Preparations & Procedures

Preservation of Game Meats and Fish

Food Safety Guidelines
Freezing Game Meats
Curing and Smoking Game
Drying or "Jerkying"
Corning Game
Canning Game
Making Sausage
Freezing, Pickling and Canning Fish
The Care of Game and Fish

"How To" Illustrated Procedures

Carving the Roast Goose or Duck
Breasting the Bird and Bringing the Bone
Boning the Duck for a Ballotine
Building the Terrine Maison
Forming the Noisettes of Salmon

Care of Game and Fish

Large Game

Generally, the animal you shoot will not have to be bled out because enough blood vessels will be severed by the bullet. However, if it has been shot in the head, neck or spinal cord, it should be bled. If in doubt, bleed it anyway. One quick method is simply to slash the throat, severing the major blood vessels at the base of the neck where it joins the chest cavity (see Figure 1). Elevate the hind quarters of the carcass to aid in bleeding. If the head is to be mounted, do not cut the throat because this will damage the cape for mounting purposes.

Figure 1.The dotted line shows where to sever the blood vessels to bleed out the carcass.

The animal should be dressed out (entrails removed) as soon as possible after it is killed to ensure rapid loss of body heat. Wipe the gutted cavity with a dry or damp cloth. Keep the animal as clean as possible

Cool promptly and thoroughly by propping the chest cavity open with a stick to allow air to circulate freely. Hanging the carcass up aids cooling, too. Heat remains in the body longer when it's left on the ground and heat hastens spoilage. The animal can be quartered and wrapped in muslin or cheesecloth.

Avoid using tarps or canvas bags, which tend to hold in heat. If the weather is warm, it's even more urgent to clean the animal as quickly as possible. A simple way to cool an animal on a hot day is to buy bags of ice cubes to put into the body cavity. Be sure to leave the ice in the bags.

Game Birds

Game birds offer much variety in flavor and should be cared for just as carefully as big game animals. Remove the entrails and crop as soon as possible after shooting. This allows air to circulate in the body cavity and aids in cooling the carcass quickly and thoroughly. If the weather is hot, the birds should be placed individually in plastic bags and put on ice. In any case, avoid piling warm birds in a mass.

Plucking: Plucking or picking is a matter of personal preference. Some hunters like to pick feathers while the bird is warm. Others say a thoroughly chilled bird is easier to pluck. The trick in plucking birds, warm or cold, is to pick only a few feathers at a time rather than a handful.

To pluck, remove coarse feathers first, then the smaller feathers as you proceed. Pinfeathers can be removed with tweezers or the tip of a small knife and the forefinger. A mixture of melted paraffin and boiling water (3/4 pound paraffin to 7 quarts water) brushed over the bird and allowed to harden will remove down. It is important to have water hot before adding paraffin. Paraffin added to cold water could produce a film on the surface, which could lead to an explosion. The bird also may be dipped in the paraffin mix. Remove the paraffin coating and the down comes off. Repeat if needed. Some people prefer to singe birds; however, the bird has a nicer appearance if paraffin is used. Pinfeathers also come out easily with paraffin. Therefore, if you plan to roast some birds, use the paraffin method.

Scalding: Birds can also be scalded by dipping in hot water (145 degrees Fahrenheit). This relaxes the muscle tissue around each feather so the feathers can be removed easily. However, if the birds are held for several hours or frozen before plucking, then scalding may break down the fatty tissue in the skin, resulting in difficult plucking and skin tears.

Some birds pick easier than others. Immature birds will generally have pinfeathers (especially early in the season) and more tender skin. If you wish to serve birds whole, you probably will prefer to pick them. One general rule may be to pluck the larger, more perfect birds and skin those that are smaller or badly shot up.

The large tendons that run up into the shank can be removed easily at this time if you haven't removed the feet. Cut through the skin of the leg one and one-half inches above the hock joint (Figure 2). Don't cut the tendons. Lay the bird at the edge of a table with the cut just above the table edge. The leg should project over the table edge. Press the leg down sharply with the side of the hand. The bone should snap at the joint. Tendons should come away with the foot. If they tear away from the feet, remove one by one with a skewer or tweezers.

Fishy-tasting ducks or those that feed on aquatic vegetation and animals probably should be skinned.

Figure 2. Removing the tendons from game birds.


What about the fish you catch? It's best to keep the fish you catch alive as long as possible. A metal link basket or a live box is much better than a stringer. Don't throw fish in the bottom of the boat. An ice chest with ice is a good way to keep them fresh. The sooner fish are cleaned and cooled, the better they will taste. A quick method is to cut the throat as you would any game animal, remove gills and entrails, wipe the surface, put the fish in plastic bag and put on ice. You can finish the job later.

The digestive juices of fish are strong. If fish are not cleaned promptly they will begin to digest the entrails, causing off-flavors to seep into the meat. The flesh on the inside of fish gets soft and off-flavored in the rib area. Bleeding is important, too, because the blood quickly breaks down and seeps into the meat. Simply cut the throat and remove the gills.

When fishing in the winter, be sure to keep fish covered, as the wind will dry them out. Fish can be frozen whole, just as they come out of the water. Choose this method if fish freeze before they are cleaned. Simply wrap in freezer paper. Keep frozen. Then when you are ready to prepare the fish to eat, thaw in cold water and clean as you would freshly caught fish.

Aging Game

The question of whether or not to age game meats has always been a point of discussion among hunters. Many practical considerations such as the temperature at the time of harvest, the chilling rate, the age of the animal, the proper storage place for aging and the intended use of the meat need to be determined if you plan to age your game.

