Sometimes another Thanksgiving turkey can feel a bit uninspiring. And since hunters have access to so many interesting flavors that a grocery store can’t provide, there’s no reason to put anything uninspired on the table. Here are a few Thanksgiving meal alternatives to consider as you ponder your menu. Please share your ideas with us in the comments as well!
Individual Roasted Birds There’s something special about serving individually roasted birds to your dinner companions. The presentation stands out at a holiday dinner table, especially when garnished with a bed of caramelized vegetables or winter greens. Quail would be a good choice here, at least two per person for an entrée.
A Whole Roasted Hog I can’t think of a more dramatic piece de résistance at a table than a whole roasted pig. It requires some pre-planning. You must marinate it for several days before slowly smoking it for 8 to 12 hours. Drizzle a healthy dose of molasses on it and scatter the platter with roasted apples and it will be a holiday meal to remember.
Pheasant and Dumplings A thick gravy and soft delicate dumplings studded with pheasant meat is perfect for the cold weather. And it incorporates some of the best ingredients in a Thanksgiving meal—the gravy and stuffing—while adding the subtle sweetness of pheasant.
Wild Game Smorgasbord It is safe to say that most people enjoy Thanksgiving dinner for all of the sides. Why not make it a meal of sides that incorporate all of the wild game protein you have stashed away in your freezer? Elk stuffed cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes with ground chukar gravy, green beans with wild hog bacon, duck prosciutto and roasted persimmons—the possibilities are endless. It’s a chance to be creative and take Thanksgiving sides to a new level.
Buttermilk Fried Squirrel Dipping a squirrel in buttermilk bater before deep frying and servin with gravy, warm biscuits and cranberry sauce, is a holiday meal that people would talk about for quite some time.
Braised Rabbit Braising is a wonderful technique to create a stewy, tender meat that pairs well with mashed potatoes and any other favorite side.
Elk Filets The most tender cut of elk, simply seasoned and seared, and served with a white wine mushroom sauce, is the most elegant holiday dinner. Once again, you can still incorporate many of your favorite sides while changing up the protein to something new and exciting.
Venison Lasagna Gather all of your venison meat scraps and grind them well. Then layer them with sheets of pasta, a homemade sauce, a medley of freshly grated cheeses and herbs. It will be a hearty crowd pleaser.
Orange Duck Seared duck breasts, served medium rare with a reduction of orange juice and vinegar is one of my favorite meals. Add a pinch of clove and nutmeg to give it that holiday flavor.
Duck Cassoulet A traditional French dish, I love this option because it is a one-dish meal that can be scooped up and served by the spoonful. Layer slices of duck or wild boar, along with white beans, rendered bacon, kale, stock, shallots and breadcrumbs and let it bubble and brown in the oven. It is a rich and beautiful holiday dish.
If you do, however, decide to cook a big bird, here are some important variables that will improve whatever bird you carve up:
• Truss the bird with kitchen twine. Tying the legs together allows for uniform cooking and a nicer presentation.
• Use a digital meat thermometer—there really is no substitute for determining when it is done.
• Stuffing your bird increases the cooking time so you’ll need to add about 5 to 7 minutes per pound.
• Carve the bird by removing the leg. Pull each leg out and use short, swiping motions with the tip of the knife as you cut toward the joint. Cut through the joint to separate the leg, or just twist it off.
• Next, move to the wing by pulling it away from the breast to reveal the joint, then cut through it.
• The breast meat is the most crucial because it is often the most dry. Rather than slice the breast meat off of the bone in thin slices, take off the entire breast and lay it on a cutting board. Slice it into ¼ to ½ inch thickness on a bias against the grain. This will make each bite juicier.