Hunt, Gather, Gourmet 

From field to freezer to food with friends

It took most of a year but the freezer full of wild game was worth it. That is until a frozen goose fell out onto my wife's foot. Promptly thereafter, I had a pile of game on my kitchen counter that needed sorting.

Looking it over, I was proud of my accomplishment. I had hunted, brought home meat for my family, even earned some "man points." The wife simply shrugged and pointed at her red swollen toes.

I explained that this kind of local food was the "greenest" food that we had in the house. I told her that we had sustainable, low-impact, locally-sourced, organic and free-range grub that we should hang on to. She nodded in agreement but said that I needed to find something to do with all of the game because "we don't have room for the ice cube trays." (I explained to her that we do not have ice cube trays. She said I was splitting hairs, and I should clean out the freezer.)

Clearly I was not going to be able to keep these frozen trophies forever, so I called a few friends. It was time for a dinner party.

Once I had the concept of a wild-game dinner party in mind, I knew I needed the right beverage accompaniment. Wild game and wine just didn't strike me as the right mix, so I asked my friend Marvin Kinney, owner of Simian Brewing Co., to pair the beers for the evening. Wild Game and beer dinner invitations went out, and there was no lack of interest. Soon 12 adults and six children were confirmed.

The first course was a mixed-game mole. I braised chukar, quail and jackrabbit in a sweet and spicy Mexican sauce made with Iberia chocolate and peanut butter. The braised meat was then removed from the bone, looking a lot like pulled pork.

The jackrabbit took much longer to braise but held up well against the softer, sweeter-tasting game birds. We drank Jane Good Ale, a tropical fruit-forward beer that was a refreshing complement to the spicy mole.

The next course was a venison roulade: back-strap of venison wrapped around venison tenderloin and served with a gratin of local fingerling potatoes. But the meat was over-cooked. I roasted the venison for about 15 minutes too long and ended up with something on its way to jerky. Fortunately, I was able to save it with a homemade elderberry sauce that some friends make and traditionally give out at Christmas. I popped open a jar and added it to my veal gloss, and the sweet and bitter notes of the elderberry saved the dish from being a complete disaster. We paired the venison with a walnut brown ale, Gorillas in the Grist. It's a low-alcohol "small beer" Kinney brewed with the leftovers from his high-alcohol barley wine. The beer was smooth and nutty with hints of caramel that paired well with the sage-seasoned venison. It was definitely my favorite beer of the night.

After the near disaster of the venison, I recovered with an old French staple: baked trout with sauteed leeks, whole grain mustard and lemons. Cooking trout this way is an easy home-style preparation that is nearly foolproof and was made better by the fact that the fish had a fresh, just-out-of-the-Boise River taste even though it had been frozen for more than four months. The paired beer was a smoked ale called--un-ironically--Lil' Smokey that overpowered the fish. If I had stuck to my original plan of smoking the trout, the flavors would have balanced out better. The mustard and leeks cut through the beer just fine and with smoked trout, the pairing would have been spot on.

The final entree was an orange-stuffed goose wrapped in bacon and slow roasted over a lentil, salted wild hog and wild rice cassoulet. Whole geese have a reputation for being dry and chewy, and this goose did nothing to change that. The best part about the dish was the salt pork lentil cassoulet that baked under the goose. The flavors of the lentils, pork and goose mixed well, creating a flavorful, earthy combination. We matched this dish with a creamy, citrusy IPA called Gone Native, which complemented the orange flavors in the goose, the combination tasting like fruit and cream.

No dinner party is complete without dessert, and ours was definitely the crowd favorite. We paired an unsweetened chocolate and raspberry stout called Mandrill with a homemade huckleberry ice-cream, chocolate crispy rice treats and candied wild hog prosciutto. Something about the candied, salty wild pig mixed exceptionally well with the tart cocoa of the beer.

When the dishes were done and the guests had gone home, I went back to my almost empty freezer for a second helping of ice cream. I spied chicken strips, wontons and frozen vegetables in the freezer's dark recesses.

Then it came to me: I like having a freezer full of game, and I still have time left in the season to fill it again. Watch out geese (and wife: watch your feet). Here I come.

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