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THE GAME COOKBOOK by Clarissa Dickson Wright & Johnny Scott [Book Review]

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Cork Graham

 

If you remember the British cooking series, Two Fat Ladies, of PBS and BBC fame, you’ll immediately recognize Clarissa Dickson Wright as the taller of the two, not the proud chainsmoker who passed away from lung cancer in 1999.  Dickson Wright is the co-author of The Game Cookbook with Scottish farmer and outdoorsman, Johnny Scott.

A gorgeously illustrated review copy sent to us by the publisher, The Game Cookbook takes standard table game and puts a variation on it that brings out the best qualities through innovative experimentation, with classic recipes and those that seem to have been magically created by neighbors on the other side of the authors’ hedge.

Included are recipes that are very traditional in the UK and Europe. Others reach to the Middle East and South Asia, modified from recipes based in preparing more traditional farm-raised meats. Well-read and always willing to tell a story, Dickson Wright colors the recipes with asides of family histories and remembrances of foreign travel and meals had with friends.

You’ll find that it’s very much a UK book with such references as “wapiti”, which those of us in the US and Canada recognize as elk: what they call elk in Europe and the UK, we call moose in North America.

The artwork gracing the pages is a mix of old paintings, of hunting and fishing in North America and Europe, even movie stills (James Mason looks quite dashing with a side-by-side), and then photos of completed dishes just as beautiful as the sketches and historical art. Together they bring to the reader the old and new of game and fish cuisine, along with anecdotes that can prepare the neophyte hunter or angler for their first hunting or fishing experience.

At the end of the book is a listing of hunting and fishing organizations in the UK and US, along with a collection of wildlife agencies in the United States. For those who might not be personally able to collect their own main component of a game or fish dish, a listing of game suppliers offering meat farm-raised animals (unlike in Europe, where wild game and fish are sold in many shops, the selling of true wild game in the US has been illegal for years) provides an option.

One of the topics that I keyed in on, because it puts so much fear in the new game chef, is aging. In the US of late, as the tradition of hunting has skipped one, two or even three generations, the result of more Americans moving into urban areas in pursuit of employment, the art of aging has been forgotten. If you read some of the forums on the Internet, there’s such an intimidation toward aging and meat contamination that it can sometimes be humorous, sometimes sad…. What would people do if suddenly our refrigerators no longer worked and we were suddenly dumped into a kitchen life experience most families had up until the end of the early part of the last century?

Aging was a heavily practiced technique for stretching the day’s take, improving flavor and tenderizing a tough old bird, or side of venison. It all has to do with air temperature and humidity: cool and moist tops the list, and extends the aging time. The author goes through the aging process for just about every meat type taken, from grouse, to pheasant to venison.

There are also recipes for those that might not be specifically sought in the US and Canada, but are looked forward to in Europe and the UK, such as carp. There are recipes for grouse, pheasant, elk, moose, antelope, caribou, wild boar, partridge (chukar), quail, dove, American woodcock, snipe, hare (jackrabbit), cottontail, salmon trout, sea trout, zander (yellow perch), pike and of course goose.

At the back just before the meat supplier’s list, is a collection of recipes for compotes, sauces and stocks bringing out the best flavors of the dish.

When it came to testing a recipe, I decided it was time to use one of the many pheasants that Ziggy had pointed out for me last year—the dish quick to prepare and a rich, creamy mix of flavors!

PHEASANT WITH NOODLES AND HORSERADISH CREAM

A bit sweet. A bit tangy. All delicious!

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 cup (3/4 stick) butter
  • 4 pheasant breasts
  • 4 shallots, chopped (if unavailable, use 4 tablespoons of chopped mild onions)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp bottled horseradish, or 1 tbsp strong fresh horseradish, grated.
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 packet black or green Italian noodles or make your own chestnut noodles (enough for 4 people)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps: 

  1. Heat the butter in a heavy frying pan for which you have lid
  2. Sauté the pheasant breasts until they are sealed
  3. Remove them and sauté the shallots and the garlic until the shallots are pale gold
  4. Remove and discard the garlic clove
  5. Stir the horseradish into the shallots
  6. Add a tbsp, or so, of water and the lemon juice
  7. Return the breasts to the pan, add the cream, and cover
  8. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes, until the breasts are cooked
  9. If the sauce is too wet, remove the breasts and zap up the heat to reduce
  10. If it’s too dry, add a little more cream or some dry white white wine
  11. Cook the noodles according the package instructions and drain
  12. Serve the noodles with the pheasant
  13. Sprinkle the chopped parsley on top.

