Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Jerk" Squirrel

Grilling squirrel isn't as tricky as most people think. If done incorrectly, it can dry out very easily, but the secret to grilling perfect squirrel is no secret at all. As with any lean, "tougher" meat, and squirrels would fall into this category, the trick is to remove as much silver skin as you can without sacrificing too much meat. Silver skin tightens up and becomes chewy when exposed to heat, and will make the rest of your squirrel meat tough. Of course you can't get it all, but get as much as you can-- that white, cloudy or clear-looking film that covers the pink meat underneath. The second rule is to marinate the squirrel for a few hours or overnight in something that has an acid, such as vinegar or citrus. The marinade will infuse into the meat to help keep it moist while on the grill, while the acid will help to tenderize and break down the meat. We chose a Jamaican "Jerk" marinade because it's one of our favorites for the grill. Finally, grill squirrel directly over hot coals just until cooked through and no longer. 

Don't expect it to be as tender as farm-raised chicken. It's a wild animal that spends most of its time running around, and if you know squirrels, you'll know that they can't keep still for long. Squirrel meat has a pleasant "snap" to it. Respect it. 

We hunt fox squirrels in our neck of the woods, the biggest species of tree squirrels-- we believe. They are meaty and provide great table fare. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 4 1/2 hours
Cooking Time: 5 minutes each side
- 2 squirrels
Marinade Ingredients
- 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of ground allspice
- 1 serrano chili pepper, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of fresh peeled ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1. Here's how you break down a squirrel. Cut legs off at the joints. Cut the body in half just below where the ribs end. Cut off or keep the belly flaps (there are probably better words to describe it) as you wish. 

Then with a very sharp, pointy knife-- like a filet knife-- carefully remove as much of the silver skin as you can to free up the muscles underneath for a more tender end product. Don't remove so much that you're throwing away good meat though. 

2. Next, combine marinade ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth and spoon out some sauce into a small container, like 1/4 cup, for dipping later. Pour the rest of the marinade in a zip-lock bag and add the squirrel. Massage the bag to evenly distribute marinade and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 
3. Prepare grill. Cook squirrels directly over the coals, about 5 minutes each side or until cooked through. Do not overcook-- this will dry out the meat and make it tough. Cooking time will depend on the size of your critters. 
4. Crack open some cold beer and chow down with your bare hands! Grilled squirrel makes good beer food. 

You will need napkins. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Venison

This is similar to one of our older recipes-- Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Teal, except it's served with "nuoc cham," a staple dipping sauce in Vietnamese cooking. It's salty, citrusy and slightly sweet and spicy. You will see these rolls in restaurants filled with shrimp and thin slices of boiled pork. Instead or pork, we seared some venison tenderloin and it turned out just as good! It's a perfect for summer-- like a refreshing salad wrapped in spring roll wrappers. It's also easy to whip up. Keep some wrappers and rice noodles on hand and you can have these anytime. You can fill them with anything you want. 

Servings: 3-4 appetizers, or 2 meals
Prep Time: about 1 hour
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
- 1 pound of venison tenderloin or steaks
- half a package (5 ounces) of fine rice sticks/Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodles (It might say “bun giang tay-shoi nho” on it.)
- about 20 raw shrimp, deveined and shells removed
- 2 small persian cucumbers (or mini cucumbers)
- a bunch of mint leaves
- spring roll wrappers (about 14-16)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
Dipping Sauce
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 teaspoon of Sambal Oelek ground fresh chili paste, or to taste (I think we got ours at Hy-Vee. From Huy Fong Foods, same makers of Sriracha sauce)
- juice of half a large lime, or juice of one small lime

1. We suggest cooking rice noodles at least half an hour before you start assembling the rolls. Rice noodles take a long time to dry. When they’re just cooked, they are too wet to eat and work with. 

Cook noodles according to package directions, usually 4-5 minutes in boiling water. Drain noodles in a colander and  rinse noodles under cold water. Rice noodles release a starchy substance that need to be washed off. Just run water over the noodles under the faucet and allow to drain at room temperature for at least half and hour. You will notice that the noodles will become dry and sticky.

2. Remove all silver skin and fat from venison. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and then cook venison up to medium. 

Boil a pot of water and add shrimp. Boil shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You can buy pre-cooked shrimp, but do not buy frozen pre-cooked shrimp. They are watery and tasteless.

3. Cut cucumbers into matchsticks and pick mint leaves from stems. You can even scoop out the seeds in the cucumbers to only eat the crispy part.

We prefer Persian cucumbers because they are more crispy and thin-skinned. 
4. Slice shrimp in half lengthwise. Then slice venison thinly against the grain and into small bite size pieces.
5. Next, fill a large container with warm or hot water. Quickly wet spring roll wrappers, shake off excess water and lay on a clean, flat surface. Wait until wrappers are pliable, then add some rice noodles, cucumber, venison and mint leaves towards the bottom. 
Add three pieces of shrimp towards the middle, pink/stripy side down for presentation. 
Then fold over the sides and the bottom over the filling. Next, tightly roll up the filling. 
Think dainty burrito.
6. Combine all dipping sauce ingredients and mix well. Serve rolls with sauce on the side. These can be made ahead of time, but keep them covered so they don't dry out. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Vietnamese Catfish Braised in Clay Pot

Called "Ca Kho To," this is a common dish eaten in Vietnamese households. My mom rarely made it, because she said it was always too "fishy" when she did. I bet the reason was because the fish at the Vietnamese grocery store was not always fresh. So she bought it from delis or to-gos, and it was always a treat whenever we had it. Like most Vietnamese meat dishes, this catfish dish is eaten with a lot of white rice. A traditional meat dish that's eaten by itself is rare in Vietnamese cuisine. To stretch meat further, it is usually heavily spiced, making it a perfect accompaniment with filling rice or French bread. 

