How to Butterfly a Roundfish 

This is a great skill to have – the Butterfly. If you can learn this technique on a trout it makes steelhead, salmon and bigger fish very easy. Below is a picture guide on how to cut up a round-fish (as opposed to the other common shape – the flat fish – think halibut and flounder for those)

First start with a round-fish – a trout, salmon, steelhead ect. Gut the fish and move it to a clean cutting surface.  At the anal fin slice along the spine toward the tail fin.

  Cut so that you expose the skin on the underside of the back of the fish. See below.   Next slide the tip of the blade under the ribs of the fish. Then slowly push the knife toward the spine, working your way up each section of the fish.   Repeat the knife under the ribs slide until the entire half of the fish is “ribbed”  Next slide the knife along the spine, you will feel resistance from pin bones at this point. You will need to simply slice through them, removing them later on bigger fish.  Repeat the process on the other side of the fish.    When both sides are completly cut the bones should come up off the back skin. Cut free the meat that is still attached, careful not to puncture the skin.   Cut off the tail.    Butterflied Trout with bones pulled up. Cut off the head at this point.   Butterflied trout with roe. Yum. Cook with this recipe.   

Double Standards and Roadkill Deer

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine...

10# of Roadkill sitting in a brine…

I may have crossed the line with wild game. Nothing illegal, nothing immoral but still a socially questionable action. I cooked, ate and enjoyed road kill. Now this is not the first time I have done this, but is it certainly the first time I have ever eaten deer.

Let me back up a little…

I went for a run a few days back, a simple little 3 mile thing. I ran up through the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge parking lot and when I made it to the main road entrance the road starts down a hill. The run was proceeding well, and then my dog bolted ahead of me to sniff something in the burrow pit. It was two dead deer.

Normally a single dead deer along the road is road kill, open and closed. But two deer, lying next to each other, made me suspicious. I stopped my run, called Idaho Fish and Game poaching hotline and reported the dead deer.

Shortly after the IDFG officer called me and we spoke over the phone. He said it was a case of the “double tap” with a fawn following mom and both getting hit. He said since it was not a case of poaching that if I wanted either of the deer I was welcome to them. The larger doe was clearly distended – her belly was a great deal larger than it should be. The fawn looked fine.

It had been cold, 1° outside, so I figured the meat would be just edible. With a little trepidation and a printed “road kill” form from IDFG I went back and grabbed the fawn. It was about the size of my Labrador/ Ridgeback dog. Roughly 100lbs.

I tossed it up on the gambrel in the garage and skinned the hind legs. Then I when I got the stomach section funky things started to happen. The smell of gut-shot game became very prevalent. That bitter stomach acid smell, then the stomach lining under the skin started to turn green. I stopped skinning the animal. I lurched a few times – and feared I would lose my breakfast.

I reexamined the deer. Now totally thawed the front legs felt like mush. Both shoulders clearly broken and the poor things head was caved in. Classic broadside road kill. Wanting to finish what I started quickly I pulled off the backstraps and then cut the hind quarters off the carcass.

The rest of the fawn went into a large trash sack – the smell of the stomach acid turned me off the whole project. I brought the meat into the house and deboned it. I honestly could not shake the gut shot smell from my nose. Each time I smelt the meat it would seem sour to me. My nose said it was turned, my brain knew otherwise.

It was flat impossible for the meat to have gone bad by the time I had gotten to it. The doe and fawn were hit the night of Dec 31st, I found them at 9am the next day. No way had the meat gone bad. But the smell still stuck in my nose.

The only thing I could think to do was corn it. I can make leprous yak meat taste just fine with some pickling spice and salt. So I tossed the meat in brine for a solid week, basically a version of this recipe. The Insta Cure #1 turning the meat a nice pink color. (Both hide quarters and the backstraps weighed in at 10lbs!)

A week later I boiled the leg meat for a solid 3 hours. When it was done cooking it was moist, tender and full of that nice corned meat flavor. I rubbed the backstraps in black pepper and smoked them. They came out way to salty, but fixable. The boys and I enjoyed a dinner of corned venison and cabbage soup.