Aging of meat is defined as the practice of holding carcasses or cuts at temperatures of 34 F to 37 F for 10 to 14 days (Figure 3). This allows the enzymes present in the meat to break down some of the complex proteins contained in the carcass. Aging of meat usually improves tenderness and flavor.

Figure 3. Immediately after death, all meat decreases in tenderness (indicated by the downward slope of the line from zero to one day postmortem). From one to approximately 14 days, tenderness increases at a constant rate. After 14 days of aging, tenderness continues to increase but at a much slower rate.

Because mammals and birds forage for food, their muscles may develop more connective tissue than muscles of domestic animals. Exercise can be given as a reason for less tender meat. Tenderness is generally inversely related to age of the animal at harvesting. The tenderest meat comes from young, healthy, alert animals. The condition of the animal prior to harvest has an overall effect on the quality of the meat. If an animal has run a long distance before being killed it will have depleted its reserve glycogen stores, which may result in meat which is darker in color (a brownish-red to a purplish-black) and may be sticky or gummy in texture. Consequently, this meat does not decrease to a normal pH of 5.6-5.8, but stays at a pH greater than 6. This decreases the keeping quality of meat and increases the potential of bacterial growth.

Not all meat should be aged. Young game animals are tender by nature. Aging game that has been skinned often results in excessive weight loss, dehydration and surface discoloration of the lean tissue because there is little or no fat cover on the carcass. The meat is also exposed and susceptible to deterioration by bacteria and mold growth. Processing game meats into sausage or ground meats should be done as soon after harvest as possible to minimize weight loss from drying and deterioration due to microbial growth. Grinding or chopping tenderizes game so aging is not necessary. If you prefer to age your game, leave the hide on the carcass and maintain proper temperature.

Whether or not to age birds is also a matter of personal preference. Young game birds have lighter legs, soft breastbones and flexible beaks. Older birds have darker, hard-skinned legs, hard and brittle breastbones and inflexible beaks. They need to be aged longer than young birds. If you do not have a cooler in which to put the birds, the weather can affect the aging process. Hot, muggy conditions accelerate aging. Sometimes birds are not dressed before aging. (The authors do not recommend this.) Hang the birds by the feet in a cool, dry, airy place. Feathers should be dusted with charcoal and covered with cheesecloth to protect from insects.

Cookery Preparation

Game Meats

Game meats may be drier and less tender than meats of domestic animals, but richer in flavor. Strong flavors are more generally pronounced in the fat of game species, so trimming fat from a carcass or individual cut can be important. The fat from large game animals such as deer, moose or elk is highly saturated so it should always be served piping hot or very cold to avoid the clinging of fat to the mouth and the greasy taste. Since game meats have little fat covering, you may need to add cream, butter or cooking oils to maintain the juiciness of the meat. Game meats may be substituted for beef or other meats in your favorite recipes for chili, soups or stews.

Game meat flavor may be enhanced with the use of marinades. Commercial liquid marinades or dry mixes are available. Consider also using fruit juices such as pineapple or lemon juice, vegetable juices such as tomato juice, Italian or French dressing or your favorite marinade recipe.

Avoid overcooking, which may further dry out the meat. Use a food thermometer to measure doneness, which will help ensure both a high-quality and safe recipe.

Game Birds

Plucked game birds can be roasted without fear of drying them out because the fat beneath the skin will absorb into the meat. However, if birds are skinned, it is advisable to wrap them with bacon, dredge with flour or put them in oven bags to prevent the bird from drying out while cooking. Another option: dip a slice of bread in egg and milk and place on the surface of the bird while roasting.

If the bird is to be cut into small pieces, test the joints and bones to determine the cookery method. If the joints are stiff and the bones brittle, this indicates the bird is old and should be braised (simmered in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid) or stewed to make it more tender and enjoyable. If the joints are flexible and bones soft, the bird can be fried. Use a food thermometer to gauge doneness of game birds.

Food Safety Recommendations

Like other high-protein foods, wild game, birds and fish must be handled carefully in the kitchen. Bacteria and other microorganisms can easily be spread through a kitchen by unwashed hands, equipment or mishandled food. To reduce risk of foodborne illness, follow these food safety rules:

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before beginning to work and after changing tasks or after doing anything that could contaminate your hands, such as sneezing or using the bathroom.
Start with clean equipment. After using, clean equipment thoroughly with hot soapy water.
After washing cutting boards, other equipment and surfaces with hot soapy water and rinsing, sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or approximately 1 teaspoon per four cups water). After spraying the surface or dipping cutting boards in the solution, allow to air-dry. Remake sanitizing solution daily.
Thaw frozen meat in a refrigerator at 40 degrees or below on the lowest shelf to avoid dripping of juices on ready-to-eat foods. Meat also may be safely thawed in a microwave oven (immediately followed by cooking), sealed in a plastic bag and placed under cold running water, or as part of the cooking process.
•Use separate cutting boards for cutting up raw meat and ready-to-eat foods like salad ingredients and bread.
Marinate meat in the refrigerator. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and rotate/shake so the marinade coats the meat. For best flavor, allow to marinate at least four hours. Do not re-use marinade that has been in contact with meat; save out some marinade for use as a dipping sauce. Use the marinated meat within 48 hours.
Use a food thermometer to measure doneness of game meats. For safety, cook game meats and birds to an internal temperature of at least 165 F.
Promptly refrigerate leftover cooked meat in shallow pans. Use within two to three days.

courtesy, University of North Dakota


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