Along with backyard chickens and canning, hunting is perhaps the ultimate DIY. In human nature and in modern life, there's always a big disconnect from this idea. Yet with the ways we're rethinking our food, for some hunting is now a classroom subject.
Chef Jesse Griffiths is based in Austin, Texas, where he is famous for his farmer's market butcher shop where he works with local meats and game, his hunting classes and for his restaurant, Dai Due. For Griffiths hunting is about eating well -- and something more. He's introducing much of what he's learned in his cookbook, Afield: A Chef's Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Why do you hunt?
Jesse Griffiths: I like to be outdoors and I love to fish. Hunting pretty much gave me an opportunity to be distracted year-round. I love to eat wild game, I love to eat in general. Hunting is an excuse to get outside and gather food. I've just always been obsessed with food and where it came from. Hunting gave me an extra connection to that.
LRK: Why do you think it's so hard for many of us to think about hunting and the field dressing, the cleaning, of the animal? On one hand it's logical, we're detached from it. But on the other hand, man has been hunting since we first started to move. There's so much violence now in our society, and yet there's this disconnect from the idea of going out there to get our own food.
JG: I think that people associate hunting with gun culture and I think that hunting should be associated with food culture. A gun is a tool that you can use to get food like the hoe that you would use to turn the soil in your garden. I think that people are pretty leery about starting to hunt because they feel that the violence, which is inherent in the process, is something that's insurmountable.
It's a difficult process, it can be emotional. I think if it's not emotional for you, you shouldn't do it. But I think that we really want to convey the fact that this has been happening for a long time. It's a good way to approach food. It makes you think about your food in general as a whole more. I think that people if they experience it, if they know people who are experiencing it in the right way or they see it done from a different perspective, then they're more likely to change their ideas about what hunting is, if they were opposed to it.
LRK: What is that emotional connection? You said if you don't feel an emotional connection it's not right.
JG: If you're taking the life of something, that's a big deal and it has some weight to it. You should always feel it. If it's a little dove or it's a big deer, it's the same as a life. That animal didn't expect its day to end like that and you are then required to treat that with the utmost respect. If you don't feel that, then I think that you're missing the point.
That feeling translates into when you're preparing things: you just put more thought into it, you're required to. You just went through this long process of getting the gear together, the traveling, the physical exertion, the excitement of the actual hunt, the processing of the animal, the packaging, and making sausage. There's so much work involved, it just makes you feel and understand food at a more base level.
LRK: You wrote something about hunting feral pigs with a woman. She harvested a pig and as she went to begin the process of dressing it, she said, "Thank you, pig."
JG: Literally that's what it was. I don't even know if I remember correctly -- she said, "Thanks, pig." It was casual, but she meant it.
I've also hunted with people who have shot their first deer and they were like, "Can I have a few minutes alone?" They really wanted to say thank you because it was heavy. It was a big deal for them.
It's not required that you get on your knees and thank every animal, but think about it, look at it, hold it in your hand, and realize that this process has begun and there's no taking it back. But it's also the beginning of something great, it's the beginning of a meal. You're going to sustain yourself, your family, your friends. It's pretty wonderful if you can grasp the importance of all of it.
LRK: Cooking game is not something people do every day. It's different than cooking most meats that we might get at the market. What are some of the things we should know when we can get a hold of that game bird or that piece of venison?
JG: First off, it's going to be a lot leaner than grocery store or even farmer's market meats. It was raised on a diet of wild grasses or seeds and it's going to have a different texture. It's not going to have all that fat and just be that sweet corn-fed animal that a lot of people are used to, so it's going to require probably -- and I'm generalizing -- a lot longer cooking. It could also require a lot shorter cooking where it's nice and rare and pink on the inside. It's a little bit of a trick and the flavor is more intense, more rich. A lot of people have had bad experiences with game or are like, "Oh, it tastes gamey."
LRK: But it's game.
JG: That's a good thing.
LRK: Is there a favorite way you have for cooking a game bird? I'm thinking of something small like dove.
JG: I just love grilled doves -- salt, pepper, olive oil and a hot grill. That's more because I associate that with the night of a hunt and we're all around a fire, grilling our doves -- that's a lot of it too. A good meal is a lot more than just the food.
Recipe: Simple Grilled Doves