Health benefits of game meats and how to cook them

By Rachael Andrews
Wednesday, 28th March 2012

Rabbit meat is lean and low in fat and can therefore be a beneficial meat source for those monitoring their cholesterol levels. It has a distinctive but very mild taste and the flesh is tender and fine grained. The meat from wild rabbits is usually quite darker, with farmed rabbits usually having a lighter flesh.

Rabbit can be cooked in various ways including frying, baking, grilling and barbecuing. However, braising or casseroling are particularly suited to this meat because the slow cooking in liquid stops it from drying out and helps to tenderise it. Rosemary, sage, bay leaf, thyme, fennel and basil will complement rabbit meat well, while mustard adds a piquant note.

Duck and quail
Duck has a faint game flavour and is considered a white meat, although it can be darker depending on the breed. It is a versatile meat that responds well to a range of cooking methods including roasting, pan-frying, stir-frying and braising or casseroling. Duck combines well with citrus and sweet flavours such as barbecue sauce and pineapple, the piquancy of green apples, or pungent condiments such as soy sauce.

Quail, like duck, can be easily overcooked and the key is to retain moisture to gain a good-tasting delicate meat. The mild taste of quail can be complemented by both sweet and savoury flavours. Curry, honey, mustard, chilli and garlic team well with quail, as does bacon or pancetta wrapped around the meat during cooking, which also helps to preserve the moisture.

Pork is commonly known as ‘the other white meat’. Pigs don’t move around as much as cattle, which means less oxygen and blood runs through the muscles and consequently, the meat is much more tender and lighter in colour. Pork has more nutrients than chicken and has a low fat content. Wild pork contains less fat again than farmed pork, with the meat being a little darker and the grain tighter. The gamy flavour of wild pork is often preferred in European-style restaurants.

There are many different cuts of meat available from a pig and they all suit varied cooking methods. Larger pieces of meat are well-suited to roasting and slow cooking, while thin strips are perfect for stir-frying.

Goat meat is much lower in saturated fats than beef, lamb and pork and is rich in protein and flavour. It can be treated very much like lamb when cooking and the cuts of meat are very similar.

Goat meat responds best to slow cooking, preferably with moisture, as its low-fat content means it can easily dry out. Marinating before grilling or pan-frying or slow cooking in stews or curries are good cooking methods; so too are burgers made with bacon, as the bacon will keep the meat moist. The meat teams well with thyme, olive oil, citrus and white or red wine. Cumin, chilli, garlic and rosemary are other good additives.

Kangaroo meat is used by some of the world’s best restaurants because of its high quality and unique flavour. The meat has a slight gamy taste and is high in protein and iron. It has virtually no fat, so care must be taken when cooking to avoid the meat drying out.

There are many ways to cook kangaroo meat. Consider roasting cuts on the bone, slow-cooking the shanks, using the tail in a broth or casserole, or using the leg meat for stir-fries or kebabs. Health-conscious families are choosing minced kangaroo meat for pasta sauces and sausages for their low-fat properties. And for those who like their meat rare, quickly cooked roo fillet on the barbecue or grill pan, left to rest while you make a quick sauce, is hard to beat.

Venison is the meat from deer and is best served rare to medium-rare; otherwise, it tends to dry out. When preparing venison for cooking, trim off as much fat as possible, as this can adversely affect the flavour of the meat. It is better to use another form of fat when cooking such as butter, olive oil or even bacon. Avoid adding salt before cooking, as this draws out the meat juices; instead, add this after and keep the meat moist.

Loin and rub cuts of venison can be used as chops or roasted and served medium rare. When using a cut such as a shoulder or diced venison, consider slow-cooking it in casseroles or curry or using it as a pie filling. Venison is fine textured and has a richer flavour than beef. It is well complemented by red wine and most spices, and soaking the cut with vinegar water prior to cooking can remove the slightly gamy taste. Try adding herbs such as rosemary, marjoram, thyme and sage to bring out the natural flavour of the meat.

Buffalo is a dense, dark meat that is very similar to beef, but has a lighter, sweeter and gamier flavour. The meat has similar muscle groups as beef and can be butchered to make the same cuts of steak, as well as roasts, burgers, mince, sausage and jerky. Some cross-breeds of buffalo are also used for milk production to make mozzarella cheese or curd, which make tasty additions to an antipasti plate.

Buffalo meat is high in protein, iron, zinc and phosphorus and is a healthy red meat option, having around 70 per cent less fat and around 50 per cent less cholesterol than beef. Due to its low fat content and its tendency to dry out, it is recommended that the meat be marinated or cooked with liquids such as red wine or tomatoes, with perhaps the addition of honey, chilli or mustard.

Different seafood types call for different cooking methods and most form a high source of protein and Omega 3. Fish should have clear eyes, bright red gills and shiny moist skin; fresh is usually best. The fillets can be pan-fried or nothing beats a whole baked fish. Prawns are delicious served hot or cold, as are oysters, which are a rich source of zinc, calcium, iron and vitamin A.

Butter, lemon and lime have a natural affinity with fish, as do fresh herbs such as dill, chives, chervil, lemon thyme and parsley. Seafood also lends itself to hearty dishes such as soups or stews, where onion, tomatoes and garlic are popular ingredients.