Marinades champion flavor, help fight cancer

When it comes to a perfect marinade, the search for the right ingredients has more to do with science than taste buds. In addition, the same science responsible for flavor infusion and tenderness may also help keep you healthy.
For most home cooks, the process of marinating is quite simple: grab a jar from the same aisle where they sell barbecue sauces, follow the instructions on the label. Few realize, buried in the list of ingredients and nutritional facts, chemistry is afoot.
Marinades improve the flavor and moistness of cooked meats, but scientists have also proven marinated meats reduce the risk of cancer. Studies have proven marination prior cooking has an overall reducing effect on heterocyclic amines, cancer-causing compounds known as carcinogens.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when meats are cooked at high temperatures. Research has proven marinades cut HCA anywhere from 90-99%. Eating meats at lower cooking temps, such medium-rare or rare, also decreases carcinogens.
Marinades are typically acid-based solutions designed to denature (in this case “soften” or “tenderize”) meat. The lower the pH of the solution, the more acidic the marinade, the more denaturing that occurs. For example, a marinade with balsamic vinegar (pH of 3) as its main ingredient will significantly denature proteins in the meat, especially over longer periods of time. On the contrary, a marinade with mostly pineapple juice (pH of 6) will less affect the composition of proteins.
For a reference chart on acids and alkali, check out the following website:
When it comes to wild game, such as deer, hunter cooks like to marinate tougher cuts of meat—leg or shoulder steaks—in order to tenderize and enhance the flavor of their meal. Acids in marinades open up outer protein cells, allowing flavors to penetrate deeply into the meat. During this process, these same acids break down muscle tissue on the exterior of the meat, thus creating a tender texture. Food scientists assert, however, marinades rarely penetrate more than an 1/8-inch per day. Some experts claim marinades will never penetrate more than a 1/4-inch.
Perhaps they have never cooked with Coca-Cola.
My former kitchen manager, Kevin Russell, of The Elk Public House in Spokane, Washington, has an amazing pulled pork recipe—sear cube cuts of pork shoulder on the flattop, place in a 4-inch hotel pan and cover with a few cups of Coca-Cola and pineapple juice, diced onions and hot peppers, minced garlic, cover with aluminum foil and roast in oven for two hours. The result was some the most tender and flavorful pulled pork one has ever tasted. Tossed in a house-made barbecue sauce, needless to say, it is a hit.
Granted this is more of a braising and roasting method, rather than a marinade, but the same marinade science applies—the low pH of Coca-Cola infused the pork with sweetness while also creating a succulent sensation with every bite.
Another popular recipe at the restaurant is the roasted lamb sandwich. The Elk marinates shaved legs of lamb in a balsamic vinegar-based marinade for a minimum of a few hours. Because I believe lamb and venison have similar flavors and textures, I have applied a similar marinade recipe to venison, in such dishes as baked venison-stuffed acorn squash.
Regardless of what food scientists claim in regard to the penetration strengths of marinades, it is important to consider the thickness of your cuts of meat when soaking them in your favorite marinade. Roasts, for example, won’t benefit very much from a marinade, no longer how long you leave it in there. On the other hand, thinly shaved slices of shoulder steaks, such as the recipes mentioned above, will accept the flavors more readily and soften in texture.
Veteran cooks may argue marinades, especially more acidic ones, will turn meat to mush. As with most arguments, there is some validity to this view. Again, keep in mind the thickness of your cuts, the overall acidity of your marinade, and the time for which you marinate it.
When making your own marinade, it is important to remember the pH principles. Will the addition of alkali (or bases) such as lemons or watermelon reduce the pH of your marinade? (Keep in mind, though fruits such as lemons and pineapples are alkali, when combined with water, as in lemon juice, they become acids.)
Marinades are a game of balance. Know what you are putting together. Bases with a pH of 10, such as onions, perhaps pureed and added to your marinade, will affect the overall acidity of your marinade. However, if your main ingredient, which should far exceed any other ingredient, is soy sauce or some sort of vinegar, you have nothing to worry about—the marinade will doctor the meat.
The pursuit continues endlessly for the best in class marinade. Still, it is good to know we have science on our side, and, as cooks, we can enlighten taste buds and elevate levels of happiness in bodies and minds. 

