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Doug Leier: Keeping wild game tasting good

As our access to new information has improved so have our cooking techniques.

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A freezer-burned package of wild game in 1992 is no better than a vacuum pack in 2022.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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As Thanksgiving fades into December many hunters have freezers stacked with mallards and grouse, Canada geese and venison.

In college, while sharing community freezers we use to have fun by labeling packages to keep others from “enjoying” our hard-earned game. If you lived in Milligan Hall back in the day and ever snuck a freezer-wrapped package labeled “unicorn backstraps” or “passenger pigeon,” the meat inside fried in a combination of bacon grease, onion and green peppers was not as rare as you might have hoped.

Truth is, we didn’t have YouTube to search for new recipes for deer (unicorn) or grouse (passenger pigeon). The fact that it wasn’t drowning in cream of mushroom soup made us feel worthy of the mislabeled “rare” game we were cooking.

Today’s food show addicts would tune out and unfollow if there was a documentary on college wild game cooking in the 1990s.

Here and now there’s no shortage of experts and suggestions for preparing wild, prairie raised grouse. Few would argue a grouse raised in 1992 isn’t much different 30 years later. But what hasn’t changed is that a freezer-burned package of wild game in 1992 is no better than a vacuum pack in 2022.

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You can’t make a filet mignon out of ground chuck. If you don’t take care of the meat in the field, no amount of seasoning or any style of preparation will overcome the damage done.

Leaving game in the heat, or letting it get covered in rural road dust and insects is unfixable. Take care of your kill from the field to the fork. One of the best advances for modern game storage is the payoff for investing in a vacuum sealer. A freezer is still a freezer, but airtight vacuum packing has been a game changer.

What hasn’t changed is the fresher the game the better. Want to try a taste test between freshly grilled venison backstraps compared to last year's straps buried beneath a package of this summer’s walleye filets? Neither do I.

Years ago, we didn’t have access to the information the modern age of technology provides. I’d venture to guess that for every cut of meat or species of fish or game, somebody has tried a unique way to prepare or cook it, and they probably have a recipe or even an instructional video online somewhere if you want to look for new ideas.

However, like other internet cautions, you may want to stop and think before you decide grouse puree might be worth a try. Sounds more gross than grouse to me. Check out the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website here https://gf.nd.gov/recipes for safer tried and true options, some of which may or may not have originated from Milligan Hall.

Doug Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.
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