Cookbook Review: Wild Gourmet

Christmas is almost a month gone, but I'm still getting presents in the mail. The most recent is the new Wild Gourmet cookbook ($35) from the Boone & Crockett Club. This 260-plus page, full-color look into fish and game cooking includes recipes from a wide range of game cooks, notably chefs Daniel Boulud, Michael Chiarello, and Emeril Lagasse. My friend Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef, finds himself on the list, as does Hank Shaw, Holly Peterson, and Susan Prescott-Havers, who should be familiar to any hunter who's found themselves at the wonderful—and haunted—Elk Mountain Hotel in Elk Mountain, Wyoming.

The current trend in a culinary world that is valuing game meats higher and higher is to get too fancy, too precious in preparation. While it's awesome for those of us who get to eat such creations, I've seen a number of cookbooks forget that home cooks are just that—cooks, not chefs. And while there are a few recipes in Wild Gourmet that might stretch a home cook's skills and pantry, there's really nothing in there that's not accessible. (Okay, so maybe Chiarello's Iron Cross Antelope—an asado-inspired whole-roasted pronghorn—is a bit of a leap, but it's so awesome I'm determined to build an iron cross before next fall. Chiarello also includes a cool recipe for suspending a whole leg of venison over a wood fire that I gotta try.)

Although Wild Gourmet comes to us from a conservation organization associated (rightly or wrongly) with trophy game animals, the recipes are nicely varied, with several for rabbits, squirrels, and wild boar, including a Marsala Stewed Rabbit Ragu, Rack of Squirrel a la Forestiere, and Wild Boar Pozole. Venison recipes range from Venison Pasties to Grilled Pasta with Elk Meatballs and Braised Venison with Tomatillos and Poblano Peppers. Birds (both waterfowl and upland) and Fish get equal billing.

Nearly half of the book is dedicated to processing and an informative appendix section. The former is illustrated with full-color photos and Wild Gourmet is the first book I've seen that has such step-by-step, hands-on photos taking game, fowl, and fish from hanging meat to bone. While some of Chef Daniel Nelsen's steps differ from mine, there's enough information contained within for both new and experienced hunters to learn something about processing. My favorite part of the whole book? The included 24x36-inch full-color poster labeling the various cuts from game animals, which will replace the cobbled, annotated beef poster hanging above my butcher table.