"I swear it tastes like apples," raves Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's in Portland, Oregon about his new favorite bird, pheasant. "It also tastes like chicken," he adds, "but with a nice, mellow game flavor."
Traditionally, game is thought of as wild animals and birds, but farm-raised game—once-wild species that are now cultivated domestically—has become increasingly available and popular. It's lean and flavorful, and a welcome change of pace from the usual chicken-and-steak routine. Here's McFadden's advice on bringing game home, and a recipe for one of his favorite wild dishes.
The first step to is to leave the fear at the butcher shop. With a plan and the right equipment, cooking game is just like cooking any other meat. Ask your butcher about where the animal was raised and what it ate so you can better understand the flavor profile. And invest in a meat thermometer—game is leaner than other meats and will dry out if it's cooked for too long.
A roasting pan that conducts heat evenly is essential, but keep an eye on temperature. "Because there's so little fat, game generally can be left quite pink," McFadden says. "Still, rabbits and pheasants are white meat, so always cook them through (to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees)."
Bigger cuts, like venison, can be left medium-rare (with an internal temperature of 145 degrees). Basting game in olive oil or melted duck fat while it cooks can help keep it from drying out. Pull the meat off the heat as soon as it hits its temperature, then let it rest for several minutes before cutting.
This fall, McFadden has quail on the mind. "It's a perfect single-portion dish and has a real depth of flavor," he says. His favorite fall meal (see the recipe), fried farro with quail, was inspired by a farm visit in rural Maine.
"It has all the fall flavors—cabbage, squash, walnuts and quail—and it's so satisfying," he says. "Think fried rice, but good for you," McFadden says. "And definitely drink cider with it."
With the basics under our belts, it's game on in the kitchen this fall.
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