A Key Wild Game Cooking Technique : The Braise

braise /brāz/
gerund or present participle: braising

  1. fry (food) lightly and then stew it slowly in a closed container.”I braised the beef and vegetables the day before”
Squirrel braising in some homemade stock with root vegetables and stock.

Let’s talk about a technique that I think every hunter needs to know. Braising. It is essentially stewing meat and sometimes vegetables. But it adds a flavor to the meat and tenderizes it like no other type of cooking. It is my go to for tough cuts that have been in the freezer for years, meats that are tough on their own (looking at you squirrel) and wild game skeptics that aren’t sure they’re going to like anything you cook. Braise it!

For the purposes of this article we’ll be braising a pair of red squirrels. But this can be adapted to any type of meat, I recommend bone-in cuts. One of my favorite pieces of wild game to braise is pheasant legs. Once cooked, you can peal the meat right off the legs, leaving behind those obnoxious tendons that make eating pheasant legs a pain in the ass. You’ll never see me leave behind pheasant legs when I’m cleaning birds anymore.

For starters, choose your meat. Portion it into manageable chunks, or leave it whole on the bone. Salt and pepper heavily, and leave to rest at room temperature for half an hour, or longer in the fridge. I’ve been none to salt and pepper meat the night before I want to cook it.

Squirrel quarters, salt and peppered, waiting to go into the dutch oven. – photo © Nick Schneeman

Once your meat has rested a minimum of 30 minutes bring a fry pan, stock pot or dutch oven up to heat on your stove top. You want a nice hot cooking surface to start, medium to high heat. We’re trying to sear the outside of the meat and get a nice brown crust, while leaving the center uncooked. I throw a little olive oil in the pot and usually some minced garlic, then brown both sides of the meat. Cook on both sides for a couple minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat.

Squirrel seering in a Lodge dutch oven on medium high heat. – photo © Nick Schneeman

After you have a good sear on both sides, its time to get to the lengthy cooking. If you’re using a fry pan to sear, make sure you have a heavy bottom stock pot heating up. If you are using a dutch oven, just add the next ingredients directly to the hot pot. For a basic braise you will want to toss at least a half onion into the pot, and let it brown in the meat juices. Cover the meat and onions in broth, preferably homemade stock!

Meat covered in stock, made from pheasant carcasses, and I also added celery, carrot and parsnip to this pot.

If you want to get a little fancy, now is your chance. The meat will turn out great braised in stock with onion, but its more of a full meal if you add some root vegetables at this point. My go to braising veggies are carrots, parsnips and celery, but feel free to experiment. I usually hit the whole thing with some herbs and seasonings here as well.

Smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, more salt and black pepper, sage, oregano and turmeric are what I like to do on most nights, but again, feel free to experiment! A regular Italian seasoning mix won’t steer you wrong here either.

Now that its covered in stock, and well seasoned, its time to wait. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a top, and let it slow cook for a minimum of two hours. I did this squirrel for four. You’ll know when the meat is done because it will fall apart when prodded with a fork. If you’re cooking bone in, you’ll want to remove all the meat from the pot at that point. Fork the meat off the bone, and then return it to the pot. The bones can be saved and reused for stock.

Two squirrels, all the meat pulled off the bone. – photo © Nick Schneeman

Lastly, what are you going to do with this meat? If you have just cooked meat, braised wild game is great for tacos or pulled meat sandwiches. If you’re like me, and you’re going for whole meat in one pot with a bunch of veggies, then I think the way to go is serve the meat over a polenta or rice.

Braised squirrel with carrots, parsnips, onion and celery. – photo © Nick Schneeman

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