March 11, 2013
A Six Pack Interview with Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef
By David Draper
In our Six Pack series, I sit down with interesting people to ask them six questions about hunting, fishing, eating, and just plain living well. This week I sit down with Scott Leysath, better known as the Sporting Chef.
If you have any interest in wild-game cooking, and obviously you do, you’ve probably seen Scott Leysath’s name a time or two. Billing himself as the Sporting Chef, Leysath has been cooking up fish and wild game, and promoting it to the public, long before it was trendy. Over the years, he’s hosted a number of television shows and is a regular on the sport show circuit. Most recently, he serves as the host of “Dead Meat” on the Sportsman’s Channel and authored a new book of deer recipes, The Sporting Chef’s Better Venison Cookbook. I had a chance to hunt with Leysath in Utah last fall and found him humble, hilarious, and an all-around good guy.
When we met, you joked about recently burning yourself while making a batch of jerky in the smoker, relating yourself to all the rest of us hunter-cooks who have done the same thing at one time or another. How does that everyman approach translate into your wild-game cooking?
I think the casual cook is more likely to use a recipe that uses a handful of ingredients, is relatively simple to prepare, and results in something that tastes great. I’m passionate about cooking, but I’d much rather be in a duck blind under a mess of mallards than creating the next best duck recipe. I’m not looking to out-chef anyone with recipes that few people will ever use. I want my readers to be able to open the fridge, look in the pantry, and throw together a great meal without a trip to the grocery store.
Your show “Dead Meat” attempts to convince viewers that many of the animals we don’t think as edible really aren’t all that bad. How did your experience cooking with standard wild game animals like duck and deer help you transition to cooking and eating other, less accepted things such as crow and armadillo.
Ha! I like that you used the word “attempts.” I’m really not trying to convince anyone that eating armadillo is necessarily a good thing. If I don’t like it, I’ll let you know. There really are folks out there who eat armadillo, maybe not as many as there are muskrat or beaver-eaters, but they’re there. I’d like to think that the show is more of a voyeuristic look into the lives of those people who pursue the fish and game less eaten.
My experience with mainstream fish and game has taught me that they aren’t much different than the proteins we find at the market. In general, they’re leaner, healthier, and, depending on the cut of the chosen animal, any recipe for beef, poultry, or pork can be adjusted to work with their wild counterparts. The same principals apply to creepier critters like crows and iguanas, but there have been a few surprises. Unlike the better cuts of antlered game or waterfowl, an overcooked crow breast really doesn’t get gamier when overcooked. Oh sure, it gets really chewy, but the flavor is still mild, not gamey. Iguana meat tastes like frog legs and there’s really no good reason to eat rubbery python that’s loaded with mercury.
So, what’s the one thing you’ve eaten so far that maybe you wish you hadn’t?
This is, by far, the question I get asked most often. Hands down, the machito I sampled at a Mexican and Portuguese party in Texas was a tester. Imagine taking a bite of chopped goat heart, lung, and liver encased in goat fat and tied together with goat intestines. The outside was like chomping down on warm, slightly undercooked fat with a center filled with goat organs in various degrees of doneness. I only had a bite or two, but it stayed with me for hours.
I think a lot of hunters are a little intidmated to go beyond a few well-worn recipes for wild game, most of which do more to cover up the taste of the game than enhance it. If you could teach sportsman only one thing about cooking wild game, what would it be?
Do not overcook your game. I’ve changed more people’s minds about whether game is good, just OK, or not worth eating by giving them permission to try their game cooked closer to rare than well-done. For some, it’ll never happen. They just can’t imagine eating any piece of meat that’s not cooked “all the way.” To me, when better cuts of game are thoroguhly cooked, they’re still just a tad purple, not pink, in the center.
You’re involved with an outreach program that I find particularly compelling. Tell me a little bit about Hunt.Fish.Feed and how sportsmen are helping the homeless and hungry.
Hunt.Fish.Feed. is a Sportsman Channel initiative that has helped to feed thousands of needy people since 2007. As their executive chef, I’ve learned a great deal about the plight of some very unfortunate people. Contrary to what some might think, our shelters are filled with people who have fallen on hard times for a number of reasons. When you hear stories about how someone went from a wage-earning homeowner to jobless and homeless, it makes your own everyday troubles seem trivial.
Hunt.Fish.Feed. is supported by sporting groups who provide antlered game and fish to shelters. Volunteers from participating local groups and Sportsman Channel staff help prepare and serve the meals, along with the shelters’ in-house kitchen staff. The Mule Deer Foundation has been especially generous, answering the call by donating thousands of pounds of processed venison to shelters across the U.S.
The meal is helpful, but the message is more important. There is a growing population of our hungry neighbors whose needs are met on a daily basis by shelters and food banks. Hunt.Fish.Feed. is only there for a day, but the accompanying media campaign lets the community know that the various churches and non-profit organizations could really use their support. It also lets people know that hunters and anglers are a generous and empathic group who won’t hesitate to help those truly in need of a little leg up.
Would you mind sharing your favorite recipe from your new "Better Venison Cookbook"?
In the book, I call it “So...You Don’t Like Venison?” I use the same recipe with waterfowl breasts or any antlered game. I use it to convince people that if they don’t like game, well, they really shouldn’t blame the game.
Scott Leysath’s “So…You Don’t Like Venison?”
-2 pounds trimmed venison medallions, about 4-inches wide by 1/2 inch thick
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
-1 tablespoon plum preserves
-3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
-3/4 cup fresh berries, any kind
-1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles (optional, if you like blue cheese)
-Salt and pepper
1. Season meat evenly with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat and brown, about 1 to 2 minutes each side, but not past rare. Add rosemary, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and plum preserves. Remove meat after 1 minute and keep warm.
2. Reduce liquid to a few tablespoons. Whisk in chilled butter until melted. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in berries. Arrange medallions on plates, spoon sauce over and, if desired, top with blue cheese crumbles. Serves 4