January 2016
Your Next Meal From the Wildside

Back to the “Olden Days”

It’s time to break out that old cast iron cookware.

When my sister and I were little, one of our favorite things to do was play restaurant using our little play kitchens and all the accessories that came with them. One of the sets of tiny pots and pans looked like cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens. These were the best because, to us, they looked like the skillets and pots used indoors or over an open fire in the "olden days."

Before non-stick, there was cast iron. Our mom had several large and small skillets she used for everything from cornbread and okra to hamburger steak and gravy. While many home cooks have moved on to lighter-weight, dishwasher-safe Teflon or Calphalon, most still have a stash of cast iron, even if it is just for cornbread. They are durable, long lasting, and can and should be handed down for generations.

The first time I cooked on a gas stove as an adult, I was working out of town. I had this cute little skillet that traveled quite well, but it had a wooden handle. I don’t think I have to tell you how that turned out. That little skillet was scarred for the duration of its short lifespan. That would not have happened if I had travelled with one made of cast iron. Sometimes you just don’t need to travel light.

For cooking at the camp, there are many options that will work whether you are using a cook stove or an open fire. But for long-term consistency and reliability, cast iron is the perfect choice. A few weeks ago, Jason cleaned out the cabinets at his family’s hunting camp. Along with dozens of Mason jars and biscuit cutters of all sizes, there were at least half a dozen cast iron skillets, a couple of Dutch ovens and too many cast iron lids to count.

In the winter, our family spends a lot of time in the woods and this year has been no different. We have been using the cast iron for everything from biscuits to wild turkey. Not only is the food good but using them to cook brings back memories for me. I hope Rolley Len and Cason feel the same way about cooking their meals the "old-fashioned way" when they get older.

Both my sister and I agree, we prefer cookware that can go in the dishwasher; but, for certain meals, cast iron is still the best choice. All of the cast iron from the camp inspired me to use them more at home. So, I sought out some family-friendly wild game recipes to cook in one of our cast iron skillets for our next meal.

Jason and I usually cook meals with very few ingredients, mostly for the sake of time or money. Sometimes I want to make something a little different and use a variety of spices and ingredients. Instead of always relying on modern conveniences such as flavor packages (i.e., prepared taco seasoning or Italian herbs), I like to learn how to make it myself from scratch. I keep a lot of spices in my cabinet I may only use a few times a year, but having them on hand encourages me to try new meals without a lot of fuss.

The Skillet Mexican Cornbread recipe included looked challenging because it had a fairly long list of ingredients, but I already had all the ingredients I needed with only two minor changes. I used a jarred cilantro base I already had in the fridge instead of buying fresh herbs, and I had a 4-ounce can of chilies instead of a 7-ounce one. I was used to the lightweight pans we have at home, so lifting the 14-inch cast iron skillet full of the meat and cornbread to put in the oven without spilling it was the hardest part of the recipe.

Because of the many ingredients, I thought the Skillet Mexican Cornbread would take longer to prepare and started it way before dinner, but it didn’t take long at all - probably 40 minutes from start to finish. It was also hard to believe I used one skillet to prepare all the ingredients on the stove and bake it in the oven.

The boar and turkey recipes have simpler and fewer ingredients, but the cooking time is longer, so be sure to plan ahead to make sure you get the timing right.

This January, whether you are cooking at your hunting camp or in the warmth of your home kitchen, enjoy your cast iron and the memories you create with your family and friends at your next meal.

SKILLET MEXICAN CORNBREAD WITH DEER MEAT

1½–2 pounds ground deer meat

Skillet Mexican Cornbread With Deer Meat

½ can light beer

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon Chipotle Chili Powder, if desired

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can cream style sweet corn

1 (15.25-ounce) can white corn

7 ounces diced green mild chilies

½ cup cilantro (fresh or dried), chopped

2 (8.5-ounce) boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix, plus
package ingredients

2 cups cheddar cheese (or use the Mexican blend), shredded and divided

Butter, melted

Pre-heat oven to 400°. Brown ground deer meat in a large cast iron skillet. When the meat is halfway browned, add beer, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and, if desired, the chipotle pepper. Once browned, remove from heat and place meat in a bowl.

Add olive oil to skillet and sauté onion and garlic. Add corns, chilies and cilantro to skillet and mix. Remove from heat and add to deer meat. Stir.

In a separate bowl, mix cornbread mix according to the package directions, but do not bake. Spread ¼ of cornbread mixture in bottom of skillet. Add meat and corn mixture. Add 1½ cups cheese to the top of the meat mixture. Add remaining Jiffy mixture.

Put skillet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Rotate skillet a few times during cooking to ensure it browns evenly. Remove from oven and brush butter on top of cornbread. Add remaining cheese and continue to cook in oven until cheese melts. Cover loosely with aluminum foil if needed to keep from over browning. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

SLOW COOKED WILD BOAR

Pork cuts

Hot sauce

Milk

Marinate tenderized pork cuts in a 50-50 mixture of hot sauce and milk. Cook in cast iron pot over low heat for several hours until internal temperature reaches 150° for a large cut. (The temperature will rise in larger cuts as it rests.) Add marinade as needed to keep the pork moist while cooking. 

DUTCH OVEN WILD TURKEY

10-12 pound turkey

2 Tablespoons poultry spices

1 pound pork sausage

1 medium onion, diced

6 cups soft bread crumbs

4 slices bacon

Sprinkle turkey with poultry seasoning. Brown crumbled sausage with onion in a deep Dutch oven. Add bread crumbs and mix. Loosely stuff the mixture into the turkey cavity and lace the bird closed. Bake for 3½ hours with the breast side up and bacon across the breast. Cook to an internal temp of 165°. If cooking in an oven, bake at 400° for about 15 minutes per pound.

Note: For a smaller crowd, use turkey breasts or strips and cook in a cast iron skillet instead of a Dutch oven. The turkey can be cooked in the skillet with the bacon and the sausage stuffing served as a side.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.