By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
When it comes to preparing wild game, some of the best loved and most reliable methods involve the stew pot rather than the frying pan, oven or grill.
Squirrels and rabbits may lead the list of stew starters, but all game large and small works well in the pot, veteran wild game chefs say. It’s an easy, reliable, adjustable way to cook so that with only a few basic criteria observed, anyone can turn out a great dish.
Donnie Kisner of Tupelofollowed his grandfather into the squirrel woods of the Siloam community for years and, though they typically fried the resulting bounty, it’s a method he says leaves too much to chance when a better plan awaits.
“They fried them all the time, but it’s lean meat and it can be tough as shoe leather if you don’t get it just right,” he said.
Kisner’s squirrel stew method is simple and easy, he said.
“After the squirrels are cleaned, I put them in a pot with salt, pepper, garlic, celery, onions and bell pepper,” he said. “I use generous amounts of onion and celery, then cover all that up with water.”
Fall off the bone
That mixture cooks at a hard boil for two hours until the meat is tender enough to easily remove from the bone. With the bones removed and the meat and the rest of the stock returned to the pot, Kisner says, then you can ramble through the kitchen cabinets and use whatever you like within reason. He adds whole tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato paste, but says you can take a beef-stew direction as well.
“The real beginning is when you’re boiling the squirrel to get it off the bone,” he said. “You could just boil it in water, but your stock’s not going to have much flavor. Squirrel’s a very lean meat, so it pays to dress it up a little bit.”
Kisner said he does not add jalapeno peppers to the stew while it’s cooking, noting that was one experiment he doesn’t care to repeat.
Easy on the heat
“Not everybody likes the hot stuff,”he said, “and that’s something that’s pretty particular to individual taste.”
Kathy Mattoon, of Gunnison, Colo., takes a similar attitude toward elk and other big game. Browning a couple pounds of cubed meat in a cast iron skillet using bacon grease, she salts the meat at that point rather than salting the whole pot later.
With the meat browned, she adds Cajun seasoning, fresh ground pepper, diced onion, garlic and sliced mushrooms to taste along with four to five tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon brand beef base to a large crock pot. Next into the pot goes one to two teaspoons of Kitchen Bouquet brand browning sauce, a cup of rinsed pearled barley and at least eight cups of water.
add plenty of water
Use another cup of water to deglaze the pan in which the meat was browned, add that to the pot and you’re ready to go.
“My favorite thing to do is to put it on , turn the crock pot on low, let it cook overnight and you have dinner the next evening when you get in from your hunting day or work,” Mattoon said. “It’s good year-round, by itself or with a grilled cheese sandwich. Wild game is as organic as you can get.”