I was walking through a nearby neighborhood last week, having finally decided to get started on my new year’s resolution for more exercise, and saw my first robin of spring.
My first thought was – hey, I’ve just seen the first robin of spring. The next thought - I wonder what kind of sauce would be good on robin breast? Probably red. I don’t always think that way, but earlier the same week I had the privilege of attending and judging the Wild Beast Feast put on by First Baptist’s Men’s Ministry. Maybe there was a connection.
This was not my first time to sit at a judges’ table. That would have been the Miss Iuka Junior High pageant, back around 1988. You have to be connected to get that kind of gig. The FBC Wild Beast Feast, then, became step two in my quest to be a judge on Iron Chef America. I just hope my debut night will not turn out to be “Battle Coconut.” I would hate to throw up on The Chairman.
The good part of being a food judge at an event like this is that I got to try everything. Notice the potential for a mixed message, depending on how you translate “I got to.” When some folks use that phrase, they mean “I had the opportunity to” – such as, “I got to see the Eiffel Tower last year.” For others it means, “I must” or “It is urgent that I” – for example, “I got to go to the loo – now.” In the case of tasting, some for the first time, over a half dozen different wild beasts, it was a little bit of both.
Venison was one of the most common beasts served, prepared in a myriad of tasty ways. Third prize in the kids’ division went to a hot smoked deer sausage, one of several adaptations of venison cube steak. The first prize winner in the same category was a deer enchilada that I would have been willing to pay for in a restaurant. I guess good deer recipes run in the family; the father of “deer enchilada” got second place in the adult taste category with something he called “Da Real Deal Backstrap.” This was a strip of backstrap stuffed with a spiced-up cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. I confess I’m not sure what backstrap is (though the name guides my guess), but it was enough to know it was delicious. The other winner in this genre of wild beast, second place for originality, was a zucchini deer casserole. One more yummy reason not to sneak that extra zucchini onto your neighbor’s porch.
There were two winning dishes that I suspect came from the same black bear. The second place winner in the kids division was “Bully’s Favorite: Black Bear Jambalaya.” I think his daddy forgot to tell him there was a Rebel at the judges’ table – or maybe he didn’t. Bear sausage with sweet potato took third place for originality. My taste for sweet and savory in the same bite was satisfied with this simple dish.
The blue ribbon dish in the originality category was Stuffed Smoked Wild Turkey Breast with Zesty Sauce on Garlic Toast. This one had about as many flavors and textures working well together as it did words in the title. Taking the blue for taste was a goose roll stuffed with a mix of cream cheese, roasted garlic and peppers, dried tomatoes, green onions, and lemon juice – at least. Again, it was wrapped in bacon. “Stuff it with Cream Cheese and Wrap it in Bacon” was not the proclaimed theme of the evening, but it was certainly a winning combination. The roll was also served on bed of wild rice, which I guess made it twice as wild as regular goose.
Rounding out the new-to-my palate list this year was squirrel with dumplings, boar ribs, and chopped beaver. The beaver was not the least beast by far – it got third place for taste and certainly drew the most comments over the course of the night. I was hesitant to dive into this one head first, but once tasted, the rest of the sample was devoured posthaste. I didn’t get to quiz the cook on his recipe, but I think something from the barbecue sauce family must have been involved. I reckon if you can’t wrap something in bacon, tossing it in a good barbecue sauce is not a bad substitute.
I’m not much of a hunter (translated: I’ve been on one deer hunt strictly as a frozen observer), but I thoroughly enjoyed an evening of tasting what others had brought home from the woods. And apart from the deer and dove, many were new to my taste buds. Or at least I think they were new. I have had some good Brunswick stew that I chose not to ask questions about.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .