Putting Game Onto the Menu

Give autumn and winter meals a boost with elk, venison, buffalo or quail

Game meats and fowl might not be standard fare for meetings, but in the cooler months, they can be inspired alternatives to traditional main-course choices.

First, consult with the chef on the types of game, either wild or farm-raised, that are available and when. At the Keystone Resort and Conference Center, we typically have venison, buffalo and elk available throughout the year.Next, consider the different qualities of available game. All game meats have a hearty, robust flavor, but some are milder than others. Elk has the strongest flavor, venison is medium-strong and buffalo is the mildest. As for fowl, pheasant is the most robust-flavored, followed by duck. Quail and squab are on the mild side, with a light flavor similar to chicken.Bear in mind that farm-raised game typically is milder and more tender than the wild version.

Marinating the meat is the best way to adjust its strong flavor. Match the heaviness of game meat with strong flavors such as rosemary, juniper, shallots, red wine and olive oil, or with fruits like blackberry or raspberry. Grilling brings out the flavor in marinated meats. Otherwise, they can be sautéed or braised. Grilling also works for game birds; they are also very tasty when oven-roasted.

Any creative planner can incorporate game into the menu just be aware many attendees are unfamiliar with anything more adventurous than wild duck. The key is to gently introduce them to game; again, ask the chef for recommendations.

" Starters are an easy way for attendees to experiment with game foods. Thinly sliced seared elk tenderloin carpaccio or deboned quail, accompanied by wild grains, polenta, nuts or dried fruits, make interesting and tasty first courses. Or incorporate game into soup, such as smoked pheasant and sweet corn chowder, or cranberry quail soup.

" A buffet-style meal is the perfect opportunity to introduce game as a main course selection. Encourage guests to branch out by providing a buffalo steamship round (a large cut of meat) at a carving station, along with a roast tenderloin of beef and honey-glazed ham. A good fowl offering for the buffet table is grilled whole quail or squab.Be sure to have signs that identify the unfamiliar items; the chef attendant also can be helpful in explaining the meats and flavors.

" Barbecues and cookouts are the perfect venues for offering bison burgers as a healthy alternative (less fat, more protein) to traditional beef patties.
" For plated meals, offer dual entrées that pair a traditional meat or poultry with a nontraditional offering, say a chicken breast and sautéed elk medallions. For a side dish, roasted or puréed winter or fall root vegetables such as parsnip, turnip or carrots all make excellent accompaniments. Game also can be served with multigrain rice dishes, stews and risottos. Wild mushroom ragouts, sweet lettuce salads, polentas, bean soups and seafood bisques are other appropriate choices.

" The strong flavor of game, especially when prepared with a savory sauce, is best complemented by medium- to full-bodied tannic red wines. Varietals that work well include zinfandels or milder Shiraz.

" The menu for an awards dinner might be the best opportunity to showcase game foods. A mixed grill of veal, quail and elk with grilled apple stuffing is an elegant, unique and memorable meal to mark a very special occasion.

Joseph Damonte is executive chef at Keystone Resort and Conference Center (www.keystoneconferences.com) in Keystone, Colo.