As red skies in the west fade into darkness, and stars captivate the heavens, the first thing you will notice at our quaint delta camp during winter, is a gentle flame emerging from the fire pot. It is customary for the first hunter back from the evening hunt to build and light what will be the gathering point until lights are turned off for the night. As trucks and four wheelers round the bend towards “home,” anticipation of the evening festivities is heightened when one sees the warming glow that is so inviting.
Invariably, each hunter makes a brief stop by the cast iron warming station to compare notes and details of the hunt, hoping, and secretly wishing, that no one has shot dictating tracking and dragging endeavors. See, we have our priorities straight, for we have far more chores ahead to complete the evening. Then it’s off to the cabin where hunting jackets are hung and exchanged for aprons, knives, and skillets. Let the kitchen rumpus begin!
Most of the time you will find stacks of marinated prime filets, deeply marbled ribeyes, and 32-ounce porterhouses awaiting their turn to be placed on the grill and seared to perfection. Of course, before the main course, beautifully decorated trays of summer sausage, Vallagret cheese, homemade jalapeno pepper jelly, and Ritz Crackers, are placed on the table near the firepot for everyone’s enjoyment. Whomever oversees the preparation of dinner must scurry back to the kitchen, for the hors d’oeuvres don’t last long and only whet the appetites for those outside. Our culinary custom has taken place for decades, but I have a sneaky suspicion this may be about to change. I’ll explain.
While I was visiting a local meat market recently 911 was almost called. I came close to having a myocardial infarction when I began looking at the prices of steaks that I was drooling over. Have you noticed what’s going on behind the glass counters where stacks of prime beef are tempting shoppers? Ribeyes, $23.99 per pound, porterhouses, $27.99 per pound, prime filets, $31.99 per pound. To put this in perspective, just one large beef loin, are you ready, $201. Hunting leases and equipment are expensive enough but if you add the main staple of food, it’s almost unaffordable. Bank loans may have to be considered for nutritional sustainability at the camp this year. I’m quite sure our local “bankers” just raised rates one tick after reading this. Holy smokes, what are we going to do?
Don’t panic, it’s not the titanic, for I may have a solution. Let’s do a little research on some alternatives before we wreck the checkbook and deprive our families of a Merry Christmas.
Comparing eight ounces of venison to eight ounces of beef, I have found some enlightening information you may find very interesting. Regarding protein, both beef and venison contain approximately 48 grams with each also having 10 essential amino acids. Relatively speaking, they are tied, but this is about to change. When it comes to a fat comparison, venison begins to pull away. Did you know that when comparing the two serving sizes, beef has 18 grams of fat, with eight of those being saturated? Venison contains only 6 grams of fat with only two of those being saturated. Hmm, let’s continue.
The trend continues when considering caloric intake with beef having 600 calories and venison with approximately 250 calories. Again, we are still talking about eight-ounce portions. Here’s a real eye-opening statistic. Almost everyone is somewhat conscious about cholesterol, at least you should be if you’re not. Beef contains around 150 mg of cholesterol compared to venison’s 40 mg, again with the same portion size. Do you see where I’m headed? Let’s move on.
We all know ducks are wonderful table fare, at least when they are prepared correctly. We have been comparing portion sizes of eight ounces, so I will stick with this agenda to keep everything apples and apples. I’ll be brief. Ducks contain 58 grams of protein, five grams of fat with two grams being saturated, 300 calories, and 175 mg of cholesterol. The cholesterol is a bit higher than beef, but by removing excess fat from the bird, you can bring this down a bit. It’s still comparable to beef though. I won’t bore you with statistical data with the facts comparing doves, squirrels, rabbits, or other wild game species, but just know they are also very healthy. Now, back to the camp.
Take into consideration making a trip to the camp for the weekend with no purchased protein. What in the world would you do without a prime steak that sits heavy upon you as you near bedtime? Would you succumb to Vienna sausages or King Oscar sardines? Would you add liberal amounts of hot sauce and choke it down with a paste of saltines? Don’t’ get me wrong, I have sustained myself many times with this fast food both in a cotton field and at the camp, but again, there are other options. I mean, you’re already at the camp and expenses have already been incurred, for the most part that is. So, take advantage of what you have been looking forward to all year. Try this.
Collect a couple of whole tenderloins one morning from the swamp. I prefer a prime yearling, but any bounty will do. Take your time and prepare your delicacy with all the care as you would with a prime filet for Christmas dinner. Soak the entire loin, or loins, in a brine overnight, or even two. Of course, in the refrigerator. Pat the loin dry and coat lightly with olive oil.
This is where the recipe varies widely among chefs, but the good news is, there is no wrong way to season. My favorite method is to coat the loin with Lea & Perrins Worcestershire, so it is “wet.” I then rub with a kosher salt, but any salt will work. Fresh ground pepper, liberally applied, and then massaged into the loin is imperative. Over a hot fire, sear for 1-2 minutes on all sides. Create a distinct “marking” from the grates for added flavor and effect. Then remove the loin and wrap in foil, sprayed with a non-stick oil. In the foil, I like diced onions, minced garlic, and diced peppers, but it’s your choice. Place back on the grill but not on direct heat and “simmer” for 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the loin. Remember, venison is best prepared medium rare to rare.
You might want to prepare two, for one loin may never make it to the foil if your friends are standing nearby with a sharp knife. I can’t emphasize to you through print, how delicious this dish is. Healthy, fresh, and with the satisfaction of where it came from and the experiences that go along with it add a whole new dimension to the camp kitchens.
Other game species prepared like squirrels, doves, ducks, and turkeys will also add diversity to the table. You don’t have to get stuck in a rut with steaks every night nor venison loins. There are a multitude of recipes for wild game, and I would invite you to consider them. Pick up a wild game cookbook and begin reading. You may already be very well versed in preparing wild game dishes, and if so, that’s wonderful. My point being there’s more to the experience than just harvesting game. Take advantage of the resource you have been provided and capture the moment around the campfire. I’m quite certain my writing will be reinforced the next time you investigate your choices at the butcher shop.
Let me know what you decide to prepare for dinner the next time you’re in camp. If you have a favorite recipe for any wild game, or fish, I’d love to hear about it. I do know that prime steaks will still be a treat on the menu this winter, and that’s ok too. I’m just extending an invitation to broaden your culinary horizons, and, in the end, I think you’ll be glad you did.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.