"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2009 by Bill Scifres


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 kitchen.

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 is greasy.)

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 meat 

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.

THERMOMETERS -- 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. 

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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