Seared steelhead with Pinot Grigio cream sauce

I have reeled in far more twigs than steelhead, but when I get lucky, I really enjoy bringing home dinner for the family.
This particular steelhead recipe is for two people. It has become a classic in our home and is my wife’s favorite. The only real work lies in the sauce.
Start by reducing two cups of Pinot Grigio to half, then add a tablespoon of freshly minced garlic, a teaspoon each of salt, white and black pepper. Next, add 1 pint of heavy whipping cream and one teaspoon of lemon juice. You are welcome to add more lemon juice later if that sauce doesn’t have the zing you’re looking for.
Let the cream sauce continue to reduce while you prep the rest of the meal (at least one hour of simmering). 
For the rice, I chose jasmine. I took 2 cups of jasmine rice and 2 and 3/4 cups of cold water and set the pot (covered) to boil atop the stove. Once boiling, I let the rice simmer on the lowest setting. When it seemed most of the water had been absorbed by the rice (this usually takes 17-20 minutes on my home stove), I turned off the heat to the burner and kept the rice covered to ensure a perfect texture.
     I cut the filleted steelhead into approximately two 8-ounce pieces. I didn’t get fancy with spices atop the fillet – just your typical sprinkling of salt, pepper, and cayenne (maybe a little granulated garlic). I seared the fillets in vegetable oil (preheated to 350 degrees) presentation-side-down until I achieved a nice golden brown. 
Next, I flipped the fillets and placed a lid over the sauté pan and let the fish continue to cook for about five minutes. I prefer my steelhead to be as close to a medium cook as possible, though others may prefer their fish flaky and well-done. Usually once the oils and fats of the fish start to bubble white atop the pink flesh, that is when I consider my fish “done.” (Please note cooking time varies depending on cut and weight of fish fillet.)
After about an hour of simmering, the sauce had reached a nice creamy texture. A good test for proper cream sauce reduction: dip a spoon into sauce. If the sauce coats the spoon when withdrawn, you’re set, compared to a drippy texture that might run off the spoon. 
I added four tablespoons of capers (drained) to add to the flavor and served the fish over the rice, then ladled on the sauce.
This recipe of course can be made with salmon or any trout. It is also a reliable standby year-round, as wild-caught store-bought steelhead or salmon, or even trout, can be just as delicious.
Pinot Grigio cream sauce
2 cups pinot grigio wine
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice (more if desired)
4 tablespoons of capers (drained and added at very end)

Pheasant fajita tacos

When it comes to table fare, a lot of hunters would rank the taste of pheasant within their top three, perhaps behind Chukar and Grouse. The hunt itself – a stroll through tall grass and brush enjoyed by young and old ­– creates its own unique memories for family and friends. A good meal afterward adds to the experience.
Last year, during a pre-Thanksgiving hunting trip, I was fortunate enough to limit out on our last day and came home with three roosters. After my wife and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast, then our Thanksgiving leftovers, it was time to cook up some pheasant.

When it comes to preparing my game birds, I like to assign different meals for different sections of meat. In my opinion, thigh meat was made for tacos.
I spread a thin layer of pheasant spice rub over the thighs and chargrilled them. I like most of my poultry to have a bit of charcoal flavor when grilling, so I never use lighter fluid. Instead I use a chimney starter, like my dad always did, which allows the coals to emit a bit of flavor while they continue to gray, after I have thrown them from the chimney into the grill.
With lighter fluid, you have to wait until the coals are mostly gray before ever placing the grill mesh over the coals (otherwise your food will taste like lighter fluid).
After the thighs had finished cooking, I brought them inside, asked my wife kindly to pick the meat from the bones, then heated up a thin layer of canola oil in a sauté pan. I sliced one red bell pepper, one green bell pepper and one onion julienne-style.
Once the oil was fairly hot, probably 350 degrees, I dropped in my vegetables for a quick searing. I enjoy my fajita vegetables to have a nice brown, but also a somewhat crunchy texture. I probably sautéed the vegetables for about five minutes.
Lastly, because I have been on a corn tortilla kick lately, I took a flat skillet pan and spread a thin layer of canola oil over the pan to cook my corn tortillas. I cooked each side until the white (or yellow) corn color turned a tint of brown. Alongside the tortillas, I ladled out the mix of sautéed vegetables and cooked thigh meat to heat together and meld flavors.
When serving, I dolloped some corn salsa and sour cream atop the tacos, sprinkled some cilantro and pepperjack cheese and squeezed a lime wedge overtop.
A simple, tasty meal and a great epilogue to a great hunting trip.      
Pheasant spice rub
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
½ tablespoon cumin
½ tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
Corn salsa mix
1 cup of corn (cooked)
1 cup of black beans (cooked or from can, rinsed)
½ cup diced onion chives
1 tablespoon mirin
½ tablespoon Sambal chili paste

