Wild-Game Cooking Elevated
Nevada chef and author creates wild-game recipes that change the way we cook.
STORY BY ERIC CACHINERO
PHOTOS BY KRISTY CRABTREE
Peel open the dusty pages of an old wild-game cookbook, and the recipes may sometimes feel a bit basic and bland: roast duck (salt, pepper), rabbit and gravy (shortening, onion, flour), and even broiled skunk (salt, pepper, onion, nose plugs).
Although some of these recipes are tried and true, gone are the days of cooking duck on a cedar plank, tossing the duck, and eating the cedar plank. That’s because wild-game cooking is evolving; not becoming more complicated, but becoming more understood and respected. Thanks, in part, to modern wild-game chefs understanding their subject matter and exploring new and different recipes—while sticking to everyday ingredients—that challenge traditional cooking methods.
One such chef is Nevada resident Kristy Crabtree, who 13 years ago, started her Nevada Foodies website, where she shares her wild-game recipes with the world. The website was an incredibly successful venture and has since evolved into the “Wild Game Cuisine” cookbook, which features a carefully selected collection of Kristy’s recipes for big game, small game, and gamebird.
Kristy’s love for big-game cooking and cuisine developed after meeting her husband Andy, who took her on her first hunt.
“I didn’t come from a family of hunters and fishermen,” Kristy says. “Then when I went hunting for my first time, I saw things I was never able to see before. I saw the sunrises and sunsets; I saw the respect for the animals; I saw the passion.”
After finding her niche in hunting, Kristy began developing her own game recipes, with an emphasis on respecting the hunt, harvest, and of course, the cooking.
“I don’t let anything go to waste,” says Kristy, who along with Andy, butcher and process all their own meat. “I see every meal as a way to celebrate the life of that animal. Every meal tells a story and every time we sit down for dinner, we seem to reminisce about our adventure.”
Kristy began her mission to share her recipes with the public, in hopes of taking the mystery out of wild-game cooking, and showing those that may be on the fence about the prospect of eating wild game that delicious recipes can be created using everyday ingredients.
“I’ve converted a lot of folks who say wild game is too ‘gamey’ into wild-game carnivores,” she adds.
Her website now features more than 400 wild-game recipes, and her self-published cookbook presents a personal collection of Kristy’s favorite recipes, including appetizers, slow-cooked dishes, entrees, burgers, tacos, stews and soups, seasonings, marinades, and much more. The book includes recipes for the basic Nevada big game animals (elk, mule deer, antelope), game birds (duck, chukar, goose), and even non-native bison.
Kristy’s passion for hunting and cooking is reflected in her recipes. Each recipe is different, incorporating various ingredients and influences from around the world, including American, Italian, Greek, Mexican, and others. For example, her citrus-infused elk gyros feature tender marinated slices of elk paired with homemade seasoned fried potatoes and fresh red onion, cucumber slices, and feta cheese, all assembled in a Greek flatbread or pita and topped with a homemade tzatziki-style yogurt sauce. The recipe is made using ingredients that are affordable and readily available, and the end result yields a delicious and hearty entrée.
Other dishes include her grilled venison mushroom brie burger—a juicy seasoned venison patty topped with sliced mushrooms and a thick melty slice of brie cheese and squeezed between a toasted brioche bun; goose enchiladas—goose breast strips and Colby-Jack cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla and topped with a homemade enchilada sauce and chopped cilantro; and antelope ragu—a hearty and meaty tomato sauce served over noodles or gnocchi and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Kristy has also been exploring recipes that involve fileting and stuffing various game cuts with everything from crab and peppers to cheese and prosciutto. Her double stuffed elk tenderloin recipe calls for a butterflied elk cut stuffed with Anaheim peppers, cream cheese, white cheddar, prosciutto, and spices. The steak is then tied in butcher’s twine, seared in butter in a cast-iron pan, then baked, resulting in a succulent dish with a mild kick that reimagines the way a steak should be cooked. Some of Kristy’s other stuffed-cut recipes include mushroom and Swiss stuffed elk tenderloin, crab-stuffed venison steaks, and even bacon-wrapped stuffed duck breasts. There is truly a recipe for every occasion—from fancy dinner to a casual taco night—and every taste—from those who were raised on antelope steaks to venison virgins.
Of course, not everyone can acquire wild-game meat, but the good news is those interested in trying Kristy’s recipes can make some substitutes that allow them to try her recipes. Swapping elk, venison, or antelope for beef will work, as will swapping pheasant, duck, or chukar for chicken. The flavors won’t be the same, but given the caliber of Kristy’s recipes, they will still taste delicious.
WHY WE DO IT
Society has an every-growing demand for local, organic, and ethical ingredients. Hunters know that wild game is as organic as it gets. And thanks to Kristy and her recipes, those who are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy wild game may take pride in their cooking, because as every hunter knows, the real work comes long, long before sitting down at the dinner table.
“Packing and preparing for the trip, getting in shape, sighting in the guns, driving to the destination, camping, eating outdoors, experiencing things you most likely would never see sitting inside, finding the animal, making a clean shot, harvesting the meat, cleaning the meat, processing and packing the meat and then preparing the meat for the dinner table,” Kristy says. “Now that’s a story that deserves to be told.”