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Trout Fishing With a Rock and Roll Guitar Legend

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Cork Graham

When I head out of a metropolitan area for a long trip, I like to leave early in the morning, an hour or so before sun up. This is when you get to see a part of the city that most people, except for police, garbage collectors and EMTs, don’t.

It’s quiet, the streets are empty, and the sun is just hinting on the horizon. Most important, for a city like San Francisco, where all the best trout fishing is on the other side of a large bridge, stop and go traffic that quickly sets in after 6 a.m. is void. At this hour, the freeway is truly a freeway.

In tribute to my birthday brother I’d be meeting in couple hours, I hit the play button on my mp3 player. The Edgar Winter Group’s “Freeride” filled the speakers of my Dodge Ram, and my two-year-old fishing and hunting buddy, Ziggy, perked his ears up and looked around as Ronnie Montrose gave his best with that magic guitar open and roll that has been part of video game and movie soundtracks for years, not the least of which, for an addict of anything that flies: Air America.  Dan Hartman wrote it, but that’s all Brother Montrose on the guitar…it’s also one of my favorite songs from the ’70s, because it became a hit the year my family left Vietnam War, 1972.

Ziggy and I arrived at our secret trout stream and Montrose and his wife, Leighsa, a phenomenal florist, whose work has graced the grand events of many celebrities and influential people, were waiting for what would be a definite good day.

I went through my plan of what I thought was best. This was Leighsa’s first time, but Ronnie, a definite San Francisco-born and Colorado-raised Colorado boy, was well-versed when the topic comes to trout: rainbow, browns, cutthroats, you name it, he’s caught it.

As I’ve become more and more drawn into the music world, I find that many musicians love the outdoors (like for writers, it’s pretty much the only place you can truly get away)…and these rockers don’t just do it like sterile surgeons.

No, these folks really get in there and get intimate with Nature—there’s my buddy who introduced me to Ronnie, 80’s rocker and pig hunting maniac T. Michael Riddle, whose new album is being produced by Montrose. And there’s Dokken drummer Jeff Martin, who I hunted with during a celebrity hunt at the Riddle’s Native Hunt dove opener…and you’d be surprised how many music and film celebrities not only love flyfishing but also pick up a gun and put organic meat on the table—It’s refreshing…and more importantly, it’s honest!

All squared away with how we’d be using light 2-4lb line, a split shot and a small, size-10 to 12 (not too small or the barb it won’t have time to hook into the trout’s jaw in the fast water) salmon egg hook, on a light spinning rig, we made our way through the thorn-laced blackberry bushes that line most of the great trout streams in the Sierras from Kings Canyon on north—I made a note to myself to pick some when we were done.

 

When we got to the stream edge, I saw a rainbow trout, belly up on the bottom. It had been a warm week. It’s one of the reasons when I’m fishing hatchery raised trout, I just fish my limit, and keep my limit. When I’m done, I leave—I don’t catch-and-release another 50-100 as many are proud to tell me they’ve done.

Would they be so proud to know how many of those ended up dying, out of sight, recorded only by biologists next down the waterway, collecting the actual number of fish that die as the result of catch-and-release practices? If asked most catch-n-release anglers couldn’t tell you how to properly release a fish if their lives depended on it: each fish type has different requirements. A simple search on Google will give you a hefty number of how many fish die as the result of catch-and-release.

Leighsa Montrose gingerly, buries that small egg hook without crushing the salmon egg.

 

I prefer to make sure that the fish I kill go into my cooler and into my frying pan, and not floating down the river belly up…and then I’m sure that the kill on those hatchery fish is appropriate to what the department of fish and game assesses as not detrimental to the ecosystem and a wild trout population.

Isn’t it so much nicer to just catch just enough for your meal, reel in your lines and settle down by the stream for a lunch of salami and French bread, perhaps a bottle of wine, as Hemingway might have done on the Big Wood River in Idaho, or on Spain’s Irati, during a break from the bulls of Pamplona?

