Having grown up in Quebec, I’m no stranger to big game. My uncle hunted moose, so eating at his place meant dining on moose steaks, moose burgers, moose spaghetti bolognese. The meat was gamey and lean; cooking it was tricky. As Chris Hughes likes to say, there are two ways to cook game meat: a little or a lot.
Hughes is the second-generation owner of Broken Arrow Ranch in central Texas, one of the country’s most lauded wild game providers. So he knows that unless you’re slow-cooking a braising cut, it’s best to go bloody with game meat. His company sells venison, which is meat from deer or antelope, plus wild boar and quail. We recently chatted about eating wild animals.
What are some of the benefits of eating wild game?
Since it’s wild, the animal is not being exposed to medications or antibiotics. Its diet is not forced or prescribed – they just eat what is available in nature. For the meat itself, the benefits are those of any grass-fed, lean cut. The antelope has less than 5% fat content; we have a leg cut that has 0.5% fat, so technically it’s fat free. They’re all very high in iron and protein. It’s the original red meat.
You must cook a lot of game at home.
I grew up with the business. I grew up going to food shows, being the 8-year-old kid slicing sausage and giving the company spiel. When my father started, we would host chefs, take them on hunting trips. For a long time, I considered being a chef… but then I discovered their hours and decided I’d just make it a hobby. I’m cooking all the time. Everyone around here hunts so, with my friends, it’s usually a hodgepodge of Broken Arrow stuff and meats they’ve hunted on the grill.
Why is Texas such a great place for game hunting?
Texas is unique. More than 90% of property is private. In the 1930s, ranchers started bringing in antelopes from Africa and Asia. They turned them loose on their properties, for enjoyment and for hunting. In Central Texas, it’s a nice mild climate and a lot of the animals thrived. But they don’t have any natural predators here – like, say, tigers – so there was nothing to keep the population in check. That’s where we come in. We’ll reduce the population down to a sustainable level. The rancher benefits, the native animals benefit and the customer gets some great meat out of it.
What happens when a rancher invites you to hunt on his property?
A meat inspector has to be present as an animal is killed. It has to be done in a sanitized, government-approved facility. Other people have a brick-and-mortar plant, but transporting the animals can stress them, which can ruin the taste of meat. So we take the plant out to them. My father built a mobile processing unit that meets all government requirements. We take it out to the ranch; a shooter, a skinner and a meat inspector come with us. Our skinner can skin and eviscerate an animal in as little as six minutes.
Impressive. But fresh isn’t how you want to actually eat the meat, right?
Right. You want to age it. We age it for 21 to 28 days. All the meat is aged on the bone, which is unique. The idea is for the enzymes in the muscles to break down the connective tissue. It’s controlled decomposition, basically. What makes meat tough is not the muscle; it’s the connective tissue. As it ages, it becomes more tender.
Do you get out hunting much yourself?
I like getting out to Colorado to hunt elk. One of the things I think people don’t understand about hunting is that, more often than not, you’re unsuccessful. For me, it’s more about being outdoors, spending time in nature, watching the earth wake up. Sharing time with friends and family. And now, taking my kids out. You have to be respectful to the animal. It’s not about killing things. It’s about the whole experience. When I don’t get anything, it’s just as fun as when I do.
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