Now I have several pounds of meat that was free to me, at the cost of a deer’s life. I feel good about having done an honorable thing; turning sadly taken life into food for my family. But I am not free of social norms, like only some redneck from Idaho would pick up and eat roadkill. I guess if the shoe fits…

Gear Giveaway and Review

Full disclosure – I was given a FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer for review, free stuff affects opinions.

I process and vacuum pack all my game meat and fish – and it saves me time and money. Vital to saving money and not losing game is good quality vacuum pack machine. For those not familiar a vacuum pack machine – they remove air and seal sections of meat (or whatever really) in a plastic bag. This hermitization of the meat from the elements ensures quality and prevents loss from “Freezer Burn.”

When air cannot touch the meat, like when its vacuum packed, freezer burn is basically impossible. I have held meat (accidentally) for about 3 years and it was like I had shot it the month before.

For non-meat related applications vacuum machines work great as well. I have vacuum packed hunting and fishing gear for long pack trips. The stuff that I am not sure I will need but would love to have got sealed up. It took up much less space in the backpack and allowed more room for game to be carried out. A quality vacuum pack machines saves you money, hands down.

For the past 5 years I have been using an off the shelf at Target FoodSaver® V2244. This little guy has put up some serious meat. At least one caribou, six+ deer, an elk, three bears, multitudes of steelhead, countless ducks, upland game birds and rabbits. My machine has never let me down, and that quality of the V2244 is the ONLY reason I agreed to test out the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer.

At first blush I looked at the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer and noted that it was kind of huge. Compared to my other vacuum machine it is about triple the size. Now size does not always buy quality but like my father used to say “If its heavy put it down, it is probably expensive.”  It is heavy.

To test the GameSaver®, I decided to just vacuum pack some store bought pork chops. With vacuum machines I always look for air retention. Basically, if all the air does not come out than the machine lacks the proper amount of sucking power. (In this case sucking power is a good thing) It did not lack for power. The chops all had clean edges and not an air bubble in sight.

Next I looked to the seal on the machine –an improper seal will let air inside the bag. Not good. The model has two sealing methods. Basically one line or two of sealing. This feature intrigued me. I could not figure out the reasoning for two seals.

Did FoodSaver® not trust just one seal? It seemed strange, but the single seal seemed powerful enough. The only reason I could think they would add the additional layer is for moist foods. I know vacuuming fish, with my V2244, often needs an additional seal due to the excess water. The water inhibits the sealing bar from making a line across the entire bag, letting air in and damaging quality. Whatever the reasoning double sealing seems like a strange, albeit sometimes useful, function.

fish-GSBlogAnother feature that I was a tad skeptical of was the roll cutting attachment. Inside the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer is a slot that holds a roll of vacuum bag and across the top is little slicer that you drag across to cut each bag. All you need to do is seal one end and then cut the bag to the desired length. Typically the pre-cut bags are substantially more expensive than the roll cut bags. It is a tradeoff – spend a little time and save a lot of money.

With the quick roll and the cutting blade on the game saver, I might actually become a roll bag convert.

While testing out the vacuum machine I noted the quick marinate attachment. It is basically a hunk of Tupperware functioning as a vacuum tube. You place meat inside the tub and put the lid on. Then with a little hose attachment you place in the top of the tub you turn on the vacuum and poof, meat under vacuum. They look like this. The meat accepts more marinate under vacuum, you can get a days’ worth of marination in just a few short hours.

I decided to test the Quick Marinador attachment on a rabbit that I cut up like this.

The chosen marinade was Coors Light. Judge me if you want, but Boise State University was playing BYU on ESPN, I needed a stress reliever. Go Broncos! (Marinade Recipe – ½ Cup Cheap ‘Merica Made Beer, 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder, Black Pepper).

Next I sealed up the marinating tub and tossed it in the fridge. In the morning I breaded and fried the rabbit with this recipe.Freid Rabbit - GSblog

Results? The most tender and moist cottontail I have ever eaten. No really, it was. I could visibly see the absorption of moisture in the rabbit. The legs were larger and so to the loins. Basically, the pours of the meat had filled with beer and garlic – and it was divine. I took off the lid the next morning and measured only ¼ cup of beer left in the container. A solid ¼ cup of moisture was absorbed by a dinky little cottontail. The additional moisture directly results in moister food. I was impressed.

