A Taste of the Wild


Staff Writer

With abundant woodlands on both sides of the Ohio River, the local region has always been an attractive place for hunters. And while some people may just want to nail a trophy buck or land a big catch, there are plenty who hunt not only for enjoyment, but for the meat and the unique taste their quarry provides.

The woods of Ohio and West Virginia provide a variety of species that have been eaten by humans all over the world, including rabbits, wild turkeys, squirrels and white-tailed deer. All of these species have a legal hunting season, and their meat is easily prepared for a variety of tasty dishes. The meals prepared can be simple — simply fry up pieces of meat, coat them in your favorite type of sauce and dig in.

Others, such as stews and roasts, can take significantly more time to prepare. It’s all a matter of personal taste, the ingredients on hand and the time the chef is willing to put into the meal.

One of the more popular wild game animals in this area is undoubtedly the white-tailed deer, a species that has flourished in the absence of natural predators. Deer season begins in mid-fall and will see hunters from all around the region and from afar donning camouflage and creeping around the woods in search of the perfect buck. With a well-fed male deer weighing more than 100 pounds, a hunter can score quite a bit of edible meat with a well-placed shot. That meat, known as venison, can be prepared in a number of different ways, including thick-cut steaks, burgers and other cuts. The meat can also be smoked or dried, turning it into jerky for a snack, or stewed for various changes in the texture of the meat. Herbs and spices can also be added in during the preparation method of choice, changing and enhancing the flavor.

Rabbits and squirrels are also easily found on a walk through local forests, and their smaller size can make preparation relatively easy.

Squirrel stew starts with the chef boiling the chunks of meat until they are tender, adding spices and seasoning to the mixture until it is ready to be served. A simple recipe for rabbit meat can be found at tasteofhome.com: One takes flour, salt, pepper and dried tarragon and mixes the ingredients in a plastic bag before adding in pieces of rabbit meat and shaking to coat it in the ingredients. After that, the rabbit is sauteed in a skillet with melted butter and added broth until ready.

Mike Weaver, an employee at Cabela’s at The Highlands in Triadelphia, said there isn’t any special skill required for cooking wild meats, and he has been cooking deer and other game for 40 years. Weaver said one of the key factors to preparing deer or other game is to trim off as much of the fat and silver skin — a thin layer of connective tissue — as possible. Weaver said this helps to soften the “wild” taste of the meat. He also advised keeping an eye on the meat when you cook it, as cooking it carelessly or too long will toughen most wild meat beyond what most people are comfortable with. He said that cooking venison really isn’t very different from preparing beef, if done right.

“It’s very similar in the way you prepare it,” Weaver said.

Weaver said that getting into cooking game is pretty easy. Just like other forms of cooking, it takes time and a willingness to learn. You can either buy a variety of spices and seasonings from the supermarket or outdoor store, or you can keep things simple with salt, pepper, adding vegetables such as carrots, celery, potatoes and parsnips. Weaver recommends looking up recipes in a cookbook or on the internet, or talking to someone with firsthand knowledge of cooking wild game. It’s easier to start with simple recipes before working up to more complicated dishes. Once you find your stride, making hearty dishes of wild game will become part of the routine.

“Meat is meat, whether it comes from the store or the field,” Weaver said.


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