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Treating game


After shooting and in the kitchen

Animals that have been shot should not be stacked on top of each other, especially not in the closed trunk of a car. Place or hang the animals separate from one another, in the shade, so they can cool off. Venison, deer, wild rabbit and hare are hung up on their hind legs after shooting. This stretches the muscles in the legs and the back while hanging in a stretched position, which essentially contributes to the eventual tenderness of the meat.

Removing the rectum

Remove the rectum of the shot ducks and pigeons in case of relatively warm to very warm weather. So-called gutting hooks can be bought especially for this. Let hares and rabbits pickle, i.e. empty the bladder by pressing. To do this, take the animal by the shoulder, place it with its back on your upper leg and press on the stomach in the direction of the bladder. Bring the shot game to a cool place as soon as possible, i.e. a fridge or a cool cellar. Shooting in the morning and putting in the fridge in the evening is not a problem.

Hanging the meat

The meat of recently shot game is too tough to process in the kitchen. It needs to either ripen or hang. It then becomes leaner. This takes several days to a week, in a fridge or a cool cellar. How cool? Temperatures of 2°C to maximal 7°C are ideal. The colder, the longer the meat can hang. This hanging comes with a certain bacterial development. The longer the process, the leaner the meat. But also: the stronger it will eventually smell and taste. Hanging should not become rotting. Ensure that the temperature does not go over 7°C for three days to maximum a week. Hare and rabbit do not require gutting, big game does. Game with damaged guts must be gutted as soon as possible. This game is no longer suitable for long-term hanging.

Getting it ready for cooking

This does not concern slaughtering, but getting it ready for cooking. Slaughtering is killing and bleeding. Game should not be bled as it bleeds dry internally after shooting. Remove the skin and intestines and divide over several portions, i.e. prepare it for cooking.
Use little to no moisture as moisture is a bacterial breeding ground. If you therefore wish to remove remains of blood or other matter, do not do this under the tap but use strong kitchen roll. Any remaining blood and hair should be skimmed with a knife. Game must be completely hair and feather free before ending up on the chopping board. If you find it necessary to use the tap, then immediately rub the meat dry with kitchen roll.

Freezing

If you want to freeze the hung game because you do not immediately require it, then leave the animals in their skin or feathers. These provide optimum insulation, which is what we want to achieve with freezing. Do remove the intestines, also for hares or rabbits.

How long can game be stored in the freezer? Three months is fine. After this period the meat will dry out, and there is a risk that it continues to ‘shrink’ in the pan after defrosting and further processing. When freezing it is important that no air reaches the meat’s surface. Air draws water from the product when freezing and causes well-known 'burns’ (white dried patches on the meat). Vacuum packing is the best remedy against this (ask the poulterer if required). Wrapping in cling film is a good second option.

Defrosting

This should be done in the fridge and not outside it. If this is done outside the fridge, the process is not gradual enough. The core temperature of the meat can still be 0°C while the exterior is 20°C. Bacterial development is already in full swing at 20°C, which is of course not the idea. Take account of the fact that defrosting takes longer in the fridge and the meat is not soft until 48 hours later.

Cleaning the chopping board

The chopping board is the ideal place for cross-infection. Remains of blood and/or raw meat juice contain bacteria and if these are not removed from the chopping board they can, for instance, contaminate the crudités you want to cut on the same board. You could then ingest meat bacteria through the crudités. You want to avoid this, so clean the chopping board during cooking and the preparation process thoroughly with boiling hot water (rinse with cold water first).

Core temperature gauge

Purchasing a thermometer with which you can read the core temperature of the meat to be prepared is very modern, but also extremely useful. This type of meter looks like a thick needle with a round dial thermometer on top that looks a bit like a mushroom. It can also be digital. By sticking the needle in the meat you can read the temperature of the inside of the meat.