With large animals the bottleneck point in butchering and freezing is the vacuum machine. The meat is ground, the steaks are cut and the roasts are tied. Everything is waiting to go into a bag and be sealed for the freezer. I do not think that this will be changed with the unit. While it has the power, the roll cutting and the double sealing – it does not have the speed I wish for.

In all the GameSaver is a step up in quality, usability and power from the V2244 that I have grown accustomed to. I can’t wait to see how the new unit holds up over the years, if its lower priced brother is any example than it will have no trouble at all. I will use the FoodSaver® GameSaver® Titanium Vacuum Sealer often, I can tell you that much.

Like this Gear Review? Post a comment AND link to this page on Twitter or Facebook and be entered into a drawing on November 15th for a FREE GameSaver® with Bonus Offer.

What is Wild?

Driving back to work with a friend in the car I made an impulsive stop. It was one of those fancy neighborhood parks in Boise with a sign saying “for subdivision residents only”. But this spot had a grip-shit of blackberries that needed picked. A nice side hill location with irrigation water to keep the berries juicy in arid Idaho. I could easily reach berries without messing up my pants, the sure-fire sign that no one picks this patch.

We picked a pint in about 10 minutes and then left back to work. Back in the car my friend exclaimed “Man, that was wild!”

I smiled wide at the statement, on the inside I cringed a little. When did picking berries become a “wild” experience? Make me ponder just how far our food system has taken us.

It is my job to teach others that what is now wild was not always wild. Berry patches used to be guarded secrets among friends and family. Now they sit, unpicked, surrounded by well-to-dos and their children. Until some crazy Chef in the Suburb comes rolling in…

I will do my best to change this, one co-worker, one child, one subdivision at a time.


Rattlesnake Round-Up

On the long list of dumb things I have done in my life I often count my adventures rattlesnake hunting.

Most days don’t start off snake hunting, they just develop into it. This past year I only nabbed one snake and it was at the prompting of my sons. When I was younger however my snake hunting escapades were much more involved.

While out whistle pig hunting one day in the 90’s I encountered a rock bluff south of Boise that looked like it would give me ample elevation for shooting. My buddy Ryan and I gathered our 10/.22’s and headed out across the sage and hills. When we arrived took a seat, cracked a beer and began to look around. I then heard the rattle sound off next to me. On my right was a snake, not big but big enough.

I jumped up – not so much scared but not wanting to get bit either. Looking around I found a rock and a stick; both critical in a snake hunters arsenal. Sure I had a gun but I had no intention of firing a .22 bullet square into lava rock. Quickly I smashed the snake with the rock as close to his head as I could manage. This does double duty on snakes when hunting them. First it breaks there back, normally and this limits how far they can strike. Second hitting them with a rock most often causes them to run and not hold their ground. A snake on the run is much less dangerous than a snake on the defensive in a tight coil. I have never had a snake strike at me after I it with a rock – sounds odd but it seems to work for me.

With the snake on the run I used the stick to pin it to the ground right behind the head. With one quick motion I pulled out my pocket knife and severed the snakes head. I hooted a little and my buddy Ryan gave a quick mocking round of applause. I buried the snake head under a large rock to prevent it from causing harm to others in the future, legend says rattlesnake heads can hold there poison for months on end.

I won. BBQ at my house...

I won. BBQ at my house…

Often in the spring when you encounter one snake others are nearby as well. I have run across several dens of snakes in my adventures – and this was a particularly nasty type. (I found a 30 pound ball of garter snakes under a stump one spring, one of my boys still talks about it) Knowing snakes den up I began looking for more snakes, a.k.a trouble.Stratleing a small gully at one point Ryan pointed out that I had two snakes directly below me. Curled on themselves unaware that I was about to be hunting them. One of the snakes began to rattle, I smacked it with a rock. The other snake began to crawl off, I grabbed it by the tail and tossed it out of the rocks and into a sage brush.

With some of the best Wild West shooting I have ever seen Ryan proceeded to head shoot a moving rattler, still in the sagebrush, with one shot. Best part – we were hunting that day in Teva sandals, cut off blue jeans and no shirts. The other snake, now trying to escape, received a stick to his head and a quick cut on the neck. Three snakes down, a good day snake hunting.

