With upland game seasons freshly opened, deer (gun) and duck seasons
knocking on the door, and myriad other hunting opportunities available
now or coming soon, it is time to think about the residuals of wild game
Yes! Yes! Yes! A venison roast surrounded by veggies, a heaping platter
of fried rabbit and trimmin's, or a beautifully roasted duck or goose bring
smiles to the faces of many hungry outdoorsmen. And why wouldn't they?
Cooking and consuming the things we bag is the culmination of the hunt--it
gives the hunt an undeniable purpose.
That's just fine . . . but . . . when we skin (dress . . . or undress)
the birds and animals we bag, we let a lot of really good and tasty food
go to the garbage can with the offals.
That is what this column is about--livers, hearts, gizzards and kidneys.
Everything I hunt--and have hunted for nigh on to three-quarters of
a century--has at least three of those organs (for dabbling ducks and game
birds you can add the gizzard). And while many folks who enjoy the "meat"
of these birds and animals, many others turn up their noses in unison at
the thought of eating gizzards, hearts, kidneys and livers.
When I bag a deer I save the heart, liver and kidneys, the latter being
used FMTO (for my tummy only). I am sneaky with kidneys--even the kidneys
of smaller animals--because some folks do not even want to think about
eating this most-questionable organ. Kidneys are tasty, perhaps more tasty
than any of the "real meat" of most mammals.
When I was a kid in Southern Indiana, wild rabbit (winter), and squirrel
(summer) were important meats for many families. At suppertime, the most
sought piece of fried rabbit or squirrel on the platter was the back piece
that included the two kidneys surrounded by massive globs of fat.
Rabbits and squirrels were cut into six pieces (not counting the head
of squirrels). There were two front legs, two back legs (also choice),
and two back pieces. The front back pieces included rib cage, but it also
offered some good tenderloin meat. The rear back piece included good side
meat and large rolls of tenderloin, in addition to the kidneys.
Larger small game--raccoon, opossum groundhog, etc.--were treated in
the same manner or baked whole (body cavities stuffed with dressing or
Because the internal organs of game birds and animals (including ducks)
are not large, I save them (frozen) in airtight sandwich bags until I have
enough hearts, gizzards and livers to make a heart-gizzard-liver a la
king type dish--served over hot biscuits or beds of rice.
Smaller birds like doves and quail have very small hearts and gizzards,
but are big contributors when saved with the organs of other birds and
Deer hearts should be sliced to remove blood from the various chambers
soon after the deer is killed. But it, like the liver, can be sliced and
sautéed in olive oil, or dredged in flour and fried just as beef
or pork liver is prepared.
We should note here that the livers of animals and birds often have
a small, usually greenish spot of gall that should be removed. It also
is good to remove any membrane that is used to hold the liver together.
For sautéing or frying one-fourth-inch-thick slices of liver
and heart, I start by frying three or four strips of bacon (chopped), slices
of sweet onion, and some fresh, dried or frozen mushrooms, wild or cultivated.
When the onion starts to brown it is removed with the bacon and mushrooms.
After frying or sautéing the strips of liver and heart, I make
a pan of brown gravy, stir in the bacon-onion-mushroom mixture and serve
this upgraded gravy over the heart and liver strips.
All of these residuals of game birds and animals
can also be turned into mouth-watering goodness by my simple method of
"skillequing," which is simply barbequing in a skillet on top of the stove.
I start this process by slicing onion and mushrooms into an iron skillet
with chopped bacon, a few tablespoons of olive oil or both. When this is
cooking, I add an ounce or two of water, an equal part of red wine, several
tablespoons of brown sugar, and enough good barbeque sauce to give the
liquid a good tangy taste. When the onion is showing some sign of tenderness
(don't let it burn), stir in the pieces of meat (parboiled in advance or
raw). If parboiled in advance, this stock can be substituted for water.
Meat or pieces of heart/liver/gizzard should be allowed to cook longer
if they are not parboiled or otherwise pre-cooked.
Heat is turned down to a slow bubble when most of the water and wine
has turned to a thick gravy, and the skillet is covered to steep until
goose breast (Canada honker) skilleques in my old iron skillet.