Where the wild things are
Variety of game meats available at local restaurants
Into the wild: The kangaroo chili at Frontier is carefully flavored so the meat stands out. (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune)
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8989 Archer Avenue, Illinois and Michigan Canal, Willow Springs, IL 60480, USA
1072 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642, USA
24 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
1941 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622, USA
350 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
"We source our wild game very cautiously," says Bryan Moscatello, chef/partner at Storefront Company. "We work with Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, where animals are not penned up but run free and are harvested in the field."
It is also important to use a reputable purveyor for another reason.
"If the animals are not processed correctly there is adrenaline in their bloodstream, which gives the meat an off-taste," Moscatello explains. "When they're processed correctly, you have the natural flavor of the animal." He adds, "I love the diversity of flavors of wild game."
Here is a sampling of a few dishes we've seen that reflect the wide variety of possibilities.
Courtright's: For a pheasant dish ($39) at Courtright's, executive chef Jerome Bacle uses birds from New Jersey but makes the stock from wild pheasant from Scotland because their flavor is stronger. He braises the legs in red wine for about three hours and roasts the breast until it is medium rare.
"The breast is more delicate than the leg, and you want it to be pink and juicy, because if it's white it's too dry and not the best way to eat it," Bacle says. He serves the pheasant with a fricassee of root vegetables, made with a hint of bacon, that includes earthy, caramelized salsify and mini-gnocchi. He makes a sauce with sherry, instead of the traditional brandy, to bring a touch of sweetness. 8989 Archer Ave., Willow Springs, 708-839-8000
Frontier: Executive chef Brian Jupiter rubs boar shoulders with a mixture of brown sugar, thyme and garlic and smokes them for 12 to 14 hours to make pulled boar sandwiches on pretzel rolls ($12). "Boar is a very rich-flavored meat that is leaner and darker and sweeter than pig," says Jupiter. He also creates a chili ($10) using ground Australian kangaroo, which for a short time was banned in the U.S. because it was mistakenly believed that all the species of these marsupials, instead of just one subspecies, were on the endangered list. "We prepare kangaroo with marrow beans that have a smoky texture and add some spices for heat and creme fraiche and aged cheddar," Jupiter says. "We have to carefully mix and match what we pair it with so the taste of the meat will stand out." 1072 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-772-4322
The Gage: Before Dirk Flanigan recently left his position as executive chef at The Gage, he created a smoked antelope tartare ($16) that remains on the menu. Because the antelope is very mild and very lean, the dish includes shaved, aged L'Amuse Gouda to add a little fat and a nutty flavor. The tartare is served with a swipe of puree made with winter butternut and kabocha squashes for sweetness, a spiced chili condiment for heat and apples infused with rosemary, lime juice and champagne vinegar that help cut through the richness of the antelope. In another twist on the traditional tartare, it is topped with a quail egg. 24 S. Michigan Ave., 312-372-4243
Storefront Company: Moscatello prepares venison saddle ($29). "We serve the venison medium rare because if you cook it more, it might have a stronger flavor," he explains. He serves it with a caramelized endive sauce with hints of cherry and orange for a touch of sweetness, a salad composed of endive and huckleberries, rye dumplings and a lightly smoked pork gel.
"The gel warms up on the plate and melts to cover the plate," Moscatello says. He also creates Duck, Duck, Duck, a cocktail ($12) inspired by classic duck a l'orange and the Sazerac. The drink combines Monkey Shoulder scotch, kumquat syrup and Creole bitters. It's garnished with a small piece of duck confit, duck breast and deviled duck heart and a candied kumquat all on a skewer. Moscatello says, "Kumquats are in season, and they are a little tart and not overly sweet like an orange, and you can eat the whole thing." 1941 W. North Ave., 773-661-2609
The Tortoise Club: Gray McNally, executive chef, gives the classic comfort food, chicken potpie, a sophisticated makeover with his wild pheasant pot pie ($32). It includes pheasant from Scotland that is roasted and shredded, celery root, parsley root, carrots and onions.
"The root vegetables have a natural sweetness that plays off against the rich, savory flavor of the roasted pheasant," McNally says. In another unique touch, he creates a sauce with foie gras, caramelized onions and cognac for the pie that is garnished with a piece of crispy skin from the wild bird. "It adds an element of elegance to an otherwise humble dish," says McNally. 350 N. State St., 312-755-1700