Hunters love to eat wild game. Clearly, it is the main reason we do what we do. That said, there is no denying that each and every one of us has gotten a hold of those tough cuts. You know the ones. The bites you can’t seem to chew no matter how long you attack it. The ones that leave more sinewy material stuck in your teeth than in your belly. The ones that are quite simply unpleasant. Don’t fret if this has happened to you…because it has most likely happened to everyone. While wild game is naturally going to be tougher just by virtue of their diet, their maturity and their physical attributes, there are a few things hunters can do to help improve the toughness of some of those cuts.
Pictured: Antelope Curry (Recipe found in *free* Wild Game Gourmet: The Ultimate Mossberg Cookbook)
The suggested aging time period for large game is 4-7 days below the temperature of 40º Fahrenheit. The process of aging actually lets enzymes in the tissues break down the tough connective tissue in the muscle. This tenderizes the meat naturally. Take caution, if you cannot keep the meat safely hung in less than 40º, you risk spoilage. Having been a nurse in my past life, this process is almost terrifying for me! I am guilty of cooling my meat as quickly as possible. However, for those who have optimal environments for aging, it is a fantastic way to naturally tenderize your meat.
Wait Out the Rigor Mortis
Believe it or not, this will actually help provide you with more tender cuts. Rigor mortis, or muscle stiffening, happens shortly after death, then begins to release again within 12-24 hours. If you are in an environment that is cool (less than 40 degrees), waiting for the rigor mortis to relax can be extremely beneficial. When meat is cut from the bone while in sustained rigor mortis, the muscles are contracted, and will not relax again…thus causing the meat to be tougher.
Tenderizing by Hand
Once you have butchered your animal, physically tenderizing cuts using a meat mallet will help with those tougher cuts of meat. Tenderizing with a mallet actually destroys the muscle fibers and softens the meat. In the event you use a processor for your meat packaging, you can ask to have your tougher cuts of meat tenderized at that time.
Certain fruits have natural tenderizing properties as they contain bromelain, an enzyme that can break down connective tissue in meat. Pineapple, papaya, and kiwi all work well to tenderize meat. Just remember, they will tenderize the outer portion, but the middle portion of the meat may remain tougher. Caution should be used with pineapple as prolonged marinating can cause the meat to become mushy.
This is a great method for turkey legs and other tough parts of game birds. Soaking meat in a salty brine tenderizes the meat by osmosis. Meaning, the salty brine solution will travel into the meat in efforts to equalize the salinity. Thus, the meat is moist before cooking. Brining is also really helpful in reducing the fishy/gaminess of diver ducks and other less delicious birds.
This one comes down to personal preference. We have all heard that any game should be soaked in buttermilk to tenderize and reduce any ‘gamey’ flavors. The lactic acid helps breakdown connective tissue in the meat, however it will only have this effect on the very exterior of the meat. While some love buttermilk soaks on their red meat, I personally prefer to use it on birds and other white meat.
So there you have it! A few simple tips to help you with some of your tougher cuts of meat or less than desirable game. I suggest experimenting with different meats and different techniques. I assure you that you will indeed find some great new combinations out there!