Monday, October 27, 2014

Great Side Dish for Wild Fowl

Our dear friend Rich left this morning. He was here for 10 days to get in some pheasant hunting. On his second day out with another hunter here, Rich brought home 3 pheasants, and my last two blog posts were of the recipes I used for these birds. Yesterday Rich went out again, coming back with 2 more pheasants, but these he brined to take home with him. We so enjoy having Rich here to visit, but all visits come to an end, no matter how wonderful.
Fall Fruit Compote

When thinking up recipes for the last birds, Rich's idea is always to brine them first, then possibly follow the brining with another soak of some kind. Last year he soaked the pheasant pieces in buttermilk all day following the brine. This year, one of the birds was used after just having been brined, while the second spent time in a wine marinade. No matter how one treats these wild birds, they are rather dry. Luckily I like the drier meat, though my husband is less keen on it, in general. To me, the breast portion of these wild birds tastes like dry dark meat. I don't care for the dark meat of turkey or chicken, because it is generally fatty and moist. Somehow, the flavor and fattiness are objectionable to me. Others just love it. For me, dry pheasant breast meat makes a darker meat palatable. 

No matter how you choose to go about preparing a wild bird, there will come the need for a side dish or other condiment to pair with it. While marinating the second half of the birds in wine, I originally had in mind to bake the bird in a wine sauce with a lot of dried fruits. Since that just wasn't coming together in my mind, Rich suggested making the fruits as a side dish. Aha! 

Dried Mission Figs from
Last year I had so many apples to freeze, I eventually went to dehydration instead of just freezing. Since I have all these dehydrated apple slices, I have looked for uses for the dried fruit. I had added some of them to the wine marinade for the birds, but wanted to use some in the final dish - which now switched to a side dish. Dried fruit retains a lot of sweetness. In thinking about cranberry relish to go with a roast turkey, and gauging the sweetness factor there, I opted to use Port as the main cooking liquid for the dried fruit. 

The Port Dilemma

We like Port wine on occasion, so I have various types in our wine cellar. We have some 10-year-old late bottled ports, some Warre's Otima Tawny Port, some Ruby Ports, some Warre's Warrior and Fonseca Bin 27s, as well as a few vintage ports. Looking at the attributes of each type, I certainly didn't want to use a pricy vintage port to cook dried fruit. I also thought that Tawny would not give the rich color I wanted, plus it is less sweet than some of the red ports. Still, some of the fruits were very dark, like the figs and prunes (excuse me - ahem - "dried plums!"), so did I want a really dark wine like the Warre's Warrior or Fonseca Bin 27? Probably not, so ultimately I chose the Ruby Port. Ruby Port is exactly as it sounds: ruby red colored. It is quite sweet and pretty to look at, but generally less viscous than a deep red port. It is enjoyable to drink, in the manner of a more simple-to-enjoy dessert quaff. 

Fresh Quinces
For other liquids I used some dry red wine and some water. Sweetener? I chose honey. Spices? That took some thought. I didn't want to use all the regular sweet spices, though cinnamon was still in the running. I left out cloves or allspice. I did use a half teaspoon of black peppercorns. Since I use only Tellicherry peppercorns, their fruity scent would help perfume the compote yet add a little bite. I meant to put them into a tea ball to easily pick out later, but just that fast I dropped them into the pot - oops! We had to fish them out later. Last minute I added one whole (small) star anise. Orange was another flavor I wanted to incorporate, but not to make any statement of its own. To this end, using a peeler, I peeled off a long strip of orange peel while leaving the white pith behind; removing the peel from the compote later is a snap. Another option would have been to either grate the rind or chop the peeled section and leave it in the mixture.

All that was left was to determine which fruits to use. The main idea was to use dried fruits, but there were two exceptions. I really wanted quince, if there were any available. Quince is a tart fruit that looks somewhat like a misshapen yellow apple. It needs to be cooked to make it edible. Quince has even more pectin than apples, and makes a wonderful jam. I felt they would also lend great flavor as well as thickening power to this compote. I was very glad to find that quinces were available. The other fruit not already dried were fresh cranberries, another great Fall flavor. Other fruits that were handy were dried cherries, apricots, figs and plums. With this in mind, here is what I did:
Fall Fruit Compote

Fall Fruit Compote

makes about 6 or more servings

1 1/2 cups Ruby Port
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 (4-inch) cassia cinnamon stick 
1 whole star anise, optional
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry
1 orange
2 quince
3/4 cup (.75 ounce) dried apple slices 

1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried apricots, halved or quartered
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried plums (prunes), halved
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried Mission figs, halved
1/2 cup (2 ounces) dried tart cherries
boiling water
3/4 cup (2.5 ounces) whole fresh cranberries

fresh Cranberries
In a large saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. If desired, set the cinnamon stick, star anise and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth for ease of removal later, then add this to the pan. Peel a strip or two of orange peel, avoiding the white pith. Add to the pan, along with the juice squeezed from the orange. Peel, quarter and core the quince and slice them as with apples; add to the pan. Bring the mixture in the pan to boil, then set the temperature to just maintain a low boil. Reduce the liquid in the pan by about 1/3, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the dried apple slices, apricots, prunes, figs and cherries in a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Add boiling water to just not quite cover the fruit and allow the fruit to plump, covered, while the liquid in the saucepan is reducing. 

Once the wine mixture is reduced, add in the dried fruits along with the soaking water and the fresh cranberries. Cook this mixture at a low boil for another 20 to 25 minutes, until reduced and slightly thickened. Remove the spices before serving.

This compote was absolutely perfect with the decadently rich Pheasant Alfredo. It had enough flavor and just enough "bite" to cut through the fattiness of the sauce and make a wonderful counterpoint to the flavors. I cannot recommend this mixture highly enough, and plan to make it again soon, possibly for Thanksgiving, to taste with turkey or chicken. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.