I really enjoy the contradictions writing this column provides. From dabbling in the vegan lifestyle at Native Foods Café to singing the praises of game keeps things interesting, which is exactly how I like it.I grew up hunting and fishing and have always had a fondness for cooking what I caught or shot. During college, I lived with a few guys in a farmhouse and when one of them hit a deer we had it butchered and filled our freezer full of venison. We were quite resourceful that way.
Game is showing up on a lot of menus around town these days and Chef Jason Gethin from Union Kitchen & Tap always has a nice selection on his menu. I sat down with him recently to learn more about game from a chef’s perspective.
Lick the Plate: What were some of your first experiences working with game in a kitchen?
Jason Gethin: Throughout my career I have worked in many restaurants that have incorporated wild game meats, mainly the mainstays of duck or the occasional bison while living in the Midwest. But it was not until I moved to Louisiana that the places I worked began to experiment more with this type of cuisine. In Louisiana people grew up in areas dependent on turtle, gator, rabbit and boar for hunting. Many chefs in the area learned from their parents the proper way to cook game meats so they became common on many menus.
LTP: Besides duck, which has become a mainstay of fine dining menus, what game selections are becoming more prevalent these days?
JG: With customers becoming more adventurous, and the ability to farm raise wild game, you are seeing a shift in menus to incorporate various items that include game meat. The area you live many times will dictate what is served. In Texas the area is filled with rattlesnake, wild boar and venison. In Colorado and areas more mountainous areas there tends to be an emphasis on elk, bison and just maybe the occasional bear on menus. But also I am seeing quail and rabbit making more of a surge on menus today.
LTP: My experience with game is that a simple preparation is usually best to let the flavors come out and that because of the lean nature of game, cooking it above medium rare can dry it out. Thoughts on this?
JG: Yes that is very true, like most things the simpler the preparation the better. When you decide that you are going to use game meat, you are using it for its uniqueness. Heavy sauces, complicated spice mixtures or over the top presentations would just mask the gaminess of the meat and put more focus on what is around on the plate rather than the protein that should be the star of the show.
Bison, like many other proteins in this category, tend to be very lean. Without the necessary fat, the meat will dry out and become shoe leather. So my recommendation is if you don’t tend to eat a steak medium rare or lower, trying game meats may not be up your alley. When someone orders Bison Burger medium well, I count the minutes before it comes back and I hear about a guest complaint that the product was for dried out.
LTP: Union Kitchen & Tap always has a selection of game on the menu, what are your current offerings?
JG: Like many restaurants around town we always have duck on the menu in one form or another, right now we serve it for brunch as a duck confit hash and at dinner with parsnip puree and wilted watercress. Besides the duck we carry a bison burger for lunch with caramelized onions and roasted garlic aioli. On the dinner menu we serve venison sliders with onion jam and tellagio cheese. Wild boar osso bucco over Anson Mills grits is on the dinner menu also. And remember always check on the weekends as many of our specials involve game meats in some fashion.
I’ve tried all the game dishes at Union and they are worth checking out. And I will reiterate what Chef Gethin said about not ordering it above medium rare, you will be disappointed unless you like dry meat. Check Union out at localunion101.com and Tip-Top Meats in Carlsbad is a good source for game to cook at home. Visit tiptopmeats.com for more information.