Moose burgers? Well, yes, wild game - though not widely hunted, served or sold in urban areas - is the name of the game for many Americans, including people like Republican vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and hunter-rock-star Ted Nugent.
“Venison is perfect food,” says Mr. Nugent (who, by the way, is a huge Palin fan and called her “a political savior” in a recent column for HumanEvents.com) via e-mail from Jackson, Mich., where he’s recording an audio version of his book “Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto,” which comes out later this fall.
Jackson is also where Mr. Nugent hunts.
“We hunt, fish and trap all legal renewable game,” Mr. Nugent says.
This includes rabbit, fox, elk, grouse and his favorite, venison.
“Young venison over hot coals, smothered in garlic and butter, rare, with family and friends in the great outdoors around a fire, with a slug of good African red wine,” Mr. Nugent says of his favorite food and setting.
• Click here for the Nuge’s recipe for Bubble bean piranha a-la-Colorado moose
His method of hunting?
“We celebrate all legal methodologies,” he says, indicating that he tracks, hunts from blinds and traps, using bow and arrow as well as firearms.
OK, so that’s wild man Nuge’s way.
For the rest of us, who don’t hunt but might go to a place like Whole Foods (which sells a variety of game) and buy a cut of venison or buffalo, how to prepare it?
“In general, it’s not hard to prepare game,” says Sarah Kagan, food editor at Epicurious.com, a Conde Nast food Web site with more than 35,000 professionally tested recipes, “but you usually have to lower the cooking temperature and marinate the meat to get the gamey flavor out.”
There’s a difference between game bought at places like Whole Foods (which is farm raised) and wild game (the type the Nuge would prepare and eat).
“Wild animals basically have a tougher life,” Ms. Kagan says.
The tougher life makes for tougher meat.
This is why marinating is so important for wild game. In fact, skimping on marinade can make eating game more like chewing through leather.
Ms. Kagan recommends marinating wild game for up to 24 hours in an acidic preparation - to break down the muscle fiber - that might include red wine, juniper berries, rosemary and allspice.
“They balance out the flavor,” she says.
Yet even wild game can be marinated too long, she cautions.
“It can break down to the point of getting mushy,” she says. “You don’t want that.”
Store-bought game, such as venison, on the other hand, needs less time marinating (a few hours) and can be treated more like regular beef in terms of cooking time and temperature as well as preparation, she says.
Whole Foods usually carries some game, such as venison, buffalo, quail, duck and pheasant, says store spokeswoman Kristin Gross.
“We’re more likely to have it in the winter, particularly duck and pheasant,” Ms. Gross says, “but customers can special order our game meats any time of year.”
The one game meat Whole Foods doesn’t sell is rabbit, she says. “It’s just too expensive to raise and process,” she explains.
Aside from the flavor - which many people associate with the holiday season in late fall and early winter - game meats, including venison and buffalo, often have lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fats - and are leaner overall.
“Even farmed venison is definitely leaner than beef,” Ms. Kagan says.
Another appeal for many people is to “broaden their culinary horizons and try something a little different,” she says.
To hunters like Mr. Nugent, though, it’s not just about the flavorful meat and its healthy properties. It’s also about the hunt and its environmental effects.
“It’s the last perfect, 100 percent natural environmental responsibility that keeps the earth and wildlife balanced and healthy while providing the finest health food known to mankind; plus, it is both physically and spiritually invigorating,” he says.
Sources for various game meats (if you’re not a hunter):