Then, when you’ve had a nice nap, collected your equipment back to your vehicle, you can drive home and remember the peace and beauty you had enjoyed the week earlier, with a perfectly prepared trout at home. Yes, I actually talk about, and do, these things when I’m out on the stream with friends—I often pine for a peaceful time, even if that time was just before WWII in Spain…not a peaceful time at all…

It peppered my conversation as Ronnie took a break from fishing the other side of an inlet and Leighsa came over to my side for a quick lesson in trout fishing. A quick study, she learned how to slip a hook into a single Pautzke’s salmon egg (bright red is my favorite) without crushing it. Then, we went through the cast and lead, something that fly anglers will recognize as a bait angler’s adaption of the “high sticking” method.

As this stream was so small, there wasn’t really any casting, per se. The cast was more of a swing out and drop into the head of the current, with a static length of line. Skipping along the bottom the single splitshot led the way for the salmon egg, about six inches to a foot above the bottom, prime  feeding zone of the trout in a stream, especially as they try to keep out of the sun and heat, and under the cool and oxygen-rich froth.

It’s important to keep the tip of your rod high, and slightly downriver of the splitshot and bait, so that you can feel the hit when it comes. Doing so, also keeps the splitshot going at the proper speed down the stream and free from snagging.

In one cast, Leighsa had a nice 11-inch rainbow in the net. Then, she got a lesson in how to quickly dispatch a trout for better eating. If your fish aren’t as tasty as you thought they’d be, it’s probably because you kept it struggling for air, with a piece of plastic or metal running up through its gills and out its mouth.

Better to just pick it up while it’s still in the net and bring the top of its head down hard on a large rock or boulder by the water. You’ll save the fish from a bunch of needless distress and have the best tasting trout you can find!

When you’re done putting the trout out of its misery, place it on the stringer to keep it fresh in the cool running water. Remove the innards by sticking your index finger through both gills, ripping through the chin, freeing gills from the jaw.

Then, sticking your index finger down into the gullet and holding onto the gills and pectoral fins, pulling down and out removes all the gills and most of the entrails. A quick run up the body from the vent to the head with a pocket knife lets you draw the back of your thumbnail along the inside of the spine to remove that blood line that also leads to poor taste if left in…

This day, we were averaging a fish on every first or second cast, but it’s the first one that’s the most exciting, shown on the Leighsa’s face and the pride in Ronnie watching his wife catch her first high-stick caught trout—what I consider the most effective form of trout fishing in a stream, next to a spear: but unlike spearing and gigging, high-sticking is legal.

By 10:30 a.m. we were done catching our trout limits, and Ronnie and Leighsa had to return to their hotel to prepare for the gig to be performed at a cancer charity concert in Oakdale. Ziggy and I went off to fill up on two pounds of fresh blackberries…

Ronnie, Leighsa, and Ziggy can attest: Trout fishing’s supposed to be FUN!

 

 

To Get Started Salmon Egg High Sticking

You’ll need a sensitive tip spinning rod of between six and seven feet long, and a light fishing line. I prefer to load my trout stream spinning reels with between two and six-pound monofilament.

Then, snell a laser-sharp salmon egg hook with two-foot leader of four to six-pound fluorocarbon leader material, using a surgeon’s not to attached it to the end of the rod’s line.

Depending on the speed of the current, and clarity of the water, I clamp a piece of splitshot on the leader a foot to a foot-and-a-half from the hook. With the hook buried in a single salmon egg, you’re ready to go.

The key about this type of fishing, like any type of fishing, especially with stream or river fishing, is that you need to go where the fish are. It’s probably why I like this style of trout fishing most. You never get bored, like perhaps in lake fishing, where you cast out your bait and just wait.

It’s like elk or pig hunting. You need to keep moving until you get into the fish. And when you do, you can expect to catch a few more, especially with hatchery trout that act more like lake trout, or sea-run steelhead and salmon, that have been in a school most of their lives, much unlike wild stream trout.

Remember also, that the reason you caught trout in a specific area was that it was a comfort zone—cover/safety, fresh oxygen (especially with rainbows) and food. In the cool of the evening and morning, the trout spread out into the pools and slow runs. As the sun rises high, the water warms and loses more its oxygen, so that the best place to fish for trout is right there in the cold, oxygen-saturated water.

NOTE: I’ve used this same single-egg hook rig to catch steelhead to 13 pounds in the fall and spring!

Catch Ronnie Montrose Tonight in Livermore!

