Thanksgiving is the perfect time to share wild game


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s been since I started hunting at 12.

There was magic in waking up early to chase deer, rabbits and pheasants and then returning to the biggest family celebration of the year. I rarely made it through the first quarter of a football game before passing out on the carpet next to the fireplace.

Many of the people who made those first Thanksgivings so special passed away, while the rest of us built lives that took us in different directions. Gatherings these days, to me, are smaller but no less special.

I now have children, just like my cousins. When we can all be together, it’s wonderful. It will be one of those years. Chances are there’s no hunting. But my contribution to the feast will be some wild game dishes.

Thanksgiving is perhaps the greatest occasion of the year to introduce others to the delicious value of wild game obtained by hunting or fishing. If there’s someone at your gathering who doesn’t support the hunt, you have a chance to change their mind by showing them how much venison, duck, pheasant, rabbit, quail, crappie , bluegill or catfish can be delicious. Then, while they’re mesmerized by the explosion of their taste buds, tell them about the joy you felt in both acquiring and cooking the meat.

If the goal is to seriously impress, you can search endless recipes online for how to cook fish and game. There are also excellent wild game cookbooks. Steven Rinella’s “MeatEater” cookbook is excellent. Like all Hank Shaw books. You can probably get wild game cookbooks at your local Goodwill store or second-hand bookstore. Or you can keep it simple. I’m going to give you four examples of very simple ways to impress your guests with wild game.

Nothing beats fried fish. My Uncle Tom cooked fish at Thanksgiving as an appetizer while chaos unfolded in the house. He would be in the garage with a heater that powered the fryer. Cold bottles of beer and hot, crispy, freshly made drizzles of peanut oil crappie, bluegill and, biggest prize of all, giant Lake Michigan yellow perch. We sometimes added hush puppies to the mix.

Fish fillets have never seen the table. A tray would be loaded while they were still warm and circulating in the crowd. Grandfathers lying in recliners downstairs would wait impatiently. Upstairs, while the work in the kitchen was winding down, a little energizing snack was appreciated. I don’t know if there was ever a participant who didn’t like Uncle Tom’s fried fish.

Grilled venison backstrap is hard to beat. There are several ways to do this. You could make an appetizer. To do this, cut the loins into chops and grill them to perfection. Cut the chops into medallions. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, then add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce. Toss the medallions in a bowl to achieve even coatings, then serve on a platter with toothpicks. Try to feed them while they are still warm.

Remember, this may be someone’s first piece of venison. If they hesitate, eat one in front of them. Or better yet, have a child do it. Give them the assurance that this meat is delicious. If they’re still not shot, no pressure. Leave him alone. But I hope they’ll try it, like it, and want to know why you hunt and how you harvest the deer.

Rinella is the world’s most famous wild game chef. He cooks dishes with names I can’t pronounce. Yet when he came to my cabin for turkey camp, Rinella introduced me to a simple dish that I’ve come to love: wild turkey cutlet. All you’re doing here is pounding a flat turkey breast with a meat hammer, dipping it in egg, then coating it in seasoning and breadcrumbs. Sizzle peanut oil in a cast iron skillet and fry the schnitzel until golden brown.

Cut the schnitzel into perfect bite-sized portions one inch wide and two inches long. Put them on a tray with different sauces. My favorite is honey mustard, but barbecue and ranch should also be options. This should be a big hit with the kids at your gathering. Tell them it’s turkey nuggets. Maybe one of them will want to hear your turkey hunting story. To up your game and make the kids smile, drop a few yelps during a spoken call or cut during a box call.

Pheasant and meatballs are a simple twist on a classic side dish appropriate for any Thanksgiving spread. You’re going to need to roast some pheasants and then shred the meat. After that, follow the usual steps for making dumplings from scratch or save time with a store-bought option.

Wild pheasant populations have declined significantly across much of the Midwest. There are many private pheasant hunting operations where captive bred birds are released into the wild for hunting. It’s a great option for taking a newcomer on a hunt, and it’s something you can do on Thanksgiving to get the pheasants you need for the dish.

Or, if you’re serving pheasants that you already have, you might find an interested person or group at dinner who would like to go hunting over the long weekend.

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you decide to add some wild game to your menu this year, take the time to talk about fishing and hunting with someone who may not have had the chance to learn like you. I have so much to be thankful for this year. The opportunity to write these stories for you is at the top of the list. Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving.

See you on the trail.

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Raymond I. Langston