The core temperature is important. If it is too low, the meat is not done. A few rules of thumb: the meat is cooked when it has a core temperature of 65°C. White meat is safe for consumption at 75°C. Red meat requires less heating, as the bacteria that can still be present generally do not get ill. If you want to roast the meat nice and pink, a core temperature of around 60°C is perfect. Cook the meat gradually.

It is important to reach the ‘coldest point’ of the meat with the core temperature meter. The measurement is not reliable until there is a constant ambient temperature, i.e. exclusively in the oven (not in a pan, as this is heated from below).

Cook slowly

Frying the breast fillet of a wild duck twice two minutes in hot butter is a delicious option. What is even better is putting the meat in a 100°C oven for 10 minutes after cooking it twice for two minutes.

Remove the meat from the oven and let rest in aluminium foil for another 10 minutes. When it rests, the juices spread over the meat better (the moisture goes to the centre when the meat is heated). Only then should it be sliced. You will be rewarded with a deliciously tender and little to no moisture will come out of the meat.

Bone adds flavour

Put bones on heat with water to get stock. Ergo: bones add flavour. Take advantage of this and roast game meat on the bone for a tastier result. Leave the fillets on the carcass (hare, rabbit, pheasant, wild duck and wood pigeon). Roast the whole in hot butter while turning occasionally and then put in the oven (20 minutes at 150°C). Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes under a lid or aluminium foil and then you can remove the fillets. Your reward is an extra tasty result. Save the legs for a stew, or stew in advance so you can serve it together with the fillets.

Separate preparation

Game is less and less prepared as a whole; the separate parts are increasingly served separately. This is called split preparation. The legs are seared and gradually cooked until done when the meat falls off the bone, but the breast and backs undergo a short preparation time so they can remain nice and tender and pink on the inside. This technique, which has become more or less common practice in professional cookery, can be easily used at home. This can be done with breast fillet of wild duck, wood pigeon and pheasant and the back fillets of wild rabbit and hare.

Marinating

This is almost outdated. When there were no fridges yet, marinating (in red wine, buttermilk and/or vinegar) was a way of preserving meat and/or making sure it did not rot. Marinating affects the original taste of the game, which we do not much like these days. However, marinating also makes the meat a lot leaner. So if you have an old hare on hand, or the leg of a deer that has been around for some time, then consider marinating it in red wine with thyme, bay leaf, pepper corns and juniper berries. For at least a 24-hour period, we won’t do it for less. Stick to 48 hours for roe leg.

Simmering

Simmering is our second nature. The meat has to fall off the bone. A delicious simmering method is in goose fat, which is for sale in pots at the game butcher/poulterer. Slowly simmer hair and feather game legs at a low temperature (80–90 °C) after having briefly seared them in hot fat. This simmering can take three to four hours; be patient!

The legs need to be covered in fat. How to see if the fat has the right temperature: if it only bubbles occasionally. Most of today’s gas and other cookers give off too much heat, also on the lowest setting, for this method of preparation, which is why you should do it in the oven. The simmering technique in goose fat gives the meat an exceptionally nice and characteristic flavour and tender result. Let the meat drip on a warm grill after simmering as goose fat is extremely heavy. Pour the fat back in the pot after preparing, let cool down and put into the fridge; you can use it more than once. Also if you do not use goose fat, very slow simmering at relatively low temperatures will give gourmets among you the greatest pleasure.

Gravy

Buy veal stock, poultry stock or game stock at the poulterer. It is available in jars. Draw a stock from the carcases and/or cut-offs of the game you are going to serve. Skim properly, sieve and then let boil down to a tenth of the original volume. Add this stock to the fond and let boil down again, to a third. Add something tasty: Calvados, elderberries jelly, soft mustard; you know what you like. Have a taste to see whether it requires salt and pepper. Heat through briefly. Finally stir in some cream until it has the thickness of yogurt. Do not cook any further, just heat briefly and serve.

Jaap Vissering/Jan Willem de Jong