Now, though, it’s also used to refer to the same animals raised on ranches or farms, so the definition perhaps needs to be refined to mean non-domesticated animals.
Game can be raised on farms, and fed as regular livestock are, or raised on ranches, and allowed to forage.
There are two categories of Game, furred and feathered, though some people count fish as game.
In some parts of the world, it includes of course elephants, zebras, etc.
Game can also be classified as small or large game. All feathered game is small game, but small game also includes small furred animals such as rabbits. Large game is all furred animals.
Furry animals can include deer, rabbits, squirrels, deer, elk, moose, antelope, bear, boar, antelope, buffalo, bear, caribou, deer, elk, moose, reindeer, alligator, rabbit, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, armadillo, porcupine, etc.
Feathered game is birds such as grouse, partridge, pheasant, plover, quail, snipe, squab, wild ducks, wild geese, wild turkey, woodcock.
Venison (deer meat) is the most common nowadays of furred Game. It will likely be farmed in semi-wild environments to maintain the game taste.
Meat from game will be leaner than domestic meat. This makes cooking it without it going dry a bit more of a challenge. Any fat on game anyway is not generally good tasting. Many people advise trimming it all away, and then replacing it by barding the meat.
The meat will also be less tender because the muscles get more exercise.
The meat from game birds, though considered “white meat”, will be darker than that from domestic birds. The birds do more exercise, which means more red blood cells are needed to supply the muscles with more oxygen.
The flavour of meat of farm-raised game will be milder than that of actual wild game, but stronger than that of domesticated animals. Rabbit has the mildest flavour.
Game is usually served with other strong flavours that can stand up to its taste.
The USDA does not allow hormones to be fed to the game being raised. Antibiotics can be administered, but not within a period of at least 5 days before slaughter. In America, only game raised on farms can be sold commercially. Meat from wild game can only be consumed personally.
Game needs to be dressed within an hour of slaughter. After that, it is usually hung head down, so that blood and fluids will drain out of the body into the head.
Game is sold fresh and frozen, though it is most often frozen because of the low demand for it.
All safe-meat cooking rules apply to Game.
The gamey taste can be made somewhat milder by completely immersing the meat in the fridge overnight in a solution of either:
- brine (1 tablespoon of salt per 1 litre / 4 cups / 32 oz of water); OR
- acidulated water (250 ml / 1 cup / 8 oz of vinegar per 1 litre / 4 cups / 32 oz of water).
Many swear by Gin as a good marinade for game birds.
Discard any marinating solution afterward.
Cook to a minimum of 71 C (160 F.) But the USDA says for whole birds, cook until thigh meat reaches 82 C (180 F); if cooking just breast meat on its own, cook it to 77 C (170 F.)
Cook or freeze fresh game birds in 1 to 2 days; meat from furred game within 3 to 5 days.
In Europe, it was very hard for ordinary people to add Game to their diet after the start of the Middle Ages as more and more of the countryside was reserved for the exclusive use of the rich in hunting for pleasure.
In North America, the settlers could hunt all they wanted, and indeed they needed to in order to supplement their diets.
In the UK, the 1831 Game Act for England and Wales (redefined under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) covers grouse, hare, partridge, pheasant, but oddly enough, leaves out deer. The 1981 act included Capercaillie, Snipe and Woodcock.
Literature & Lore
“Autumn was hunting season, “la chasse”, a serious passion in France, and suddenly wild game of every pelt and feather appeared in the marketplaces. Wild hares and rabbits hung whole; haunches of elk, wild boar, and venison were presented with hoof and fur intact. The shoppers insisted on this, Bugnard explained, for how would you know what you were buying if the game was all skinned and wrapped up?” — Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2006. p 112.
“You always knew when it was the game-shooting season in a big house because the lavatories — or so the housemaids told me — were always full of lead shot. It was considered bad form to spit out any lead shot you found in your woodcock or snipe or grouse so you just swallowed it and of course a lot of the birds were absolutely full of tiny pieces of lead shot so it was all going through the guts of the various members of the family and ending up in the toilet where it was too heavy be be flushed away…. I used to think aristocrats were eccentric not because they had nothing to do except order us about, but because they were suffering from lead poisoning. And they probably were.” — Jackman, Nancy. With Tom Quinn. The Cook’s Tale. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2012. Page 185.