A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild game dishes that will whet your winter appetite!

You can’t buy wild game just anywhere. But, if you’re good with a gun and willing to deal with hide, heart and entrails, you can bypass the butcher and bring it home yourself.

Virginia is a state blessed with an abundance of wild birds, bucks and other tasty targets, each with its own distinctive flavor. Properly prepared, their earthiness can be tamed with a tenderizing marinade for the less hardy gourmand, or enhanced with the tastes of the forest. How does warm duck salad with escarole, currants and walnuts sound? Or medallions of peppered venison with creamed mushrooms and autumn leaf potatoes? Want to keep your quail juicy? Wrap it in pancetta and cook it with olives, celery and fennel.

The kitchen at Shirley Plantation, Virginia’s first plantation, founded in 1613, has roasted many a bird and buck. As the oldest family-owned business in North America, it is the perfect backdrop for the kind of meal that might have been cooked there 400 years ago, along with some modern, gourmet touches, of course.

If you’re not a hunter (or not a good enough hunter to bag your own) then you could always purchase your wild game from someone who is. But some say food tastes better if you’ve looked it in the eye. Are you game?

Venison Osso Bucco with Couscous and Citrus Gremolata

8 venison shanks


  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • zest of 1 small orange
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon whole black pepper, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries, crushed

Mix all ingredients together and marinate overnight.

To cook venison:

  • 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 3 branches thyme
  • 8 juniper berries
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Drain marinade. Pat shanks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge in all-purpose flour and brown well in oil. Remove shanks from pan. Add more oil if necessary. Sauté carrots, onions and celery for 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and mix well. Deglaze with wine and reduce to 1 cup. Add all herbs, stock, salt and pepper, and simmer. Add shanks. Cover and braise in 325-degree oven for 3 hours or until fork tender. Remove shanks from pan and reduce juices to desired thickness.

Citrus Gremolata:

  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped curly parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients well.

Serve venison with couscous prepared according to box directions and top with citrus gremolata.

Breast of Duck with Wild Rice Salad and Candied Ginger-lime Sauce
  • 8 breasts Pekin duck
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a cold skillet, place duck fat-side down in pan and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn breasts and cook 5 to 6 minutes more for medium-rare meat.

Wild Rice Salad:

  • 2 cups wild rice cooked in six cups salted water (approximately 40 minutes) and drained
  • 1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 4 green onions, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted then chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Season to taste with salt, pepper, olive oil and Pomegranate Champagne Vinegar (available at Fresh Market)

Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool and purée.

Candied Ginger-Lime Sauce:

  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice

Cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool and purée.

Slice duck breasts and serve over rice salad. Top with candied ginger-lime sauce.

Braised Rabbit with Carrot Jam and Grilled Country Bread
  • 2 whole rabbits, each cut into six pieces
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 parsnip, chopped
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 1 small sprig sage
  • 4 or 5 branches thyme
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper  

Season rabbit with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Brown in olive oil. Remove rabbit from pan and add more oil if needed to sauté vegetables. Add herbs and spices and mix well. Deglaze with white wine. Add stock and simmer. Add rabbit and cover to braise in a 300-degree oven for 11/2 hours. Remove rabbit. Strain stock, purée vegetables and combine for a sauce. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Carrot Jam:

  • 5 medium carrots, julienned
  • 1 pear, julienned
  • 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix pear and lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Mix all ingredients together well. Consistency will be thin. Cover and cook in 250-degree oven for 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve rabbit with carrot jam and your favorite country bread, grilled.

Tempura Quail with Spicy Dipping Sauce
  • 2 breasts and legs from 8 quails
  • 2 cups tempura flour
  • 1 1/4 cup chilled club soda
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 4 cups peanut oil

Sift flour and whisk in club soda, lime juice and egg. Add ice. (Must use batter immediately.) Heat oil to 350 degrees. Dip quail pieces in batter and fry 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Spicy Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup light soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons deseeded finely chopped green chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix all ingredients well.

Serve quail with dipping sauce.

Where to Buy Wild Game:

TheOrganicButcher.com, Charlottesville

RebeccasNaturalFood.com, Charlottesville

BelmontButchery.com, Richmond

PolyfaceFarms.com, Swoope

Jamerson Rabbit Farm, Powhatan, 804-598-3358

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