Ronnie Montrose will be on stage with his band tonight at 8 p.m. in the Bankhead Theater of Livermore, CA. If you’ve enjoyed those great songs by Montrose and Sammy Haggar (Rock Candy, Bad Motor Scooter, Rock the Nation, and Space Station #5), they’ll be available for listening—LIVE, tonight! See ya there!

Blackberries and trout–the perfect bounty in California during August and September!

 

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Through the Smoke a Delicious Rainbow

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Cork Graham

Cork Graham on the upper American River with a fresh rainbow trout.

Cork Graham on the upper American River with a fresh rainbow trout.

Before you think I’ve been playing with those funny mushrooms collected in a cow pasture under a full moon with that “delicious rainbow” title, let me tell about our show production last summer…

We were lucky in that we had shot the raw footage so quickly for the episode that would become the acclaimed, bowyer-edifying Baser Bow Traditions episode, so my cameraman and I decided we had time to fish the American River. Bill Lentz, who owns Cat Creek Outdoors, was all too happy to take us to a place where he was sure we’d get into some German browns if not some rainbows.

My setup was a Super 180SX that US Reel had just sent me to try out, mounted on my trusty 10’6″ Fenwick HMXS 105XL-2R steelhead and trout float noodle rod.

The hike down to the river from the highway bridge quick, and I was surprised that aside from construction workers on the road, only the three fishermen we were stood on the gravel bank of the American.

We tried spinners. We tried small marabou jig under a pencil float. Then, I moved away from the deep pools, upriver to the whitewater feeding the string of green emeralds, and tried on a never-say-die, single Pautzke’s red salmon egg on a light line-2 lb line in this case-that the worm turned.

Casting it up into a feeder flow, with a two small lead split-shot squeezed onto the line a foot-and-a-half above the single egg hook in a dropper, it tapped along the bottom with that morose code of communication that a steelheader searches the river for messages: either a solid take, or a silence of the tapping of lead along floor for tumbling waterway, hopefully…

In this case, it wasn’t a 10-pound steelhead that I might have hooked into later in November, below Folsom Dam, but a monster of a fish no less!

It pulled out so much line, with such veracity, that it felt like a salmon, not only in its immediately shooting downriver, but how it never jumped the whole 100 yards it took me over 20-foot boulders and rock outcroppings–I was thinking it was a big carp or river sucker.

–You can be sure I’ll be writing about the adventure in an upcoming column about how to fish effectively for trout in a freestone stream…

When it was all said and done (Lentz climbing 30 feet down to shore to lip the trout, while I kept tension on the line), I’d caught my largest landlocked, stream trout–I was finished for the day (I prefer to just take my catch for the table, instead of practicing catch-and-release with a multitude of fish, risking them to the statistical bracket of 63-percent unintentionally killed: this research by Texas Tech University was collected with the hardy largemouth bass and not the delicate trout) and wondering how to offer a trout, with such beautifully pink, almost sunrise-orange, flesh…culinary respect: this rainbow was to be smoked!

SMOKING TROUT

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Freshly smoked American River rainbow, about to be enjoyed with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon

Smoke then salt; these are the first solid signs of civilization. With this knowledge of food preparation, Man was able to move from one area to another in voyages of discovery. Migration led to mixing of cultures and building of societies.

With the advent of refrigeration, the need for salt curing and smoking lost its importance. Were it not for how much smoke and salt, and now sugar, not only preserve, but also improve the taste of game such as deer, game birds, and fish, these skills would have been lost to history. Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Scottish, German, French, all centers of culinary invention have retained the process of putting salt and smoke to meat in order to not only preserve, but make a meal better.

For many, the process can be a trial in “getting it just right.” To brine or to dry cure is often the call sent out.

DRY CURE

Having tried both, I really don’t have a preference, other than that dry curing enables me to use less room in the refrigerator.

My favorite salmon and trout cure is one inch of salt over a fillet and let it set for five hours. Then, wash off the fillet with cold water. After patting it dry with a paper towel, layer it over with brown sugar for 6 hours. You’ll notice a nice deep brown shift in color. Again, you’ll have to wash off the fillet.

This time, though, pat it off and let it sit for at least one hour to air dry. This will enable a skin to develop, called a pellicle. A good pellicle enables great adherence of smoke to the flesh, giving that deep smoky flavor for which we enjoy the results.

Two hours on a grill or rack with a fan set next to it does fine.