The catfish we used came from the 5-pounders we caught out of the Niobrara River. Some people think catfish are "fishy," but I don't think so at all. It depends on where you get them. Fish them out of clean, flowing water and they will taste fresh, meaty and clean. It's one of my favorite fish, up there with walleye for me. Instead of filleting them, like the usual, we sliced one of the catfish into steaks, with bone and skin. Just gut the catfish, and slice it across its body into 1 to 1 1/2-inch steaks. You may need a cleaver or kitchen shears to cut through the spine. When braised, the catfish and its skin absorb the sweet and spicy sauce, which turns gooey and delicious when cooked. It's amazing! 

If you don't have a clay pot, no worries. Just use a Dutch oven or a thick pan with a cover. Though, it's much more fun cooking in a clay pot. We got ours for 7 bucks at an Asian grocery store. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
- 1 pound of catfish steaks
- 4 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, sliced into matchsticks 
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons of caramel sauce (or 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of table sugar)
- 1 green onion, sliced
- 1 can of coconut juice
- 1 thai chili (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil

- cooked jasmine white rice, for serving

1. In a medium-size bowl, combine fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic, shallot, ginger and black pepper. Add catfish steaks and marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. 
If you can find caramel sauce in the Asian store, go ahead and use it. But we couldn't find any. 

2. To make caramel sauce, heat 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a rolling simmer. Mix frequently and wait until it turns a dark brown-- do not burn. As it cools, it will harden up. To soften, add a little bit of water and slowly reheat. 
3. Heat olive oil in clay pot (or thick pan) over medium heat. Remove fish from marinade and sear for 2 minutes on each side in the oil. Sear in batches if pot is not big enough. 

4. Place all the seared fish back into the pot. Pour caramel sauce over the fish, then pour coconut juice to slightly halfway up the fish. Scoop out some of the ginger, garlic and shallot from the leftover marinade and add it to the pot, then discard the used marinade. 

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check to make sure sauce does not reduce too much, which will make it burn. Add more coconut juice if necessary. 
Adjust seasonings with more fish sauce or sugar. Garnish with sliced green onion and thai chili (optional).

Serve with lots of white rice. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grilled Rainbow Trout Wrapped in Bacon

We've got a lot of trout in the freezer at the moment, which is a good thing! Here is Rick's recipe for grilled trout. It's wrapped in bacon and stuffed with thyme, lemon slices and lots of garlic. The green onion that gets wrapped in with the bacon gets charred, aromatic and creamy.  

It is very helpful to have a fish grilling basket for this recipe. It will help keep the bacon, lemon and green onion together and will make flipping easier. We don't remember where we put ours. It got packed away in a box when we moved out to Nebraska and is mostly likely sitting somewhere in the garage. We made do with cooking twine. 

Anway-- this is a great summer recipe. We hope you all get the chance to fish for trout this spring and summer!

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes
- 2 whole rainbow trout
- 4 slices of bacon
- 1 large lemon, half of it cut into slices and the other half in wedges
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 to 4 green onions
- salt and pepper, to taste
- vegetable or canola oil, for brushing

- cooking twine or fish grilling basket

1. Prepare grill to medium heat. 

Wash trout thoroughly. Salt and pepper the insides well. Stuff the body cavity with minced garlic and 2 sprigs of thyme in each fish.
It's preferable to have a fish grilling basket to to keep all the ingredients neat and together. We couldn't find ours, so we were only able to lay lemon slices and a green onion on one side of the fish before things got too messy. We tied everything together with cooking twine-- something you won't need with a grilling basket. 
2. Wrap everything together with bacon, however way you want. Just make sure the lemon slices and green onion stay in place. 
Oil grill basket, if using. Or lightly brush fish with oil, if not using basket. 

Lay fish in grill basket and secure snugly. If you don't have a grill basket, you can tie everything up in cooking twine, like we did. 

3. Once the grill is ready, lay fish down and cook for about 7-10 minutes on each side, or until bacon is cooked and fish is flaky. Cooking times will vary. We found that spots where the fish was covered with bacon took longer to cook. 
Once cooked, discard cooking twine (if used) and serve immediately with lemon wedges and your favorite sides!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Rainbow Trout Fried in Lard

We went to the little pond at Ponca State Park the other day and caught our limit in trout. That night, we fried up the smallest ones, dredged them in our own mixture of seasonings-- and fried them in pork lard. YES. Pork lard. You heard that right. It was delicious and I was as happy as a clam.

A lot of people catch trout but don't keep them. If people do keep them, the trout is usually smoked. Smoked trout is delicious, but we enjoy them fried just fine. However, trout is different from other fish, and they can be hard to eat if you're used to nice boneless filets from more coveted fish like walleye or crappie. But we like them. Trout are beautiful fish, fun to catch, and they've got a unique taste compared to most other freshwater fish. They fry and grill up beautifully. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
- 2 whole trout
- kosher salt, to taste
- pork lard, enough to cover trout halfway in a 12-inch cast iron skillet
- 1/2 cup of cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon of Hungarian paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of Lawry's Seasoned Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of Herbes de Provence
- lemon wedges


1. Combine cornmeal, paprika, garlic powder, seasoned salt and Herbes de Provence. Rub the Herbes de Provence between your fingers to make it more fine. Melt pork lard in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and heat it to between 350 and 375 degrees F. When lard is ready, rinse fish under cold water and salt the body cavity. Then dredge wet fish in the cornmeal mixture and gently lay them in the lard. Fry for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until fish is cooked thoroughly. Timing will depend on the size and thickness of your fish. Drain fried fish on paper towels. Serve with lemon wedges. 

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