Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's Pheasant Hunting Season Again

Once again, it is time for avid hunters to test their shooting skills against pheasants. I have nothing against hunting, if it is done so one can eat or otherwise live. Our friend Rich arrived last Friday evening, so as to get out as soon as possible on Saturday. Sadly, no one was available to hunt with him on Saturday, and he didn't manage to get any birds. On Sunday however, he went out with someone and he came home with 3 birds. 
Stewed Pheasant, Dressing with Stewed Mushroom Gravy and Delicata Squash, a hearty meal

Once home, he and I cleaned them and put them to brine overnight in a mixture of:

Large mushroom chunks in the gravy

Marinade for Three Pheasants

8 quarts of water

3/4 cup Kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon juniper berries

Bring all ingredients to boil and then cool before pouring over cleaned pheasants. If using a zip-top bag to hold the birds, you might be able to halve this recipe for the marinade.

NOTES: The use of juniper berries is not absolutely essential, but if you can find them, they make game meats taste wonderful.

The next morning I drained off the brine, as leaving them too long would make the birds too salty. Then Rich and I sat down to try and figure out what we wanted to do with them for dinner. We must have gone back and forth with ideas for more than 2 hours before finally agreeing, first, to use them for two separate meals, second to make the first batch into a stew with mushrooms and to have a stuffing/dressing made on the side to accompany, and third, to make the second 1 1/2 pheasants in a few days. Meanwhile we put that second batch to marinate in red wine, thyme, sage, olive oil, garlic. We had so many leftovers in the fridge that last night and tonight are pot luck nights here. Tomorrow I plan to work with the wine marinated pheasant.

Delicata Squash, baked
What I did for the stew recipe with the first 1 1/2 pheasants was to set dried mushrooms to soak in boiling water and start assembling the rest of the ingredients, which I was mostly making up as I went along. All I can say is the result was a rich and gloriously savory stew gravy. I had to hold dinner, as Rich got a last-minute call that his hunting partner could head out for a brief while, and he wouldn't be back till about 7 PM. We normally eat between 5 and 5:30 in our house, so this was a late dinner indeed, and the stew sat in the oven on "Hold" for at least 2 hours. Let's just say that the meat was literally falling off the bones by the time we ate dinner. We had decided to have some Delicata squash with the meal.

A note on the fats used in this recipe: It is difficult to exactly pinpoint the amount of fat to use, as much will depend on how meaty or fatty the bacon is. The bacon I used was extremely meaty and rendered so little fat that I had to add in oil and butter to accommodate frying the onions, garlic and then the pheasant. No matter how much extra fat or oil you add, it will make little difference to the moisture of the bird. Pheasant is naturally very lean. If it was to be roasted, wrapping the pieces in strips of bacon might help a bit in the overall moistness of the meat, but when the meat is in a stew, that has no real effect. The fat that floated on the surface of the stew attests to the fact that it was not absorbed by the meat!

Pheasant and Mushroom Stew

serves 3 - 4

Dinner of Pheasant, dressing, gravy and Delicata squash
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms  (8 - 12, depending on size)
1/2 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms
4 cups boiling water
6 slices thick-sliced bacon, in 1/4-inch slices
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons oil or butter, as needed for frying
1 1/2 pheasants, cleaned and cut into quarters
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
6 juniper berries
1 large sprig fresh thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 - 3 tablespoons Worcestershire for Chicken (or regular Worcestershire)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms, cover and set aside for 20 or 30 minutes, while preparing the other ingredients.

Dry the pheasant pieces thoroughly with paper toweling. Combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the first teaspoon of paprika in a large plate. Dredge the pheasant pieces in this flour mixture and set aside, reserving the flour.

Have ready a large stew pot. In a large skillet, over medium heat, brown the bacon. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon to the stew pot. Add the onions to the grease in the pan, and add more oil or butter if needed. Once softened, add the garlic for 2 - 3 minutes, until fragrant. Remove the onion and garlic to the stew pot. Use 2 - 3 tablespoons of the reserved dredging flour and sprinkle it over the bacon, onions and garlic. Stir in well until it disappears.

Stew gravy with mushrooms - no sour cream!
Brown the pheasant pieces on both sides, in batches, without crowding the pan, and removing them to the stew pot when browned. Add in the juniper berries, thyme, tomato paste, Worcestershire, additional smoked paprika (regular paprika can be used instead) and the remaining teaspoon salt. A few grinds of fresh pepper would be nice also. Remove any tough stems or other parts of the soaked mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pot. Strain the mushroom liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel to remove any grit or dirt that may have accumulated. Measure the remaining liquid and add enough water or stock to make about 4 1/2 cups. Pour this liquid into the pot and stir carefully. Set the pot over a burner and bring to a boil, while simultaneously preheating the oven to 275 degrees. Once the pot comes to a near boil, stir carefully, then cover the pot and place in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the pheasant is tender.

Sour cream may be added to the stew gravy if desired. I meant to do this but completely forgot in my hurry to get the food on the table for such a late dinner. No one missed the sour cream. The stew was absolutely perfect. The stew could be served over rice, or noodles. I made a dressing with the precise intent to use with this dish. Another alternative is to add potatoes to the stew to cook.

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.