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Wild Kitchen

Game's not for kids -- but assisted by top Manhattan chefs and suppliers like D'Artagnan, it's come of age as holiday fare.

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As a rule, New York cosmopolites tend to confine their hunting and gathering to the aisles at Fairway, which, at peak bumper-cart hours, can bring out anyone's killer instinct. But even there, bagging a free-range chicken is as sporting as most urban warriors get. It's not that we're unfamiliar with the notion of wild game -- or at least, thanks to Ralph Lauren and Holland & Holland, what people wear in pursuit of it. But actually cooking something like pheasant or venison anyplace other than a castle in the Scottish highlands has always seemed a tad survivalist. (C'mon, kids, the grouse is getting cold!) It shouldn't. In fact, game is the perfect centerpiece for a holiday table. It's festive. It's traditional. It's seasonal. And in general, it's healthier than conventionally raised meats and poultry, since even farmed game (the only domestic kind legally available) tends to be lower in fat. Which also makes it prone to dry out, unless it's cooked in a way that preserves its unique texture and flavor. For help navigating the wild kingdom, we consulted five top chefs, whose recipes are as elegant as they are original. From Terrance Brennan, we have a salt-crusted, juniper-infused pheasant. From Todd English's Olives New York, pear-crusted rack of venison and rabbit with blood-orange-and-honey-vinegar agrodolce. From AZ's Patricia Yeo, panko-breaded duck schnitzel and oolong-tea-smoked quail. From Ilo's Rick Laakkonen, a ragout of wild boar. And from Paul Liebrandt of Atlas, venison confit. Only one question remains: Are you game?

THE RECIPES
Recipes serve six.

Roasted Rack of Venison Wrapped in Sliced Pears
TODD ENGLISH
TODD ENGLISH'S OLIVES NY
(OPENING IN NOVEMBER)

8 to 10 fresh rosemary branches
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 racks of venison (4 chops to each 1-pound rack), Frenched
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pear butter (recipe below)
4 to 5 ripe pears
1 cup Poire Williams eau de vie
1 tablespoon sugar

Note: Rack of lamb or pork may be substituted for the venison (lamb should reach 130 degrees; pork, 158 degrees).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large roasting pan, place the rosemary branches in a nestlike bundle. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Season the venison racks with salt and pepper, then sear on all sides until deep brown. Remove the venison from the pan and spread 1/4 inch of the pear butter evenly over the meat. Slice the pears in half lengthwise, core, and thinly slice lengthwise. Layer the pears like shingles on top of the venison rack. Season with salt and pepper and place the racks on top of the rosemary nest and put in the oven. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue cooking for another 25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees for medium-rare.

While the racks are cooking, heat the Poire Williams in a small saucepan, add sugar, and stir until dissolved. Increase the heat and reduce the sauce until thickened.

Remove racks from oven and set aside to rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Drizzle Poire Williams sauce over the top and serve.

Suggested accompaniments: wild rice with mushrooms, roasted fennel, polenta.

Pear Butter

1 pound ripe pears, cored and sliced in half (skin on)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups pear nectar (pear or apple cider may be substituted)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pears in a roasting pan skin side down and roast for 20 minutes or until well softened. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Scoop the flesh out of the skin and place in a food processor with the lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, and allspice and purée. Transfer the purée to a medium saucepan and add the pear nectar. Simmer uncovered over medium heat until the purée thickens -- about 30 minutes. Most of the moisture should have evaporated -- it should be thicker than normal apple butter. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard the cinnamon sticks, cover, and refrigerate. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Honey Vinegar-Braised Rabbit Agrodolce
TODD ENGLISH
TODD ENGLISH'S OLIVES NY

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 and 1/2-to-3-pound rabbit, cut into 7 or 8 serving pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped, plus 5 to 6 leaves for garnish
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup honey vinegar (can substitute 1 cup champagne vinegar and 2 tablespoons honey heated in a nonreactive pan)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup blood-orange marmalade
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley

Note: Chicken or duck (trimmed of excess fat) may be substituted for the rabbit; cook the duck 20 minutes longer or until tender.

