TEMPERATURE
As a general rule, the thicker the meat, the lower the grilling temperature. If it’s too hot, a thick deer steak or Canada goose breast will be burnt on the outside before it is cooked in the center. It takes more time and lower temperatures to properly cook larger cuts of meat. While a mallard breast fillet will only take 6 to 7 minutes to cook over a hot flame, a whole duck will take 20 to 25 minutes over medium heat.
A medium-rare deer steak tastes very different from one that has been cooked until it is well-done. Some people can’t handle the sight of a juicy, red piece of meat. Others feel the same way about one that has been cooked until the only colors are shades of gray. It’s a personal choice, but do keep in mind that game meats will taste more livery and gamey when they have been cooked past medium.
SWEET AND SPICY DUCK
It’s best to pluck, not skin, puddle ducks like mallards, pintails and widgeon. The skin keeps the fat intact and, like bacon grease, duck fat tastes great. Darker-fleshed ducks like divers and sea ducks are best cooked with skin removed. When cooking over an open flame, take your time to avoid burning the skin before the center is a juicy medium-rare. This recipe is also great with any dark-fleshed game, beef and pork.
8 duck breast fillets (preferably with skin intact)
1 cups water
1 cup orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced widthwise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
6 garlic cloves, minced
1. Combine marinade ingredients in a large non-reactive bowl (plastic, ceramic or glass). Reserve half of the marinade to use as a baste while grilling. Place ducks in remaining marinade and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours, turning occasionally.
2. Place breasts, skin side down (if skin is intact), on a medium-hot grill for approximately 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Use reserved marinade to baste often while grilling. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
GRILLED VENISON LOIN WITH BÉARNAISE SAUCE
All too often, game processors cut whole loins (backstraps) into smallish butterflied portions, which is a bad idea. Leaving loins whole allow for more flexibility in the kitchen. Once thawed, they can be thinly sliced, cut into medallions or grilled whole. This recipe is the wild game equivalent of a classic beef fillet mignon preparation. Thick loin steaks are first wrapped in bacon, grilled and then topped with a delicious sauce that is prepared in minutes in a blender.
2 6-ounce venison loin medallions, silverskin removed
salt and pepper
2 slices thick bacon
2 small wooden skewers
Season venison with salt and pepper. Wrap with bacon, securing with a wooden skewer. Grill to desired temperature (135 internal temperature for medium-rare). Arrange on plates and top with béarnaise sauce.
This is a fool-proof recipe that can be made in a minute or two in a blender. Heat the butter in the microwave for about 1 minute, but keep your eye on it. It should be very hot, but not bubbling over the sides of the container.
3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon leaves, minced
1 tablespoon shallots, minced (or substitute the white part of a green onion)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and hot
Place egg yolks, pepper, vinegar, tarragon and shallots in a blender or food processor and process until well blended. While motor is running, add hot butter, a few drops at a time and then increasing to a slow, steady stream until all butter is incorporated and sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt. Keep sauce at room temperature until ready to serve. You can heat it over low heat while stirring, but only to warm. DO NOT BRING TO A BOIL!
GRILLED MARINATED QUAIL
When quail is done, it should still be just a tad pink at the thigh joint. Some quail recipes suggest that you should cook them “until the juices run clear.” Considering how little fat there is on a quail, if you grill them too long, there won’t be any juices. When properly grilled, quail are tender and moist. Leaving them on the grill a few minutes too long will make them dry and chewy. This Asian-inspired marinade will add flavor and moisture.
8 whole quail
3 green onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2/3 cup sake, dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1. In a large bowl, whisk all marinade ingredients well. Add quail and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate, turning often, for 3 to 4 hours.
2. Place marinated quail on a medium-hot grill until lightly browned on all sides.