¼ teaspoon pure sesame oil 

Venison carne asada bliss

Much like mail carriers, deer hunters live by an unspoken creed – neither rain nor snow nor heat nor the gloom of the early morning will keep us from the field.
It should be no surprise weather cannot deter us from firing up the grill in the middle of winter. No matter the temperature outside, sometimes a meal is best served char-broiled.
We enjoy standing outside, tongs in one hand and maybe a beer in the other, watching the waltz of snow and fire, breathing in the smells before our noses go numb.
This particular venison recipes tastes best when grilled over an open flame, and it is perhaps my favorite featured recipe thus far.
Keep in mind when grilling in winter to allow your grill grate time to heat up prior to attempting to sear your dinner. Just because your coals are gray, doesn’t mean you’re ready to cook once you place that grate overtop. A cold grate and hot fire means your meat won’t sear adequately, and you may struggle to achieve that desired cook (e.g., medium rare).
This vension carne asada marinade is a slight variation of a steak marinade made famous by Spokane’s El Que (located in Browne’s Addition). I butterflied my vension steaks (which actually appeared to be a shoulder cut) and soaked them for two hours.
During that time, I sautéed an onion (cut julienne) in piping-hot oil. I wanted to both brown the onions and maintain a nice texture.
Once my grill – both coals and grate – had heated up, I placed my marinated steaks atop, let the grate apply its grill marks, turned 60 degrees and waited for my second set of marks prior to flipping, then repeated on the other side. Achieving that perfect cook takes practice, being able to recognize the internal color simply by touch, but remember – you can always place a steak in the oven to continue cooking if it’s undercooked; you can’t go back once it’s overcooked.
I sliced my steaks into thin strips and served with warm flour tortillas, charro black beans, then ladled out some grilled onions overtop. To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe this dinner would had tasted nearly as good with beef ­– this particular marinade pairs incredibly well with deer and helped make this the best tasting venison I have had to date.  
Venison carne asada marinade
2 1/2 cups soy sauce
1 cup olive oil (add after blending other ingredients, add and blend slowly)
1/3 cup fresh garlic
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup Sambal chili paste
1 cup cilantro
2 teaspoons of the following:

Pure sesame oil, salt, black pepper, white pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, oregano