Stir together the flour and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add rabbit and toss until coated with flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat, add the rabbit in batches, and brown on all sides, transferring the pieces to a warm plate. Add the onion and the remaining oil to the skillet and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic, then the celery, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the stock, vinegar, sugar, thyme, and cinnamon. Return the rabbit to the pan along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and simmer, covered, for one hour, or until the rabbit is tender. Remove the lid and simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly. Stir in the marmalade and garnish with chopped parsley and celery leaves. Serve with ricotta toast points.

Suggested accompaniment: steamed spinach.

Ricotta Toast Points

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (drained in cheesecloth if watery)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 6-by-2-inch slices of country bread, grilled or toasted
6 to 8 tablespoons blood-orange marmalade

Beat together the cheese, basil, and cream in a medium bowl until combined. Whisk in the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the ricotta onto ends of toast and dollop 1 tablespoon of orange marmalade on top.

Oolong-Tea-Smoked Quail
PATRICIA YEO
AZ

Rub:
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon finely diced ginger, skin on
6 whole quail
Smoking:
1/2 cup Lapsang souchong tea leaves
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup raw rice
Strip of orange zest
3 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
2 cloves

Grind the peppercorns until fine in a spice mill and combine with the salt, zest, and ginger in a bowl. Rub the marinade all over the quail, inside and out, and set aside for two hours.

Line a large, deep pot, such as a stock pot or an old wok, with a generous amount of foil. Make sure the inside is completely covered and there is a foil overhang of about 3 to 4 inches. Line the lid with foil. Place the smoking ingredients in the bottom of the foil-lined pot. Place an oiled rack securely inside the pot, at least two inches above the smoking mixture (you can use empty tin cans to support the rack). Brush off excess marinade from each quail and place them on the rack.

Put the pot over high heat, and when the mixture begins to smoke, place the lid securely on the pot. Crimp the foil loosely around the lid and pot, leaving a 1-inch-long uncrimped opening. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady ribbon of steam from the opening and smoke for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat to a well-ventilated spot, and loosen the foil slowly, pointing away from you so you are not hit with a blast of hot smoke. At this point, the quail should be medium-rare. If you would prefer the quail cooked further, cook them in a 350-degree oven for five minutes. Do not smoke the quail for longer than 15 minutes, as this will result in inedible over-smoked birds. Serve with Asian slaw.

Asian Slaw

1/2 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 head napa cabbage, finely julienned
1 red onion, finely julienned
1 carrot, finely julienned
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely julienned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bias-cut scallions, green part only
2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds

Whisk vinegar, lime juice, canola oil, sesame oil, and sugar together. Add the julienned vegetables to a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. The slaw should be made at least an hour in advance so the vegetables have a chance to "pickle" in the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with scallions and the sesame seeds just before serving.

Duck Schnitzel With Orange-Hazelnut Brown Butter and Arugula Salad
PATRICIA YEO
AZ

Duck schnitzel:
6 duck-breast halves, skin removed
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 cups panko (available in Asian markets; fresh bread crumbs can be substituted)
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup canola oil
Orange-hazelnut brown butter:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, skin removed
1/2 cup orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: Chicken or turkey breast may be substituted for the duck.

Duck schnitzel: Split and butterfly each duck-breast half. Place each one between two sheets of plastic wrap. Starting at the center, gently pound out the breast until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Mix together the eggs, grated cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the panko to a food processor and pulse two or three times. Put the crushed crumbs in a large, deep bowl. Just before serving, remove duck from plastic. Season with pepper. Dip the breast into the egg mixture. Transfer to the bowl with the panko, gently pressing so that the crumbs adhere to the breast. Remove and shake gently to release any loose crumbs. Repeat with remaining breasts. (The breaded breast can be placed on a cookie sheet for up to 10 minutes -- after that the breading becomes soggy and will not crisp up as well.)

In a large sauté pan over high heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil until the butter starts to sizzle and brown slightly. Cook each breast individually until golden brown (about 2 to 3 minutes on each side). Remove the cooked breast and place on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Keep warm while the remaining breasts are cooked.

Orange-hazelnut brown butter: Place a sauté pan over high heat, add butter, and heat until it bubbles and the milk solids start to turn golden brown. Add the hazelnuts; cook until they are slightly toasted, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, add the orange juice and zest, and swirl the pan around until the mixture emulsifies. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place a schnitzel on each heated plate, pour the orange-hazelnut brown butter sauce over the schnitzel, and serve immediately with arugula-and-watercress salad on the side.


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