If he was ever told to not play with his food, wild game Chef Denny Corriveau, didn’t take it to heart. He has lots of fun in the kitchen and at the grill, especially when he’s trying out new flavor combinations and comes up with a keeper.
His imaginative Wild Turducken Burgers, for instance, are a big hit every time he shares them.
The formal turducken—a chicken and a duck inside a turkey with three kinds of stuffing— was playful already. In Corriveau’s experienced hands, the ambitious offering gets simplified into three kinds of ground fowl and a few flavorful toppings.
“When you eat this, you just want to go get another one. It’s ridiculous,” Corriveau says. “Everywhere I’ve made these, people just go nuts over them.”
MEET THE WILD CHEF
As the Wild Cheff, Corriveau has made a name for himself in his native New England as a go-to guy for creative ways to make the most of wild game and fish. He started out almost 30 years ago by setting up at gun shops and serving venison versions of classic comfort foods. From those humble beginnings he has gone on to enjoy a lively career as an in-demand and influential culinary instructor and caterer.
Revealing that his practical nature developed early, Corriveau says, “I got interested in cooking as a kid because I figured, hey, the closer I get to the food, the quicker I get to eat.” He recalls nosing around the kitchen as his mom tinkered with traditional recipes, many of them with the same French-Canadian accent his family had. One lingering memory is of her tortière, a double-crusted pie filled with minced pork shoulder, onions, potatoes, and spices.
As a teenager, he found a new world of exciting flavors after his mother remarried a man who was an avid outdoorsman. He joined in, and soon realized that many of their fellow hunters relied on just a handful of preparations for the meat they’d harvested. Imagination seemed to be a missing ingredient, and so was basic culinary knowledge. As his own skills developed, he wanted to share them.
“I noticed that nobody offered hunters a real clear direction—you could do this with it, but don’t do this with it,” he says. “So that led me to put together what I call a Best Practices methodology, something people could apply to cooking their wild game and get good results.”
This became the foundation of the New England School of Fish and Game, which he founded in 1995 and later rebranded as the Free Range Culinary Institute. His offshoot Wild Cheff Enterprises includes a line of spice blends, flavored olive oils, and other all-natural and organic products.
Corriveau sees almost endless possibilities for wild turkey, but he knows that many home cooks see limitations instead. “The number-one challenge is making it moist,” he says, “and the other thing is people not recognizing they can use the legs and thighs. A lot of people just use the breast meat and throw the rest out.”
Here’s one of his clever ideas for the darker meat: As a stand-in for a veal shank, he trims a couple of inches of flesh from a turkey leg, exposing the bone, and braises an alternate take on osso buco.
As for the more coveted breasts, he often slices them horizontally into individual cutlets, which he pounds gently with a meat mallet. (“You want to create a uniform piece so it all cooks evenly.”)
FORAGING IS PART OF HIS GAME
Corriveau’s love for earthy flavors extends to the plant kingdom. He sometimes forages for fiddlehead ferns, which he considers a wilder version of asparagus, as well as other indigenous ingredients like garlic scapes, spruce tips, sea beans, and a variety of mushrooms.
“I like to combine things from nature that live together and grow together,” he says. “It’s all about teaming up flavors that are complementary to the game’s natural flavor profile.”
He takes his adventurous spirit into grocery stores and fresh markets, too. “I tell people that if you really love game, go on a discovery mission, if you will, when you walk into a store. See what kind of ingredients you might be able to apply to your game to create a new experience. That’s when it gets exciting.”
HIS OWN SURPRISING ROOTS
Corriveau’s father’s family history goes back to the Cognac region of France, but his mother’s heritage was a bit more mysterious until recently. He had always known she was from Canada, but there was more to the story. He learned a couple of years ago that her grandfather was a well-respected grand chief of the mixed-race Métis Indians.
“And we started delving into it deeper and discovered that there was a tribe with representation here in southern Maine, and it just so happens to be five minutes from my house,” he says. So these days he’s teaching other descendants modern approaches to celebrating the unique culinary heritage they share.
“It really brought things full circle to me,” he says. “I had always wondered why I had this passion and drive toward hunting and the outdoors and cooking things that grow and live in the outdoors.”
Wild Turducken Burgers with Cranberry Aioli
1 lb. ground wild turkey
1 lb. ground duck breast
1 lb. organic ground chicken
1 tsp. Wild Cheff Sagemary Sea Salt*
½ tsp. Wild Cheff Chef’s Ground Pepper*
½ Tbsp. Wild Cheff Roasted Garlic Powder*
2 Tbsp. Wild Cheff Air-Dried Shallots*
1 Tbsp. Wild Cheff Tuscan Spice Blend*
½ Tbsp. Wild Cheff Sagebrush Blend*
1 farm-fresh egg
¼ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. honey Dijon mustard
2-3 Tbsp. melted duck fat (or substitute with olive oil)
brioche burger rolls *or similar product
For the Cranberry Aioli:
6 Tbsp. whole cranberry sauce
6 Tbsp. mayonnaise
½ tsp. Wild Cheff Tuscan Spice Blend (or 1 tsp. fresh rosemary)
¼ tsp. sea salt
Combine all ingredients, starting with cranberry sauce and mayo and then the spices.
Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. (Note: The consistency of the mixture should be similar to a meatloaf, and the fat/olive oil needs to be present. If mixture is too loose, simply add more breadcrumbs.)
Form the meat mixture into burger patties. Preheat outdoor grill on medium to medium-high heat and cook burgers for approximately 5-7 minutes per side, until cooked through.
Grill buns so they are toasted.
Place some baby spinach onto bottom of toasted bun.
Top with cooked wild turducken patty, and then add a teaspoon of caramelized onions followed by a tablespoon of cranberry aioli. Top with toasted bun and enjoy!