The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
A Tidewater Table
Chesapeake Country gives a feast to be thankful for
The Chesapeake Tidewater still provides a wild bounty that is cause for celebration, especially during the holidays, and certainly at Thanksgiving. Many natural species have diminished with the pressures of Western civilization, but others have flourished. There are many more deer here than greeted the original colonists, and though the striped bass and blue crab may not be as numerous as they once were, they certainly delight a population never imagined by our forefathers.
In this vein, I have crafted a Thanksgiving menu that I believe reflects some of the true treasures that have been with us these hundreds of years. The appetizers may have originated elsewhere, but the deer species, fish and vegetables were right here to greet us when we first stepped ashore.
Tidewater Thanksgiving for Six
• Appetizers: Slices of apples and pears with cheddar and stilton cheeses served with crusty bread.
• Entrées: Hind quarter of venison stuffed with garlic, smoked over hardwood coals; fillet of rockfish broiled with blue crab dressing.
• Vegetables: Baked butternut squash, steamed green beans, wild rice tossed in butter and lemon.
• Dessert: Pumpkin pies (but purchased from the local market).
Preparing the Entrees
Start the venison early in the day. Rinse the meat, pat it dry, then pierce it with a sharp, slim-bladed knife to the depth of about two inches, inserting in each cavity a generous sliver of fresh garlic. Place a piece of garlic about every three inches or so throughout the roast. Then, rub all over generously with olive oil, and liberally sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Place on a platter, and let sit for three to four hours at room temperature.
For the smoke, immerse two cups of mesquite chips in water an hour prior to lighting the charcoal (which should be started at least two hours before dinner). When all of the coals are hot to the point of white ash, divide them into two generous piles in either side of your barbecue. Place a drip pan in the center, and heap the soaked mesquite onto each bank of burning charcoal. Position the grate and place the hind quarter between the hot coals and cover, opening the adjustable apertures enough to guarantee a hot fire (350 to 400 degrees).
After an hour and 15 minutes, check the internal temperature of the meat. Venison at room temperature before cooking needs only 12 to 15 minutes a pound to reach medium, at which deer is its most savory. Remove the meat when it has reached 160 degrees, and let stand 15 minutes before carving.
Three rockfish filets will take 15 minutes in a broiler, 10 minutes on the first side, five on the second. Rub each filet with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place close to the heat. Turn when the first side browns heavily; it’s done when the second side does the same.
At the same time, sauté 11⁄2 cups of crabmeat in melted butter, stirring sparingly to avoid fracturing the meat. Mix together 2⁄3 cup mayonnaise, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, two teaspoons of lemon juice, a heaping tablespoon of chopped pimento, a sprinkle of capers, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Gently fold this into the crabmeat. When hot, cover and turn off the heat after a minute or so. Stir gently before spooning over the rockfish filets as you serve.
The wild rice takes an hour to prepare. Rinse 11⁄2 cups of wild rice, cover with a generous amount of cold water, bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and repeat, adding 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt this time. Drain again, and cook in a vegetable steamer for 20 minutes. Just prior to serving, toss lightly with three tablespoons melted butter and two teaspoons lemon juice.
Split the butternut squash in half, remove the seeds and pith and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and scoop out the meat of the squash into a bowl. Mash with 1⁄8 pound butter. Serve sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar over the top.
Steam the green beans about 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are just tender but still with a touch of crispness. Toss in butter and serve with a sprinkle of thinly sliced almonds.
In this season, meals like this have been celebrated at tables around the Chesapeake Tidewater for some 400 years.
Fish Are Biting
TThe hot spot is the mouth of the Choptank, with loads of keeper rock to 30 inches. The first of the big ocean stripers have arrived mid-Bay, with a 42-incher reported at Love Point. Wind and cold weather have kept many anglers off the water, but those getting out are catching fish trolling, chumming, eeling and deep jigging. Big perch are sticking around, but most other species have fled for the Atlantic. There is only a month left in rockfish season; don’t waste it.