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Hunting for Thanksgiving

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Some locavores seeking to establish their food cred might recount harrowing tales of foraging for wild ramps or oyster mushrooms. But the group that truly deserves the splashy neon label of “x-treme”?  Hunters—those nature enthusiasts who go out there to track and kill their own source of protein. That’s about as hardcore as it gets when it comes to food.

“Right now, everybody is interested in where their food comes from,” says Anthony Licata, the editor of Field & Stream magazine. “Hunters are the original locavores.” Licata, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, works in Manhattan, and recently penned the article "The Plea: Please Remember the Liver," recently spoke with All Things Considered Host Amy Eddings about the wild game served at America's very first Thanksgiving.

More than just a bonus round of gobbling creatures in Big Buck Hunter, turkey can be broken down into three catagories: the packaged, grocery-store-type of beast typically found in supermarkets across the country, heritage birds purchased at specialty grocery stores, and truly wild turkeys, which can only be found at the end of a rifle sight.

Licata says it is well worth the effort to get out into the woods and bag a turkey yourself. “On a wild turkey, breast meat is almost like dark meat,” he says. “It has a lot of the moisture level, texture and flavor of what you’d think of as dark meat on a domestic bird."

Heritage turkeys, which are domestic breeds that have fallen out of popularity, also have a richer, more intense flavor. But heritage birds, like any other form of game sold at restaurants, are not truly wild. That’s because market hunting, or hunting to supply restaurants, has been illegal since the late 1800s, when the practice decimated much of the country’s wild game. Instead, turkey or venison served on menus are farm-raised wild breeds. Licata explains that much of America’s venison is sourced from New Zealand.

Whether cooking a heritage bird picked up at the farmers’ market, or grilling up the backstrap of a deer recently doing its own foraging in the woods, Licata emphasizes that fresh meat should be cooked differently than supermarket equivalents because it is less fatty. With venison, he suggests either eating it rare or braised, which means cooking it for a long time over low heat.

Below, check out a recipe from the recent issue of Field & Stream for grilled backstrap, the venison equivalent of the loin, or go to the magazine's Web site to get chef Kerry Hefferman’s recipe for wild turkey. And for really hardcore hunters, here’s a video of Licata talking about one woodland critter that makes for good hunting and x-treme eating: squirrel.


Click here to get Licata's recipe for Pork Rind-Crusted Fried Squirrel with Molasses Red-Eye Gravy.

Grilled Backstrap With Deer Rub
Recipe by Tim Love, "The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro," Fort Worth, Texas
Serves 4

  • 1 large venison backstrap, all silverskin cleaned
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup deer rub

Deer Rub

  • 2 Tbsp. cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. coriander
  • 1 Tbsp. palm sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. long red chile, ground
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1. Let backstrap sit until it reaches room temperature. Rub with peanut oil. Season with the rub.
2. Heat grill (or grill pan) to 400 degrees. Sear for 3 minutes per side.
3. Remove from grill and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Place back on grill until hot, then slice thin and serve.