Mix the wild side of the menu with some greens

Farm Forum

We might see men and women dressed in blaze orange coats, vests, caps and overalls at this time of year. The bright clothing is for safety and not necessarily a fashion statement. Fall is hunting season in the Midwest.

When I was a kid, I saw many people in orange clothing around my hometown in the fall. Pheasant, grouse, venison and goose were fairly common menu items in my home. Venison sausage was my favorite.

In the Midwest, many people are adept at cooking wild game. Game meat has its own flavor, and a hunter certainly doesn’t like you to say the meat tastes “gamey.” I made that error one time with a now-retired colleague. Now I know that game meat has its own “characteristic flavor.” Yes, I can learn.

Just like us humans, the body composition of an animal depends on genetics, diet, exercise and other factors. Game meats often are considerably lower in fat than other types of meat, so they may seem a little drier. The diets of wild game are not managed as with domesticated animals, and game animals often get more exercise.

Much of the research on the nutritional composition of wild game was conducted at North Dakota State University many years ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has used the NDSU data on its nutrition databases.

Wild game is a good source of protein and is lower in fat and calories than some types of domesticated animal protein.

In fact, wild game such as venison (deer meat) is slightly higher in protein than some cuts of beef, pork and bison. Bison, venison, elk, moose and antelope also are lower in fat than some cuts of beef, pork and lamb, according to the USDA composition data.

Much of the flavor of meat resides in the fat, so most wild game cooks also suggest trimming any visible fat.

In addition, many wild game experts suggest making use of marinades or rubs. Fruit and vegetable juices such as pineapple and tomato juice can add flavor without lots of calories. Acidic fruit juices also tenderize meat.

Be sure to marinate meats in the refrigerator in a covered container. A tightly covered container allows you to shake the container gently and saturate the meat with the flavorful juice or marinade. Remember food safety, of course, and discard marinade that has come in contact with meat. Do not use that marinade as a sauce.

As with any meat, be sure to cook to a safe temperature, but do not overcook the meat. Safety and quality are important factors in preparing meat.

Use a food thermometer to gauge doneness. The USDA recommends that venison reaches an internal temperature of 160 F and game bird meat reaches 165 F.

Overcooking any type of meat can result in the meat becoming less tender and dry. You aren’t trying to make jerky, right? You can make jerky if you want, though. We have directions for that on our website.

To learn more about field dressing, preparing and preserving wild game, check out the wild game resources on the NDSU Extension Service website. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “wild game” to access the information. I worked on some of these publications when I began my Extension career, with mentoring from a now-retired nutrition specialist and a meat science professor. Yes, the meat science professor taught me that game meat is not “gamey.”

Bison have a rich tradition in North Dakota, so this recipe for an interestingly named main-course salad on the USDA’s Mixing Bowl website intrigued me. In earlier times, bison on the range provided food, clothing and shelter for indigenous populations. This recipe can be prepared with a variety of ground meat, including lean ground beef, venison or turkey.

Bison in a Field

For the mini meat loaves:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 c. sweet onion, peeled and diced

1 pound ground bison (you can substitute with ground turkey, venison, beef)

1 c. seasoned breadcrumbs (you can substitute with plain breadcrumbs and 1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning)

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/2 c. grated Parmesan

1/2 c. nonfat milk

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Dash of ground sage (optional)

For the salad:

8 ounces mixed greens and spinach

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese (or feta or shredded cheese)

1/4 c. dried cherries or dried cranberries

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin orange segments, packed in juice (drained)

Raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing or balsamic vinaigrette

To make the mini meat loaves: In a medium nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook for two minutes, or until soft. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, mix all the remaining mini meat loaf ingredients, including the sauteed onions. Combine well using your hands. Line a 9- by 11-¬inch glass baking dish with parchment paper, or grease with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Place cookie cutter on paper or pan and fill with meat loaf mixture. Remove cookie cutter and repeat. Bake meat loaves for 30 minutes, or until cooked through and they reach an internal temperature of 160 F (for bison, beef, venison). Cook meat loaves made with turkey to 165 F.

To make the salad: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and toss well. To assemble: On each serving plate, arrange salad and place the mini meat loaf in “the field” (on the salad).

Makes four servings. Each serving has 592 calories, 30 grams (g) fat, 38 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 589 milligrams sodium.