I recently discovered the intriguing cookbook American Game Cookingat a used bookshop. It is written by the chef John Ash (whose cookbooks have long been a favorite of mine, especially the eponymous John Ash: Cooking One on One) and Sid Goldstein (who authored the quirky but pretty good The Wine Lover's Cookbook), so I figured it was worth a shot.
Add to that the fact that I love to try different preparations of game when restaurants offer it and that my diet has nearly entirely shifted to the Paleo Diet for Athletes over time, and this cookbook seemed like a good match.
I've prepared about a dozen recipes from the book thus far, and it does not disappoint. What I like best about the book is the fact that it is focused on the way game arrives at most diners' plates these days - that is, via farm-raised sources rather than hunting. Why is this important? Though the animals are fundamentally the same and "farm-raised" is a bit of a misnomer since the animals are raised on vast acreages where they are allowed to roam freely without hormones, antibiotics, etc., the preparation and cooking methods differ fairly significantly due to the method of slaughter and the stresses involved in the hunt, which impacts the toughness and taste of the meat.
Ash and Goldstein concentrate on the primary farm-raised game birds and meats one is increasingly likely to find in grocers or butchers: wild boar, buffalo, duck, goose, partridge & grouse, pheasant, quail, rabbit & hare, squab, wild turkey, venison, and other exotic game animals (e.g., rattlesnake, alligator).
If you take only one overriding message from the book, it is this - do not overcook game! The reason game is so much better for you than feedlot-raised beef or chicken (excepting organic, grass- fed versions whose nutritional profile more closely matches their game cousins) is because it is extremely lean, with 80-90% of its calories coming from protein, and lean meat cooks faster and at a lower temperature than commercial beef or poultry.
For each dish, Goldstein provides a short paragraph describing his preferred wine pairing(s). His notes are very helpful since he provides do-it-yourselfers with the "why" behind his selections, e.g., a full-bodied Chardonnay to highlight the citrus character of a certain sauce, or a young Pinot Noir to suit the mildly gamy flavory of sauteed squab.
Favorite dishes I've made so far:
- Sauteed Buffalo Sirloin Steaks with fresh herbs and mushrooms
- Duck Breast with mint-hazelnut pesto
- Southwest Venison fajitas with papaya-avocado salsa
- Turkey Mole