GARDEN GOURMET-- March 2009
When air temperatures are well below freezing at night, it is not a
time for gardening, but cooking is fair game at this time in anybody’s
And so it was, a few days ago when I pulled a four-poundish Boston butt
roast (pork) from the freezer, and headed for the kitchen to prove a point
I have been making with misguided cooks for many years.
My hunting and cooking friends have bombarded me for many years with
their “authoritative” facts that to cook frozen game (and other meats)
one must thaw it slowly . . . say for a day or two under refrigeration
. . . before it is subjected to heat.
“Hogwash!” I always have told them, meaning that this thinking is goofy.
I add that you’ve got to start with meat thawed on the outside, still frozen
on the inside, and sear it well in your old iron skillet before it is baked
slowly. (Frying should be done a little faster to avoid having meat that
When I am baking a cut of frozen meat or a whole piece of game 350 degrees
F. for my oven is the very top . . .. usually 20 or 30 degrees lower.
That would be somewhere in the low-medium range. Hotter temps are OK for
browning in the last five minutes, but not for longer periods.
Incidentally, I developed my baking habits from watching my mother and
grandmother bake a variety of game with an occasional roast or big bird.
At my house, with three pretty fair hunters, we didn’t get much market
Rabbit, squirrel and quail lent themselves better to frying, which usually
was faster. While we had no facilities for freezing our game, my father
pounded nails into the side of the house just under the roof of the open
back porch, and there usually hung (by one back leg) several rabbits. Squirrels
were not legal during winter months.
When I got home from school at mid-afternoon my job was to get supper
down from the nails. The women folks turned them into many delicious dishes.
So I gained my knowledge of cooking pretty honestly.
On with my theories of cooking meats.
To bake sizeable pieces of meat -- big birds and roasts -- I like to
have them a little thawed on outside surfaces, but still frozen inside.
I rub the outside surfaces with a cooking agent (usually olive oil now)
and sometimes dredge them with flour (optional). If the meat is dredged,
the baking process will produce a natural gravy in the baking pan. The
oven is pre-heated to a little over 300 degrees F. with one strip of good
bacon, or fresh side, cut into three pieces (with scissors), the pieces
scattered along the top of the meat.
Chunks of veggies, especially onion, potatoes, turnips and carrot are
scattered around the covered pan.
After 30 minutes the inside moisture is seeping out so the meat and
veggies are basted, covered again, and allowed to cook another 20-30 minutes.
I like a meat thermometer, too, and a finished inside-the-meat temperature
reading of 170 or 180 degrees F.
At this points, veggies are removed with slotted spoon for drainage,
the meat is turned top-side-down, the veggies rearranged around the meat
(that has now shrunk a bit) and another good basting is applied before
again covering the baking pan.
When veggies are fork tender, turn heat down to 280 degrees F., spoon
out veggies and bake uncovered until the bacon is crisp or brown. The last
stage can be shortened with broiling.
When meat is on cutting board for a cooling period, the moisture can
be poured out and used to make a roux (pronounced roo) for gravy. Equal
parts of roux and milk with two or three tablespoons of flour and seasonings
will produce a beautiful, smooth and delicious gravy for 3/16-inch slices
of pork and veggies.
Chilled applesauce, cottage cheese, or jelly for the meat will make
a delightful companion.
Cut up pieces of small game are very good for dredging and frying to
golden brown on all sides, then steaming for 20 minutes covered, before
lightly browning again. An ounce of wine-water mix (50-50) is excellent
for steaming meat pieces to tenderness. The alcohol departs the mix under
low heat, but it leaves behind a slight wine tang.
Still another method of baking big birds -- say geese or ducks -- is
to drape a layer of cheesecloth over the breast and sides after dusting
them with salt, pepper and other seasonings of your choice. Then brush
the cheesecloth with a mix of bacon fryings and melted butter. This is
applied after the bird is seared on all sides in an iron skillet
It is a tedious job, but I pick big birds instead of skinning them.
The skin does an even better job of containing natural juices than cheesecloth
if cooking is slow, but I advise both.
I would like to pick even smaller birds (like quail), but seldom do
this. I have cleaned some in this manner (other small birds, too), but
ordinarily there is not that much time.
Several years ago Dan Gapen, a dyed-in-the-wool nimrod from Minnesota,
and designer of the famous Ugly Bug and Hairy Worm (both well known to
Hoosier anglers) and I were pass shooting bluebill on a big Manitoba lake
like it was going out of style. The problem was, that at dark we found
ourselves with a double limit (20) ducks and they had to be picked, not
skinned. I thought the picking would never end, but it did.
Darkness found us 40 miles from the nearest eatery and we were hungry
as bears. Dan said he would roast a couple of ducks and, with some canned
veggies from his pickup camper, we would feast like kings. Then he discovered
that the camper's oven didn’t work.
Undaunted, Dan skinned a duck, sliced off 3/16 inch slices from breasts,
legs and thighs, and fried the pieces with nothing but cooking oil, salt
and pepper and sliced onion. Kings never had it so good and soon we were
abed . . . awaiting the a.m. shoot.
-- I have been looking in garden shops recently for earth thermometers,
but to no avail. It may be that we who want to try them in our gardening
may have to have the friendly hardware store order them.
I am told they are not expensive.