By: Connor Gabbot
This is the second installment of my backcountry wild game cooking series. I am going to assume that you read the first one, found something in it mildly interesting and you are back for more.
This series builds on ideas and cooking techniques from previous installments so if you landed here randomly for a turkey taco recipe I would recommend going back and checking out the last article where I break down what is in my basic backcountry pantry. I kept this recipe very simple and open ended in terms of ingredients and directions. What I am sharing is a technique and an idea for hosting a meal on your tailgate in the outdoors. There aren’t any rules here, don’t be shy to make it your own. Spice it up, add more salt, cook it in a pan instead of the grill etc.
What I like about this recipe is it requires very little in terms of preparation ahead of time, it looks bad ass once its all done and a lot of the work of putting it all together falls on your guests. This isn’t a cop out, everyone has their own taco style, this gets them involved and it requires less work on your part. Win, win, win if you ask me.
I made this recipe the other day while I was on a turkey hunt here in B.C. with some friends. I documented the hunt with the intent of sharing it on the Wilderness Athlete Instagram page but as any hunter knows, sometimes hunting doesn’t go as planned. That was the case on this trip and we spent almost all weekend covering ground in the truck just trying to locate some birds. Not the most riveting story to follow along on…
Luckily I was down on a turkey hunt in Oregon the week before so I had some fresh turkey meat to use for this recipe. I wanted to keep this version all wild game but it would benefit from some added fat. If you want to go the extra mile and have some clean wild game back fat you can process it with the turkey meat and intersperse it into the skewers. Use a ratio of 4:1 or less when adding the fat. If you aren’t concerned about keeping it all wild then I would suggest some cold smoked slab bacon, its cliche but damn it would be good!
Here is what you will need equipment wise to pull this off in the field:
- Grill grate
- Aluminum foil
- Tea towel x 2. These will probably get dirty so don’t take your good ones.
- Cutting board
- Cooking utensils. A pair of pliers came in handy to help flip the skewers on the grill.
This is a rift on a classic al pastor marinade. Adjust the amount of chilies depending on your heat preference. Achiote paste is the cornerstone flavouring in al pastor tacos and is made up of annatto seeds and a variety of spices. Its not often I would insist on going out of your way for a single ingredient but this one makes the dish. Achiote also stains everything it touches so use utensils and latex gloves when you are working with it.
This recipes makes enough paste to make tacos for 5+ people. I recommend freezing what you don’t need for another meal.
- 5 Morita chilies. Sub in chipotle, guajillo or the chili of your choice.
- 1/2 Onion, cut through the equator, skin removed. See the picture
- 12 Garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 oz Tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp Ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp Dried oregano
- 4 oz Achiote paste, available here
- 3/8 cup White vinegar
- 2 Tbsp White sugar
- 1 Tsp Salt
- Rip the chilies in half, place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soften for 20 minutes.
- Heat a cast iron over medium low heat. Once hot, place the onion in the dry pan with the cut side down.
- Char the onion for 10-12 minutes, flip the onion and repeat on the other side. The onion should be softened all the way through and both cut sides will be black and charred. See the picture.
- During the last 1-2 minutes of cooking the onion, add the garlic to the pan and lightly char the cloves on a couple sides.
- Take the stems off the chilies and remove the seeds and ribs. Reserve the chili water for blending.
- Rough chop the onion and transfer all the ingredients to a blender.
- Blend on high until a smooth paste is created. You will likely need to stop and scrape down the sides multiple times during this step.
- If the puree is too thick to blend properly, add a small amount of chili water until it comes together.
This recipe works with other game meats, wild boar would be at the top of my list but you could use any other steak cut from venison, mountain lion, grouse etc.
- Cut the breast meat into 1”x1”x1/4” slices with the grains of the meat being cut 1/4” thick. By cutting the meat so the grains are short it helps to keep the meat more tender once cooked.
- Add enough marinade to the meat until it is well coated. Refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days before cooking.
- Skewer the meat onto some sharpened green sticks. If you are cooking this at home use bamboo skewers soaked in water. By soaking the skewers first it helps to slow any burning of the skewer while they cook.
- Season the outside of the al pastor skewers with salt and grill the skewers on a grate over high heat embers.
- Char the skewer lightly on all sides and cook until the meat is cooked through. If you are using venison cook to your desired temperature.
Tortillas: If you are using corn tortillas, re-fresh them on both sides in a lightly oiled pan over medium low heat before serving. Keep them hot in aluminium foil and a tea towel.
Toppings: Literally whatever blows your hair back. A couple classics on al pastor tacos would be pineapple, cilantro and fresh white onion. I chose to grill my pineapple and I also added radish and pickled jalapeño.
Balance: A great dish is all about balance. This tacos brings a little heat in the marinade so it benefits from having something cool and fatty. I made a quick cilantro, lime crema with mayonnaise and sour cream. Green goddess dressing, Caesar or even Ranch dressing would all work great and it keeps things simple.
The setup: Prep all your fresh toppings/sauces and lay them all out where people can easily help themselves like a buffet. You are hosting so make sure you have plates and napkins covered fo this meal.
Refreshments: No taco meal is complete without some cervezas so make sure you deliver!