A new spin on rod and reel cooking

Downriver, along the western horizon, the sun lay a soft boil atop pine-hemmed mountains. Their tangency spoke the harsh truth: quitting time.
Creel count: zero. Lures and streamers lost to rocks and snags: I willfully lost track.
The North Fork of the Clearwater had dropped 3-4 feet since mid-summer. It seemed at least a foot lower than its September average. Perhaps shallow channels were the reason for the smaller kokanee, which were now heading upstream for this year’s spawn.
Two years ago we could see kokanee from the road – flickering patches of ruby. An average 14 inches in length, they attacked anything we floated past their heads. This year, podded up in pools, they looked like the gold fish you win for your sweetheart at the fair – fish content to turn circles in a small patch of water and do nothing else besides wait to die.
Having reeled in nothing red ­– our main objective for the day – we headed back to camp and ate dinner.
In the dark the same caddisflies that floated the water’s surface earlier fluttered about our table lamp. Fellow angler and friend Matt picked one off and examined the colors of its belly. After dinner he sat by lamplight and tied flies to match.
Our other friend Gabe, while rinsing dishes in the river, came across a crawfish the size of his fist. I reviewed the remaining tenants of my tackle box, and between the three of us, we had a new, rejuvenated stragety for day two.
While we had traveled over four hours for the run, we would leave the kokanee to their fate. Our new target was cutthroat.   
The patter of rain atop our tent woke us at dawn. We changed into shorts and grabbed our rods and waded into the river a quarter-mile from camp. On our second or third cast our rods were bent over, thrashing with the attempted escapes of cutthroat.
 From there on out, it seemed every other cast meant a fish on.
In less than an hour, between the three of us, we brought 10 fish to hand and added two 14-inch cutthroats to our possession.
We headed downriver, to deeper water and intermittent pools. Matt and I, fishing solely for cutthroat now, caught more, some over 14 inches (the minimum required length to keep on the North Fork Clearwater). Amid the cutthroat, we reeled in and released a few bull trout and pike minnows.
We waited our lunker. We wanted our second and last cutthroat of the day to be something epic.
Mine never came, but a couple hours later Matt came along with a 17-incher dangling from his thumb.
At camp, I filleted the fish and placed all fillets in a gallon bag of marinade to sit in the cooler for three hours. At dinner time, I set a large pan of vegetable oil to heat over a propane burner. Normally, I don’t have the luxury of twin propane burners. For camping, I bring along a tripod that I place over the firepit and dangle a mesh grill over the flames. Either method works when sautéing and searing your dinner, but the propane burner is easier, more like a home kitchen.
I had two meals in mind for tonight’s dinner: seared marinated trout with my special red trout rub, and a simpler (less-involved) foil pack. My friend Gabe, a former Eagle Scout, taught me the secret of the campfire foil pack a couple years ago – a mash-up of vegetable and ground beef stuffed inside aluminum foil and tossed at the coals of the fire. I made a few tweaks to accommodate the trout.
The key to the foil pack, especially with this recipe, is to keep the ingredients that require the longest time to cook on the outside, closest to the foil. Therefore, when piling on your ingredients atop the foil, before wrapping, place the bacon, followed by the trout, Make certain the raisins, beans, and spinach are at the center, as they will burn otherwise when placed near the coals. Think of the foil pack like a sandwich, with bacon and trout being the bread on the top and bottom.
Bacon grease will sear the trout and everything else inside the foil once placed a couple inches from the coals. Rotate regularly, checking every half hour to determine when it’s finished cooking. The trout should be flaky when done, while the bacon may more so resemble ham, not necessarily the crispy brown you’re used to at home.
Next, I threw my remaining diced onions into the hot oil of my pan to both cut the initial heat and also infuse the oil with an onion flavor. I fished out the onions after a few minutes, grabbed my marinated trout, sprinkled a healthy amount of rub atop, then placed them facedown to sear in the pan.
Once I had achieved a golden brown, I flipped the fish to allow them to finish cooking, again looking for a flaky texture. I squeezed a lemon wedge overtop when done and served it with the fish.
Variations of these recipes and methods can be performed at home. This marinade (while atrocious on its own before cooking) will work great with any trout or salmon, even Mahi Mahi. The foil pack can be transformed into a spinach salad at home. Apply your favorite dressing (I recommend something of the Southwest variety) and enjoy.
Whenever possible, I always like to sear my fish in bacon grease. I cook my bacon first, leaving the grease in the pan, then toss in whatever fish I’m cooking facedown. In my opinion, bacon grease was designed to sear fish.
If attempting to transform the foil pack into a salad, dice your bacon after its cooked. Bacon bits from the store are for the birds. 

Red Marinade
4 cups red ale
2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 cup sherry cooking wine
1/2 cup pureed chipotle
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup liquid smoke
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh garlic
2 Tbl worchestershire sauce
2 Tbl salt
1 Tbl pepper
Trout Rub
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon cayenne
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon coriander
Trout Foil Pack
3 ounces diced bacon
3-4 ounces picked raw trout
Two lemon wedges, squeezed atop and left inside
1 cup raw spinach
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 tablespoons garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon golden raisins
(Trout rub sprinkled overtop)

A recipe for all that venison in your freezer: The Deer John Burger

Deer season is over, and for some hunters, that means pounds of ground venison sit waiting in the freezer.
Because ground venison is so lean, some hunter cooks are inclined to add a little something to it for substance and perhaps an extra bit of flavor. I have a friend that likes to get pork fat from his butcher and add that to his ground venison.
For this recipe, I chose to grab 12 ounces of boneless short ribs. I cut them into cubes and pulsed them in my food processor until the meat was the size of peppercorns. I added the short ribs to 30 ounces of ground venison (thus a 1:4 ratio) and hand-formed the patties.
I sautéed one yellow onion, cut julienne, along with two sliced jalapeños. Here’s a suggestion: Pick up some French’s French Fried Onions and try ladling them over your burger.
When cooking the burgers on my grill outside, I lightly sprinkled both sides with salt and pepper. So often when eating a burger at a restaurant, I notice the cooks over-seasoned the burger. If you are dealing with quality beef (or in this case, venison), you shouldn’t need any more spices besides salt and pepper to unlock its potential.
            Trust the quality of your proteins. Trust the simple spices to bring out the flavor.
            For whatever reason, Asiago cheese goes great with venison, so once I flipped my burgers, I piled on some shredded Asiago.
            When the burgers had reached the desired cook, I brought them inside, spread some mayonnaise on the bottom bun and added a couple slices of tomatoes. Atop the burger, I dropped off some onions and jalapeños and lightly covered them in my favorite barbecue sauce.
            Adding short ribs to a burger mix (or any ground meat mix, really), is a great way to enhance the base flavor while adding a tender texture. I hope you enjoy this recipe and would love to hear what plans you have for the fruits of your harvest from this past hunting season.
             
