How to Deal with Tough or Strong Tasting Meat

Tough or gamey meat is a real challenge for you and your family. If the

first meal doesn’t come off well, you’ll have a hard sell to get them interested in the remaining 150 to 200 kilograms that remain in the freezer.

What can we do to make that situation better? First of all check to see if you can improve your meat care skills at the kill-site. That won’t take care of the current problem, but may prevent it from happening in the future. Tough and or gamey (strong flavoured) meat can often be the result of poor handling in the field.

Strong tasting meat can almost always be made more tasty through the use of sauces or marinades and marinades can include tenderizing ingredients. Cooking methods such as stewing or braising (Dutch Oven or Slow-Cooker) also greatly reduce the strong flavour through the moist cooking method and the inclusion of various vegetables especially onion, turnip and celery. A little more spice than usual also mellows the strong flavour.  

Tough meat is probably easier to make use of than the gamey type. In a worst case scenario the whole animal can be run through the grinder and used as burger, meat-loaf, meat-pie, sausages, chili, spaghetti sauce, soup or hamburger stew (mince.) These can be spiced/flavoured differently so as not to become monotonous.

As with gamey meat, tough meat can be stewed or braised to the point where it becomes so tender it falls apart on your fork.

Steaks and roasts can be kept in a container (Ziploc bag to make cleanup easy) containing any of hundreds of marinades available from old-style cook-books or on the internet. The meat in marinade containers can be kept in the fridge for a week and can be turned over each time you open the fridge door. You also use a lot less marinade using this method. A basic marinade for short term soaking  (two to four hours) uses an acidic liquid such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice which breaks down the muscle fibres. Oil, spices and other herbs and sweeteners are also included.

My go-to marinade is olive oil with a tablespoon of crushed garlic in a Ziploc for up to a week in the fridge. Zesty Italian or any other favoured commercial salad dressing can be used the same way. This is for any meat, including waterfowl and upland game birds. Marinades can also be injected into the meat using a syringe made for that purpose. Sticking the meat repeatedly with a fork will allow the marinade to penetrate more completely.

Tough meat can be pounded with a meat hammer for minute steaks or Schnitzel and will always be tender. There are electric or hand-crank steak tenderizers which pierce the meat as it is run through a series of short vertical blades.

Chewy cuts will often produce very tender portions if braised (slow-cooked) cooled quickly, sliced and chilled overnight in a tight container to be served the following day by being re-heated in gravy.

Wild-meat is especially vulnerable to becoming tough and chewy if it is overcooked. Don’t cook it like beef or pork as it is very lean. As a result it gets dried out and tough to chew very easily. Wrap or seal in a container any left over meat to prevent it drying out overnight.

Marinate your roast/steaks as above and cook them on the cool (no heat) side of the barbeque with the lid closed as much as possible. On the hot side place a stainless steel bowl containing wine or juice which evaporates, keeps the heated air moist and glazes the meat which is roasting on the unheated side of the rack.

Tenderness and great flavour can be affected by everything you do with the meat right from squeezing the trigger, through the field-care, butchering, wrapping, kitchen prep and serving. Learn to do it better and strive to do it right. It pays off in the long run.

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