Some years I get lucky and my truck tires do most of the work for me on rattler-snakes, I aim for the head. I have cast a bass gig into a crack in the rocks and hooked a rattlesnake before, he was a fine campfire meal. One especially stupid day gathering morel mushrooms in Riggins Idaho I watched a local redneck PULL, I shit you not, the rattle off a snake with one hand while distracting it with his other hand. Unreal. Stupid. Perfect stories for the grand-kids.

Luckily I have managed to get this far in my life without being bitten by a snake, but it is still questionable that I should have passed on my genetics. The jury is out, hopefully my boys take after their mother. To this day when I go out in the desert I wear long pants and boots. I have done burned up my snake killing karma in stupid gear.

How to Cook a Snake

Ok, so now the snake it dead. Just what the hell do you do with it? Start off my skinning a gutting the thing immediately! Why? Snakes piss when they die, that pee will get on everything that you own in a short manner of moments and the smell will never come out. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but snake pee stinks. Do yourself a favor and get it off the meat promptly.

Next, if you can, cool it down. Like any other meat heat is your enemy. On particularly hot days fishing I will soak the meat in a section of moving river water to cool it down. After the meat is cool store it somewhere out of the sunlight and cool. The shade of a tree or in a water proof bag in a river or stream.

To cook the snake I often employ the sausage rope method. With a few sticks I will roll the snake up into a tight concentric coil, see picture, and then skewer the meat into one big wheel. Why? It find this keeps the meat moister than not. Snakes do not have a huge amount of meat on them in the first place so I want to enjoy what I do get.

I have cut the snakes into one inch sections as well. These I often serve in a Thai style curry soup with sticky rice. Recipes for grilled snake coil and soup are below.

The Idiots Guide to Killing a Snake

No. 1: When I hear the rattling, I back away from the snake and find a big rock and a long, sturdy stick.

No. 2: I use the rock to crush the snake as close to its head as possible. This will break its back and shorten the distance that it will be able to strike at me.

No. 3: I use the stick to pin the snake down and then step on the snake right at the base of its head. I never leave any room behind the head or the snake will try to strike me.

No. 4: I cut off the snake’s head.

No. 5: I bury the head.

No. 6: I put the snake in a bag, put the bag in my pack and think about how glad I am to be taking something home for dinner.

Idaho does not have a season for snakes. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game lets a person take up to four rattlesnakes per day with no more than five in his or her possession.

Snake Fried Rice

Yeah, that’s right, snakes and rice. This recipe came out of a trip to Taiwan a few years back. I ate snake in a market after a few to many beers with the Consulate. It was served in a ricey-broth that was packed with ginger, mint and cilantro. It was amazing.

I can’t seem to ever get the broth right but I have managed to make a mean fried rice interpretation.

The Rice

½ cup dried white rice

1 cup water

Add rice and water to a small sauce pan. Heat until boiling then turn to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked. Remove from heat, let stand. DO NOT STIR.

The Flavors

 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I love using bear fat, but canola or sesame oil will work)

1 ea rattle snake cut into 1 inch sections (or 10oz chicken for the weak hearted)

3 tablespoons fine diced ham

1 tablespoon fresh ginger

1 clove garlic

1 egg

½ cup sliced cabbage

¼ cup shredded carrot

1 cup cooked rice

1 tablespoon siracha

1.5 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup packed cilantro and mint leaves (50/50 of each)

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

A non-stick pan works best for this dish. Heat a medium sized sauté pan or wok if you have it, on medium. Add the oil and brown the snake sections. Remove snake from pan. Add the diced ham and brown. Next add the ginger and garlic, brown lightly. Slide all the goodies in the pan to one side and crack the egg into the pan and pop the yolk. Let the egg cook until almost set then scramble it with the other ingredients. Next add the cabbage, carrots and cooked rice. Toss all the ingredients together. Let the rice start to brown a little while cooking, about 3-5 minutes. Don’t stir very often.

Add the siracha and then gently pour in the soy sauce covering as much rice as possible. Add the snake back to the pan, and then add the cilantro, mint and green onions.

Toss all together and serve hot. (Note: the lack of salt and pepper, while I normally recommend their addition to most meals the soy sauce and siracha more than compensate)