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Detroit dinner goes wild!

Milton and Adriene Durham have been married 38 years. PHREDDY WISCHUSEN PHOTO

Milton and Adriene Durham have been married 38 years. PHREDDY WISCHUSEN PHOTO

By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen

Detroit is earning a reputation for great dining. Water cooler debates compare downtown’s Roast with Southwest Detroit’s El Barzon. Slow’s BBQ has gotten international attention. Some even say friendships and political alliances are made or lost depending on which coney island, American or Lafayette, one stumbles into after a long night. But none of those Detroit favorites offer stir-fried snapping turtle, barbequed raccoon, baked muskrat or roasted possum.

On March 1, Simply the Best and Full Circle catering companies will delight Detroit palates, serving all of the above and more at their 9th Annual Wild Game and Soul Food Dinner at the Northwest Activities Center.

The tradition began when Milton Durham had a fortuitous hunting season. When he was 15, the Detroit native began hunting in northern Michigan with his father. Since then, hunting has always been an essential part of his life. “When I hunt, it’s relaxation,” Durham told the Michigan Citizen. ‘I get out in the woods before daybreak, and see the sun come up.  The air is a different color.  You don’t hear any voices or cars, just the wind whistling through the trees. You see things that some people have never seen — rabbits, wild turkeys, red headed woodpeckers.  You think about life.”

Roasted pig from the 2013 Eighth Annual Wild Game and Soul Food Dinner.  COURTESY PHOTO

Roasted pig from the 2013 Eighth Annual Wild Game and Soul Food Dinner.

Nine years ago, he caught two deer in the same trip. Looking for a way to use all of that meat, he and his wife, caterer Adriene Durham, planned a fundraiser for their church at the time, True Life Temple. The event was a success.

Venison and rabbit were the only meats served the first year, but in the second they added raccoon meat to their offerings. Mrs. Durham upped the ante in the third year and hired a friend to bring in a whole roasted pig. “That’s what started everyone coming,” Mrs. Durham said, “because they like to take pictures with the pig.”

The dinner was held at the church for five years, until its popularity forced it to move to a larger space at Detroit’s Northwest Activities Center. As large as it has grown, Mr. Durham still catches the venison the diners eat at the event. The rest of the wild game — snapping turtle, alligator, possum, muskrat and so on — comes fresh from the Caro Packing House in Caro, Mich.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and North Dakota State University, game meat has many health advantages not found in typical American meats. Wild game has generally has fewer calories, less saturated fat, and a higher percentage of “cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fatty acids.” USDA choice beef is 22 percent protein and 6.5 percent fat compared with whitetail deer, which has 23.6 percent protein and only 1.5 percent fat. Wild turkeys contain more protein and less fat per pound than their domesticated cousins. “If you’re a diabetic, venison or buffalo meat are much better,” said Mr. Durham, “because they are so lean.”

The doe Mr. Durham caught this year weighed about 160 lbs. — more than enough to feed the 275 expected guests at the dinner. In addition to the wild game, this year’s event will feature a whole roasted pig (apple in its mouth), turkey and dressing, fried catfish and tilapia, wings, barbequed pigs’ feet and a host of sides: candied yams, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, mac and cheese, and a dessert table. Durham (Simply the Best Catering) and her niece, Charnela Brown (Full Circle Catering), set the tables elegantly for the meal, and attendees are encouraged to wear western attire. There are even prizes for the best western outfits. A live jazz band, Nyce, will entertain guests throughout the evening.

Darden Miles has been attending the event for the last seven years. Growing up in Arkansas, he ate his fair share of wild game, but says Simply the Best’s preparation is excellent. He encourages first time guests to try new meats especially rabbit, raccoon and squirrel. “The rabbit is off the hook and so is the coon,” he told the Michigan Citizen.

Mr. Durham’s favorite is the raccoon, while Mrs. Durham prefers the snapping turtle. According to Mr. Durham, snapping turtle meat has seven different flavors, created by different muscles group and the turtles’ rich and varied diet of fish and ducks, among other things. Savoring the thought, Mr. Durham told this reporter, “There’s just something about snapping turtles.”

The Northwest Activities Center is located at 1810 Meyers Road, Detroit; the Wild Game dinner lasts from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., March 1. Tickets cost $25 and proceeds benefit the Black Jacks of 21’s community outreach programs. For more information, call 313.701.5129.

Adriene Durham’s grilled venison backstrap

Durham calls the backstrap, “the most tender part of the deer.” She recommends using a 3-4 lb. piece for this recipe.

  • Remove meat from freezer and thaw two days
  • Remove the silver skin (sinew) and fat from the meat (Silver skin makes the meat taste gamey).
  • Soak meat in a salt water solution to draw blood and gaminess out. Change water every time it gets cloudy. Approx. 36 hours.
  • Soak meat in half and half water and buttermilk for one day. This helps with gamey flavor and tenderizes the lean meat.
  • Rinse meat and pat dry.
  • Inject meat with Cajun Injector brand Creole Butter
  • mix 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. paprika and 1 tbsp. black pepper.
  • Rub meat with dry season mix. Cover meat completely with spices.
  • Wrap meat in plastic and let dry marinate in refrigerator for about 36 hours
  • Unwrap meat and coat lightly with olive oil
  • Slow cook venison on a charcoal grill (indirect heat) until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
  • Remove meat from grill and wrap in foil. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Unwrap and slice at an angle

Mrs. Durham says venison is best served medium. “Cooking too well will dry the meat out,” she says.

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