For people like Dave Billings and Mel Deutsch, the best meals don't come from supermarkets or restaurants.
They come from the wild.
Each year for the past eight to 10 years, Billings and Deutsch -- both longtime sportsmen -- have put on a "wild game feed" for a couple dozen family members and friends.
The location of the meals rotates between the homes of the two men, but the star of the feast is always the same: dishes featuring wild game that Billings and Deutsch have bagged during hunting season.
"There's probably 30 people that come. Some will bring side dishes, and then Mel and I will cook anywhere from six to 10 dishes -- duck, pheasant, quail, goose, dove, venison. We've also had wild boar, antelope, moose, caribou and squirrel," Billings said.
Billings and Deutsch usually have the "wild game feed" in late winter or spring, using meat and fowl that was bagged, field dressed, cleaned and frozen from hunting season.
"We ask the ladies to bring dishes to share like wild rice, a tossed salad and desserts, then Dave and I fix the different (main) dishes. We'll have six to eight different preparations. It's an all-day deal, but it's fun," Deutsch said.
The two men, friends since 1989, are only a few of the many Lawrence residents who savor the taste of the hunt -- the challenge of tracking and bagging wild game, then bringing it home to prepare as everything from venison jerky to quail casserole to bacon-wrapped dove breast.
For some, the cooking is as much fun as the hunting, and the results show it.
Billings has appeared on "Jayni's Kitchen," a cooking program hosted by Jayni Carey that runs on Sunflower Broadband's Channel 6.
On the show, titled "Wild Things: Cooking Wild Fowl with Dave Billings," he prepared his apple goose with glazed apple rings and broiled duck breasts with black raspberry sauce.
"My wife would not eat duck or goose until she tried my special recipes I did on Jayni's show. Now she loves it," Billings said.
Charcoal grill brings out flavor
With the recent start of hunting season on upland birds (pheasant and quail) and migratory waterfowl (ducks and geese), many Kansas sportsmen are thinking about the different ways the wild game they bag is going to show up in meals at home.
Bob Schumm, for instance, already has some good ideas of how he's going to prepare a game bird or two.
"I only fix them (pheasant and quail) on an outdoor charcoal grill using lump charcoal. When it's ready to use, it will look just like the coals after a camp fire has burned down -- very even, high heat," said Schumm, owner of Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, 719 Mass., and the Mass Street Deli, 941 Mass.
"I put salt, pepper and olive oil on it, then I'll use a dry blend of herbs. It's a pretty simple way to go, and it's good."
|¢ For more information about the dates of hunting seasons for wild game in the state, visit the Web site of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at www.kdwp.state.ks.us. Click on any category on the home page, then, under the banner at the top of the page that says "Kansas Hunting," click on "sportmen's calendar."¢ Eckman Hunting Preserve is on a 700-acre family farm near Vinland at 988 E. 1800 Road. The telephone number is (785) 830-0034.¢ To find the wild game recipes that Dave Billings prepared on "Jayni's Kitchen," visit the show's Web site.|
Schumm, a longtime hunter, takes hunting trips with friends four or five times a year, traveling to Stockton or Great Bend.
He likes preparing other types of birds, too.
"I'll do duck breasts. We cook them with the skin on, using an extremely hot frying pan for two minutes, and they're delicious. It tastes like the best filet steak you've ever eaten," Schumm said.
"But you must leave the skin on for the flavor of the fat that's between the skin and the meat."
Venison is one of his favorite types of wild game, especially if it's been bagged in the western part of Kansas, where the deer feed on milo, green wheat and corn from the fields of farmers. This gives the meat a milder taste.
Schumm recommends grilling venison like a steak on a charcoal grill and serving it medium rare.
"The rarer you can eat it, the more tasty and delicate it is. Cook a (venison) steak on a real hot fire, a minute and a half to two minutes each side," he said.
"Because there's no fat in the meat, the longer you cook it, you're drying that meat out. It's going to get tough on you, and then the flavors are going to concentrate and you're going to get a little bit of a gamey flavor. But venison can be absolutely phenomenal."
Hunting season (with firearms) for deer is Dec. 3-14. The special session for hunting whitetail antlerless deer is Jan. 1-4.
Retain juices and flavor
Some Lawrence sportsmen don't want to travel hundreds of miles to find a good place to hunt. For them, Mike Eckman has an easy solution.
He operates the Eckman Hunting Preserve on his family's 700-acre farm at 988 E. 1800 Road.
The preserve offers hunters the chance to hunt quail, pheasant and chukars, a game bird that combines some of the characteristics of both quail and pheasant.
Eckman raises the quail and chukars on his farm and purchases the pheasants from another game farm in the area. He then releases the birds into the wild about an hour before each hunt is scheduled to begin.
Hunters, who must make a reservation, can sign up for either full or half-day hunts. They can choose what type of birds they want to hunt and how many they want released into the hunting area.
Eckman has prepared many meals using a variety of wild game, such as venison, turkey, quail and chukars.
His venison either gets turned into jerky or ground up into burger and used in chili. He likes to fry his game birds.
"I don't usually do them on the grill, because they can dry out. But you can wrap them in bacon to keep the moisture in," he said.
The best technique with game birds is to cook them fast at high heat, searing the outside. That helps retain the juices and flavor.
But Eckman isn't picky when it comes to enjoying the taste of wild game.
"It's all good, as long as you cook it right," he said.