The Deer John Burger
 1:4 ratio of short ribs to ground venison
Toppped with asiago cheese and sautéed onions and jalapeños
Mayonnaise and tomato slices on the bottom bun

Cover burger in light dressing of barbecue sauce   

Spicing up any size catch: Chipotle Steelhead Cakes

The lower Grande Ronde ran steelhead green. Sunshine spanned the ridges opposite our side of the river. Frost along the shoreline started to thaw, revealing the contours of riverbank, the trail ahead.
It was going to be a good day.
We passed two anglers floating bobbers in a quiet section of water before we set in at the next run. December cold water offered a welcomed reprieve from the humidity of neoprene.
Our tackle boxes and spare rods and reels – rigged and ready – lay at the river’s edge. We had every contingency covered.
But as is the case with most days spent steelheading, we were counting the hours, not the fish.
We had dispatched everything from our arsenal – crankbaits, spinners, fluorescent rooster tails, foam eggs bounced inches above the bottom, bait floated feet from the top.
Nothing. Not even a bull trout.
The two fishermen above us left. Shortly thereafter we broke for lunch and put in at their run. My buddy Matt worked it down, then into the next, and the next. The sun arched low. Almost time to drive the three hours back home to Spokane.
Then I felt a tug at my line. One aggressive jerk, then another. The line remained taut, though the pulls had quit. I started reeling in, felt a weight at the end. Possibly a branch, I thought.
There was vibration in the line. My lure emerged a few away in the water. Caught in its hooks was the loop of a monofilament leader, a couple corkies a few inches further down.
I laughed in spite of myself. I had caught another angler’s rig, I thought, then was silly enough to think it was a fish.
But then a jawline broke the surface. A tired set of eyes followed. I grabbed the steelhead, kept it in water while I checked for an adipose fin, which was clipped. I looked down the throat of the fish, half blocked by a chunk of PowerBait and size 6 Gamakatsu hook.
Some fisherman had caught this fish – probably earlier in the day, possibly one of the two fishermen we had seen earlier – then let it loose, left it to suffer and slowly die.
Not only is it against the law to release a catchable fish caught by live or scented bait in the state of Washington, it is also illegal and unethical to release a fish that has swallowed the hook.
This steelhead was barely 14 inches. Some angler had considered it unworthy of being counted within his limit. I killed the fish, left in the cold water, cleaned it as we packed up an hour later and headed home.
I filleted the fish and boiled its flanks in water with salt and pepper, a couple lemons and limes cut in half, a few bay leaves. Once the steelhead had finished cooking, I drained the water, left the fish in a colander under running cold water then refrigerated it.
I prepared my chipotle and red pepper mix (removing the skin of the bell pepper and its seeds and pale pulp). I pulsed the steelhead afterward, added only one tablespoon of the mix to the fish, plus my spices, then egg white and the designated amount of bread crumbs.
I had a burner heating oil on low (3 of 10 setting on my home stove). I actually added two more tablespoons of chipotle mix, then a sprinkling of bread crumbs, before forming the 4-ounce patties.
I placed two cakes in the pan at a time, let them cook for not much more than a minute before flipping. I kept one finger on the topside when turning because I didn’t want to risk any slippage.
A Mexican Crema mix or sour cream or even salsa, garnished with cilantro, pairs very well with this steelhead cake recipe.  
   There is always a dinner solution for every catch. It is our responsibility as hunters and anglers to ensure nothing is wasted. We can always eat well, even if the harvest isn’t a trophy.
Chipotle Steelhead Cakes
1 red bell pepper oven roasted
7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Half a yellow onion finely diced and sautéed
(lightly blast all of above in food processor)
16 ounces cooked steelhead, lightly blasted
Egg white from one egg
1 ½ cups plain breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic
½ tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons white pepper
1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1-2 tablespoon(s) freshly minced Italian parsley

1-3 tablespoons chipotle-red pepper-onion mix