Every year on October 24, on “Food Day,” members of the American public, food and farm activists, and chefs come together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies. In 2015, Food Day has the theme “Toward a Greener Diet”—the organizers hope we’ll all resolve to make changes in our own diets, and take action to solve food-related environmental problems.
In many ways, this is a terrific cause. Food Day rightly recognizes that “eating real” can improve your health and the environment.
But we also doubt the Food Day organizers spend much time thinking about, let alone thanking, the 40 million hunters and anglers in this country who feed their families with a harvest not just from the farm, but from forest, field, and stream.
Because of our unique relationship with the land and the species which live upon it, America’s sportsmen are this country’s first and foremost conservationists, paying millions each year to protect public lands and clean our waters. Sportsmen advocate for agriculture policies like CRP, which provide safety nets both for farmers and for the wildlife that live on the edges of farms. And today, when the average American wastes more than 20 pounds of edible food each month, sportsmen stand apart in their commitment to using the whole animal. True sportsmen waste nothing.
There are many important issues around food in this country that hunters and anglers can’t solve, such as childhood hunger, or poor working conditions for food and farm workers. But on Food Day 2015, when the food movement pledges to move “Toward a Greener Diet,” we hope you’ll join us in thanking the American sportsman for leading the way.
In honor of moving toward a greener diet, living off the land, and wasting nothing, we’re pleased to share a recipe from our friend Steven Rinella. He writes that the recipe “calls for a skinned-out deer’s head to be buried beneath the coals of a fire, which is fun, rugged and surprisingly effective. The meat comes off the bone easily, and it’s super succulent. You can eat it with nothing but salt, but it’s even better when you use it to build a taco…It makes a perfect hunter’s snack, and your friends will never forget it.”
Big Sky Roasted Head
- 1 deer head, skinned out
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- For serving: small corn tortillas, crumbled queso fresco or fresh goat cheese, green salsa, thinly sliced scallions, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges
Build a big fire and let it burn vigorously for a good 45-60 minutes in order to build up a strong bed of coals. Really let it rip. You can use about any wood, but a dense hardwood will produce hotter, longer-lasting coals. An ideal choice would be mesquite, but oak is also great. While the fire is burning, you can prep your head.
Salt and pepper the head heavily and triple-or quadruple-wrap it in foil. Take a burlap or game bag and soak it in a creek or with a hose until it’s fully saturated with water. Wrap your foil-covered head tightly in the wet burlap or game bag to make a neat package.
When a good crop of coals has collected, use a spade to scrape out a trench in the center of your fire, deep enough and large enough around for your venison head. Put about a gallon of coals in the hole. Cover it with 3 inches of dirt. Then set the head in the trench. Cover the head with another 3 inches of dirt and build the fire back on top of the head. Cooking time may vary from fire to fire, but in general 3-4 hours is a pretty good amount of time to let it cook.
Pull the roasted head out with a spade and put it on a stone to cool down. If you’re concerned, insert an instant-read thermometer through the foil and into the flesh in the head (aiming for the brain is a good idea). It should be at least 160 degrees. 170-180 is ideal. Unwrap the burlap and the foil. Don’t remove the meat from the head until it has rested 10-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, wrap the corn tortillas in foil and warm on the dying embers.
Being shredding the meat. There’s all kinds of good stuff on the head, particularly the tongue and the jowl meat, which tastes a bit like pulled pork. And it’s easy to remove with a knife and fork. Season the meat with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. And then get your fixings ready.
Assemble the tacos, crack open some beers, and check out the stars. You’ve earned it.