• Warmth in the field is the enemy of taste at the table. Put the gun down for just a minute, O Nimrod Son of Cush, and field-dress your animal right away. Meat lockers are cold for a reason.
• Save the heart and the liver. No, seriously, it’s all concentrated right there. If you just can’t bring yourself to eat them whole, mince them and add their rich flavor to a pan sauce.
• Use really short cooking times, or really long cooking times. Either medium-rare, or braised until it falls off the bone.
• Cook legs and thighs (furred or feathered) long, rich, wet and slow.
• Duck breast looks like steak. Cook it like steak.
• Venison looks like steak. Cook it like steak. That medium-well backstrap medallion that feels like a flexed quadricep and looks like a hockey puck? Yeah, it’s gonna taste like a hockey puck.
• Wine is good.
• Grilling is good (but it isn’t the only way).
Remember: They’ve been doing this for a long time in Italy and France.
They’ve been doing this for a long time in Mexico.
They’ve been doing this for a long time in the hills of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
We can all still learn a thing or two.
Back in the woods
About 400 years ago, a party of pretty quirky Brits, somewhat newly arrived, took matchlocks and fowling pieces and headed into the New England woods with their native hosts. I’d like to think it was a congenial hunt, with flat November light filtering down through the beeches and chestnuts. I’d like to think there were some jocular insults tossed back and forth, and taken the right way, and that there was time afterward to lean against whatever the 17th century had to offer in the direction of a pickup truck, in order to talk over the day’s events.
Such talk, I’m certain, would have been heavy with more or less accurate recountings of soft-footed stalking, sharp reflexes, misfires and cold toes.
But it’s worth noting that history has forgotten the particular exploits of the hunters on that occasion. It has not forgotten the work of the cooks.
Which leads me to the second best wild meal I’ve ever eaten — the tenderloin of a Michigan whitetail, grilled and served medium-rare on an ancient table in a white cedar cabin with no electricity. The chef was a Marquette hunter and friend, who cares to get things right.
There were six or eight of us at the table. Not a particularly sentimental crew. But we did know instinctively what word to use at the end of the meal.