Wild Game Curing Part 1, By Tina Windsor

 

Article By Tina Windsor

About The Author:

Tina Windsor is the owner/operator at Picnic Charcuterie located in Tofino, BC. She produces high quality cured meats and provisions using local and seasonal BC ingredients, while practicing traditional production and aging techniques using only the minimum required preservatives.

I am not a hunter, in fact the only thing I’ve ever shot was a beer can from forty feet away. And that was only after missing two-dozen times. I worked as a ranch hand for a few seasons and a farm hand for a few others. I’ve worked in a couple abattoirs and know what it’s like to take a life for the sake of feeding myself and others. I have spent enough time around, observing, and caring for animals that I have a deep respect for them. I share with some of you, similar concerns about industrial-scale meat production, instead opting to only consume wild meat. Suffice to say, I have a deep respect for hunters and wild meat.

I am a Charcutier, which means I specialize in transforming cuts of raw meat into edible treats through the application of a combination of smoke, heat, salt, bacterial culture and time. At Picnic Charcuterie, I work with wild harvesters regularly, most often in the form of forest plants, seaweeds or mushrooms, but we do process a fair amount of game — not for sale, just as a custom processor. Until the guys at The Journal of Mountain Hunting asked me if I would be interested in writing an article about working with game meat, I hadn’t given fermented or dried game a second thought. It makes a lot of sense though, given the richness of game meat and its ability to stand up to strong flavors. The time it takes to prepare and cure meats is an homage to the meat itself, and after reflecting on it, doing this with game is a natural continuation of being a respectful harvester of wild sourced sustenance.

Up until this point, I had only ever made fresh and smoked deer, beef and elk sausages. We generally mix in pork fat if hunters prefer their sausages on the moist end of the spectrum. I like pork fat because it’s a sweet and mild flavor, doesn’t conflict with the flavor of the game, but does dilute it slightly. Some hunters prefer a gamier flavor, but still want a moist sausage. In this case, we use beef fat, or wine, beer or tea to increase the moisture content. It depends on the palate of the hunter. I’ve been very happy with the results of all our different combinations, so the sky’s the limit.

The meat we used for the purposes of this article was from the leg of a Sitka black-tailed deer, harvested by a Ucluelet resident while hunting on Haida Gwaii, and was taken with a single shot to the neck. The meat was frozen for a full month at -18F. I was excited about the idea of using big, strong flavors that are usually too overpowering for pork. We have had success making our popular garlic beef smokies with deer for hunters in the past, so it seemed fitting to make it for the purposes of this article. Having never cured deer before, we decided to try a modified version of our fermented juniper salami and a South-African style bastourma cured whole muscle. In this article, we’ll go over my garlic smokies recipe and process, and in Part 2 we’ll cover the process for the juniper salami and bastourma. But I’ll warn you ahead of time, a woman can’t give away all her secrets, so you’ll have to forgive me for not sharing the full recipes in next month’s article! But for this one, my kitchen is your kitchen.

Our classic garlic smokies deliver a punch of flavor and smell. We confit garlic first, simmering it at very low temperature submerged in oil until tender. The confit process takes the biting finish off the garlic, sweetens it and creates a deeper flavor. The cloves also end up tenderized which takes the texture out of the garlic cloves and allows them to become a uniform paste.

For the deer recipe, we increased the garlic amount from the classic beef recipe by half. Cutting in 15% pork fat to make the smokies good and juicy, we also added some beer from Tofino Brewing Co which just so happens to be right across the street from our shop. You can use whatever kind of beer you like in this recipe, we used a lager because we happened to have a six-pack cooling in the fridge. However, a stout would offer added depth and richness. It can also be completely omitted as it is not integral to the recipe.

We ground the pork fat and the deer separately; meat and fat have different grains. If you grind them together, the grain of the meat will lacerate the fat, and the fat will run when heated, resulting in a dry sausage. We also ground the deer twice so that we could achieve a tighter knit in the sausage. The sausages were hung in the cooler overnight so that the casing could dry. We used natural hog casing in 42-44mm diameter to make 6-inch links. The sausages are quite wet when they are initially made. If you let the casing dry out a bit and become tacky before being smoked, the smoke will stick to the casing better and you’ll end up with a smokier finished product. The links were then hot-smoked at 185F degrees for 8 hours, using mixed hardwood wood chips, until an internal temperature of 160F was reached. With pork and bear, the number one concern is, of course, Trichinosis but this is easily managed by cooking bear meat to a minimum internal temp of 160F.

This recipe is great with bear, but as bear meat is greasier, omit the pork fat and just use 1kg of bear meat. If you want to cut down the richness of the bear, we’ve had success using a 50/50 ratio of pork to bear meat with this recipe as well.

Garlic Smokies (1kg recipe)

850g    Deer

150g    Pork Fat

10g      Kosher salt

3g        Prague salt No.1

30g      Confit garlic

1 T        Paprika 

1T         Mustard seeds – toasted and ground fine

1/2T     Black peppercorns – toasted and ground fine

1/2 T    White pepper

50ml    Tofino Lager

This is an approachable recipe for anyone looking to expand their wild game culinary skills beyond killing and grilling. If you own one of the popular wood-pellet grills like a Traeger, the smoking part of this recipe is dead easy, no pun intended. So, rather than simply turning some of the less prime cuts from your game into burger, give this smoked sausage recipe a try!

Posted by Adam Janke