BRINING

Make a brine of:

  • 1 gallon of filtered water
  • 1 cup of Kosher salt
  • 1 cup of extra fine granulated white sugar

Put the brine and fish in a non-reactive container, i.e. metallic, (plastic Tupperware is perfect) and refrigerate overnight.

Wash off the fillet in water and then pat dry. Like the dry cured fish, put it on a rack in front of a fan for drying.

Now, you’re ready to smoke.

SMOKERS

You can start small or grand, that’s a Smokehouse Little Chief or Big Chief to start, or a large smokehouse in your backyard. While I like to smoke birds in my CookShack smoker, or now my Big Green Egg, I leave my fish to my Smokehouse smokers.

If you’re a smoked foods fanatic like me, you’ll have a smoker collection in no time. I started with just a Little Chief and one Big Chief.

In fact, I just got a French oak wine barrel from our friends Bruce and Ben at Papapietro-Perry Winery in the Russian River Valley, that I’m going to be turning into a smoker this month: I’ve just received an advance review copy of Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Darina Allen’s masterpiece (an understatement, I’m sure you’ll agree with once you get a copy yourself when it comes out in March), and will be preparing my favorite Scottish breakfast from scratch: fried eggs and kippers…what else with a very old Scottish name like Graham?

…Stay tuned for the magic of herring kippering like back in the “Ole Country” and the crafting of a smoker from a wine barrel (you can bet it’s going to do double and triple duty on smoked Teutonic and Slavic sausages this spring)!

BEST WOOD

I prefer to smoke fish with those having less bite, such as apple. Alder is wood I learned about during my year’s cabin pilgrimage to Alaska in 1990, which makes it my go to wood for smoking all salmon, char and trout. It gives the fish a smooth sweet flavor.

If you’re getting it yourself from a riverbank, be sure to remove the bark, or you might get sick. That was a trick I learned from my BBQ buddy Rick Sanchis, of Anchorage, who owned one of two BBQ pits catering to tourists and those working the Spit down in Homer, AK. Those who were heading to the visiting Texan’s pit were always complaining of bad stomachaches, if not outright vomitting after a meal. Sanchis was the one who taught me about removing the bark, which is what the summer bird pitmaster from Texas didn’t do…

SMOKED TROUT PAIRINGS

Though many like to use smoked trout as an ingredient for something else, like stirred into cream cheese, or a garnish for a soup, I prefer to eat smoked trout in a manner that best brings out it’s smoky flavor and that’s with a Ritz cracker, perhaps a little sliced red onion. Perhaps even a light sprinkling of black pepper. That’s it!

The perfect wine I learned for anything smoked is a good solid Pinot Noir, as I enjoyed in a 2007 Papapietro-Perry, and 2006 12 Gauge Cabernet Sauvignon suggested by my friend John Putnam, a fellow game and fish enthusiast at Gauge Wines.

That’s the thing about some meats, unlike chicken and fish, that go better with a white, smoked and spiced meat marry best with the deep earthy red wines.

FINAL NOTE: In the open of the New Year, I had promised to keep this column running at two, at least one, column a week. The mega-monster flu of the year hit me this week that basically took me out of a number of hunting and fishing opportunities and nearly made me miss my objective…by hours.

My apologies. I hope by next week I’m much better for typing and hitting the field, like an Ever-Ready Energizer rabbit that I am, to bring more helpful, reliable Tuesday and Thursday rollouts as I used to do with my weekly newspaper column.

Actually, weekly column was only once a week, so this is much better!

And we have lots of things to do: I’m now the equipment review columnist for e4Outdoors, and will be attending the ISE Show at San Mateo, and conducting a number of interviews, not the least of which will be with my friend Michael Riddle of Native Hunt, who will be releasing a special and tasty food product related to wild game!

…And don’t surprised if there’s also a special, secret guest, a partner of Michael’s…Hint: Do you love the early 1970s song Free Ride? I do, especially every time I watch one of my favorite films: Air America.

…And final quick note, on how I’ve been seeking solace in reading while recovering with Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land. Cook is a writer of such great skill, that he brings me back to the emotionally vested writing style of old that drew me to become a writer in the first place: Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and Remarques’ All Quiet on the Western Front. I look forward to next week and delivering to you my review on Langdon Cook’s great memoir of refusing to leave life experience to only reading about it, and venturing forth to enjoy personally what the Earth and Nature has to offer.

…Until next then, good hunting, good fishing and cooking–enjoy the Bounty of the Earth, and practice Sound Wildlife Conservation!

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