By Cheryl Costello
Fishing and hunting are time-honored traditions on the Chesapeake, whether you’re a waterfowling weekend warrior or a third-generation waterman. And the harvest you bring home (legally, in season) can make the best Bay meals.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sought recipes from all over the state using local species for a special online cookbook, Wild Maryland.
We recently got a lesson in wild game cooking from an Eastern Shore hunter, farmer, and home cook who takes inspiration from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Gabrielle Perret hunts and then serves up dinner for her family.
She’s now an author, too—of recipes in Wild Maryland. DNR asked for recipe submissions from all across Maryland, and Perret’s was among those chosen.
“This is from a sika deer doe that I shot in October of this year,” she says, unwrapping a package of neatly butchered meat.
Perret, who lives in Cambridge, learned to hunt just a few years ago through DNR’s First Shot program for beginners. She invited Bay Bulletin and DNR’s Megan McGinn-Meals, who came up with the idea for the cookbook, into her home.
“Sika deer is very tender,” Perret explains. “It’s very flavorful and I think people really like it because it can often be less gamey than a whitetail deer.”
As she prepares the meet for cooking, she narrates the steps:
“We’re making country fried venison steak. So the first thing we’re going to want to do is trim off the fat; we’re not going to want any of that on our steak.”
Perret pounds out the meat butchered from a local shop, Kramer’s in New Market. She dredges the meat through a mix of flour, salt and pepper and then places vegetable oil in a frying pan. Once that heats up, both sides of her sika deer meat are fried and she adds in a cup of beef broth, which will become gravy. She simmers the pan on low for 15-20 minutes as the gravy thickens.
“This is actually my grandmother’s recipe,” she tells us. “She learned it on the first night of her honeymoon going through Alabama … from the resident cook at the inn where she stayed.”
Now the recipe is part of DNR’s free online cookbook, which features all Maryland species. “That’s everything from the snakehead fish in our Bay to sika deer at the Blackwater wildlife refuge to the morel mushroom,” explains McGinn-Meals.
There are oyster recipes, too—a seafood treat for the holidays. “So there’s something really special about going out on our own land in our own state and coming home with something that you can cook for your family,” McGinn-Meals says.
Seven panelists—outdoorsmen and women who love being in the kitchen—judged the recipes. About 100 were submitted and they accepted 75. “I want people to push the envelope with their comfort zone,” says Perret. “I mean I certainly did, learning more about this process and about cooking.”
As for her sika deer steaks, this Bay Bulletin reporter and the DNR spokeswoman both agreed they don’t taste gamey. And you can cut the meat with a fork. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, Perret calls it an easy weeknight meal that you can set and forget.
“There is nothing like going out into the field and shooting your dinner, bringing it home and cooking it for your own family,” she says.
If you have a special recipe, DNR is still accepting ideas to add to the online cookbook.