*Cathryn was a little worried about sharing her blog on pairing game meats with wine, but I think you’ll agree that it is a fantastic view into the decision to start hunting, and the excitement it has brought to her wine and food pairing!
The eating habits in my household have changed drastically in the past nine months. Up until that time, I was in charge of buying groceries and preparing most of our day to day meals. Jeff, my boyfriend, usually made our more elaborate and special occasion dinners. About nine months ago, Jeff told me he wanted to learn to hunt. I secretly hoped it would be just a phase, as I was imagining dead animals in our kitchen and a freezer full of weird stuff I had no idea how to cook. Luckily, I had plenty of time to get used to the idea. It took 6 weeks of safety classes, countless hours researching gear and animals, and months of finding someone willing to take an inexperienced guy out into the woods with a gun.
We had our first bit of success in August, when we took our kayaks out to White’s pond in Concord and fished for trout. We ended up with five rainbows. Preparation was simple, just stuff with lemons, thyme, salt & pepper, oil well and throw on the grill. It was delicious, and had a subtle flavor of the lake it came from. This was the first time I had distinctly experienced the idea of terroir in food rather than wine. With it we drank Domaine Laurens Blanquette de Limoux. The lemony, sparkling minerality brightened up the meaty, earthy trout. After one experience cooking and eating what we had worked to acquire, we knew there was no going back. There are no words that can describe that kind of satisfaction.
Jeff finally got his first hunting opportunity a few weeks ago, when he went out in search of pheasant. He brought home two birds. We quickly realized how small our kitchen sink was when he plucked and dressed the pheasants in it. I cried a little the first time, and kept several feathers which now hang as a wreath on our front door. We prepared a very special meal of Greek style pasta with pheasant. The sauce is made with sweet red wine (we used Offley Ruby port), fresh herbs and, of course, pheasant. It’s braised to delectable tenderness and topped with toasted pine nuts. I chose Owen Roe ‘Sinister Hand’, a Washington red blend, to go with our meal. I wanted something with darker fruit but not too rich, since the sauce was so rich on its own. The result was an ideal pairing, a fantastic meal and an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
With the second bird, we made General Tso’s pheasant. This spicy and savory twist on Chinese take-out was a great weeknight dinner. I drank Sans Liege ‘Groundwork’ Grenache blanc, a rich, aromatic white from California with just slight sweetness to temper the spicy pheasant. I was happy to learn that eating game meat doesn’t have to mean only stew and sausage. These recipes came from honest-food.net, a blog written by hunter-gatherer Hank Shaw. This site has been invaluable, and outlines everything you’d ever want to know about harvesting your own food. He has amazing recipes for everything from venison stroganoff to fresh pasta made with acorn meal. Also outlined are tips for foraging, hunting and preparation. He also has written a couple cookbooks on the subject. Hunting is hard work for Jeff as the hunter and me as the homemaker, so its great to have this site to go back to for inspiration and motivation.
Currently, Jeff is working hard to find his first deer, which we hope will become our Christmas dinner. He settled long ago on making stuffed deer heart (stuffed with dressing similar to what you would serve with Thanksgiving dinner) and I have decided the eventual pairing will be a Chinon from Couly-Dutheil, an herby cabernet franc from France’s Loire valley. While his first attempt in New Hampshire last week was unsuccessful, he came back with a renewed appreciation for the New England wilderness and the challenge of procuring your own meat. He remains obsessed with finding another hunting opportunity this year, while I quietly expect our Christmas deer with have to wait for next year. An animal that size would feed the two of us for a long time, and I look forward to trying recipes and wines for everything from the backstrap to the liver.
I realize that hunting isn’t for everyone, but I encourage you to try some interesting proteins besides beef or chicken. Savenor’s market has a great selection of humanely farm raised elk, venison and more. There are also several restaurants around Boston that serve exotic proteins. Try the strozzapreti with braised rabbit at Sportello, or boar meatballs at the Tip Tap Room. I also encourage you to get creative with your beverage pairing, try beer, cocktails, or even a full-bodied Sake with your new recipes!
Throughout this process, we have learned that there is no feeling like eating something you’ve had to work to bring home. I’ve also learned that you can cook elegant and elevated meals with game, pair world-class wines and be fulfilled knowing the animal you’re eating led a full, natural life until the end. Now, I tend to buy more quality ingredients, out of respect for the animal that gave its life to feed us. Our dinners feel more like meals, we take our time eating (partly because you may run in to fish bones or birdshot!), use the good plates and glassware, and talk about the experience getting this food to the plate as we eat. I have a feeling the more we try, the more adventurous our pairing will be as well. If you have any experience with hunting and game preparation, I’d love to hear about it! Come find me at UG and I’ll help you find the perfect beverage to round out your meal.