Some people come to SEWE to look at wildlife. Others come to eat it.
This year, Halls Chophouse has a special five-course wild game menu. And the man behind it all in the kitchen is Halls Executive Chef Matthew Niessner, a brainy, bespectacled guy with more than 20 years of culinary know-how.
In fact, Halls regularly serves an ever-changing selection of game, depending on, Niessner says, "what's available, what's fresh, and what I think is hot." That might include antelope, venison, or rabbit. "That way, I'm able to surprise the repeat clientele," he says. "I might have the game for just one evening. Those fortunate guests who come in and try it love it."
For SEWE's Wild Game Dinner, Niessner will serve Carolina Cup oysters, Manchester Farm quail, and bison ribeye. The meal will be served with wine pairings in the Lamond Room, an intimate upstairs dining space.
Niessner also plans to keep his items as close to home as possible. "Our intense tidal changes and high salinity keep the Carolina deep cup oysters salty and clean," the chef says. "The roasted beet salad is sweet, naturally and locally grown."
Manchester Farm Broiled Quail is also local, semi-boneless, and easy to eat. The lean free-range bison meat is from the Dakotas and Wyoming, with an intense flavor and no hormones or antibiotics. Niessner hand selects the ribeyes. "I create with what I have, with more of a philosophy than a recipe," he says, "I pair special products with local produce."
For Billy Hall, co-manager of the steakhouse, "Being a steakhouse, a wild game dinner has a lot of similarities with our core menu." Hall hopes that the event will start an annual tradition at the restaurant.
You don't have to be a master chef to cook wild meat. South Carolina has an abundance of duck, goose, deer, turkey, and alligator. This game doesn't have the fat of plump grocery store-bought grub. Some Lowcountry connoisseurs suggest wrapping it in bacon or cooking it with seasoned water to add some juice.
For those interested in preparing their own wild meals, Charleston Cooks! on East Bay Street is conducting a series of sold-out classes. Attendees will be taught how to prepare fish and game with several different recipes. The ingredients include shrimp, duck, bourbon glazed quail, venison medallions, and pecan crusted flounder. The class will end with a meal made by the participants.
"A lot of folks who enjoy coming to the festival hunt and fish," says General Manager and Culinary Director Danielle Wecksler. "They don't just catch one duck or one little fish. They bring home a big amount of food and put it in the freezer. They're always trying to figure out what to do with it and new ways to prepare it."
The classes will present different techniques and explain how the whole bird or animal can be used. "Everybody loves the main juicy parts, the breast," says Wecksler. "We show what to do about the legs, the back, and how to break things down into parts."
She notes that they won't be bringing a whole deer in and cooking up venison. And the techniques they teach don't just apply to wild game. She adds, "A lot of it is making it so it tastes really well and not overcooking it."
1st Course: Wild Local Carolina Cup Oysters Rockefeller
2nd Course: Candied Striped Beet Salad with Montrachet Cheese, Spiced Cashews, and Apple Compote
3rd Course: Manchester Farm Broiled Quail, Sweet and Sour Collard Greens, and Pepperjack Grits (above)
4th Course: Bison Ribeye, Pearl Onions, Sweet Potato SpoonBread, and Candied Rhubarb
5th Course: Almond Tuille Basket Key Lime Curd, White Chocolate Pearls, and Raspberry Port Coulis
CHARLESTON COOKS!: Pickled Wild Shrimp Salad
• 8-10 small green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half
• 1 pound peeled and deveined wild shrimp
• ½ cup white wine vinegar
• 2-3 shallots, diced
• 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
• 1 Tbsp. sugar
• 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
• 1 Tbsp. celery seed
• 1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
• ¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
• ¼ cup capers
• 1-2 Tbsp. caper juice
• ½ cup olive oil
• 6-8 canned artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
• ½ pint grape tomatoes, halved
• ½ red onion, thinly sliced
1) Fill a medium sauce pot ²⁄³ full of water, and place on high heat. Salt water heavily, and bring water to a gentle boil. 2) Fill a large bowl with half water and half ice to make an ice bath. 3) Gently drop green beans into the boiling water, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the green beans from the water using a hand skimmer, and submerge in the ice bath. 4) Gently drop shrimp into the boiling water and cook until slightly pink. Remove shrimp from the water using a hand skimmer, and submerge in the ice bath. Remove green beans and shrimp from the ice bath, and pat dry. 5) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallots, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, celery seed, red pepper flakes, dill, capers, and caper juice. Add the olive oil to the mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly until combined well. 6) Fold in the shrimp, green beans, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, and red onions into the vinegar mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
TIP: Shrimp will continue to "cook" in the vinegar mixture, so this dish should be served immediately. If not serving immediately, follow recipe as noted except leave out the shrimp. Just before serving, mix in the shrimp with the rest of the ingredients.