This spatchcocked, grilled pheasant is probably one of the more satisfying meals I have made with wild game to date. The crispy skin is full of flavor from a homemade dry rub, the meat is tender and juicy, and the citrus-garlic Mojo sauce is so delicious.
This Mojo sauce has it all: Sweet, Sour, Garlicky, and a little bit of kick. It’s great for serving as a dipping sauce with meat, fish and veggies, or you can use it as a marinade. It’s really easy to make and the recipe below yields about 2 Cups. You can always freeze what you don’t use, but I am willing to bet you put this sauce on any and everything.
Mojo sauce is definitely for garlic lovers, the Cubans did not skimp out when they created it. This recipe has 8 cloves in it, which seems like a lot, but somehow it works and it is so delicious!
This sauce really packs a punch which is why it’s so addicting. Traditionally, Mojo is made using sour oranges. Because I live in North Dakota and can’t get that, I used a blend of oranges and limes. A traditional Mojo would also have cumin and oregano in it, but I chose to leave them out because they are in the dry rub, and instead, used cilantro and jalapeños.
Spatchcocked, also called Butterflied, is an easy way to break down a whole bird that you want to be grilled a little quicker and with a little more consistency.
To start, make sure the pheasant you use is in good shape (i.e. the legs aren’t shot into a million bone fragments). You can pluck the bird and keep the skin on, but you can also do skinless. If you choose to do skinless, you can marinate the pheasant in the Mojo sauce. But, if you want the skin to be really crispy, use the dry rub instead and follow the guidelines and get the full recipe at Wild + Whole.
Always looking for different ways to prepare birds. Live broadcasts give you a real-time look and feel for exactly what is going into the meal. This stroganoff turned out pretty good for a first attempt, would go equally well over egg noodles though we chose wild rice.
Be sure to follow us on Periscope for more live broadcasts throughout the season.
— Ultimate Upland (@ultimateupland) October 19, 2016
One of the side benefits of seemingly endless hours of asphalt we trade to get to wild places is the opportunity to plot preparation for anything we’re fortunate enough to add to the cooler.
Since it’s the early season and the garden is not yet frozen, green tomatoes seemed like a great compliment for game bird. And what better sauce for simply grilled White-tailed Ptarmigan than beurre blanc, the literal translation “white butter.” Add a buttery chardonnay and it ties it all together.
I suppose if you’re lucky enough to bring good numbers of ptarmigan to hand, you could make an entree of this dish. But it’s rich enough and birds in the lower 48 are hard enough to come by, with the addition of a little wild rice it makes the perfect size appetizer. Might work just as well with Ruffed Grouse or desert quail.
Thank the asphalt for the inspiration of Grilled White-tailed Ptarmigan, Fried Green Tomatoes Beurre Blanc and some of our other creations like Pheasant Chowder.
Be sure to read about the hunt for these birds in Believers.
I tend to just make up recipes, don’t measure out ingredients and promptly forget not long after eating exactly how something came together. So before I forget, here’s a quick and easy pheasant pasta that we cooked up on a whim. Total prep time was around 30 minutes.
4 pheasant breasts (or combination breasts and thighs)
1/2 Bottle White Wine — be sure it’s something you like to drink too
6 Cloves Garlic
Grated Parmesan Cheese
3/4 Stick of Butter
Flour (a few tablespoons)
Half n Half, or cream
Your Favorite Pasta (we used spinach pasta)
First, get your pasta water salted and boiling so that you aren’t waiting for your pasta to cook once you finish the sauce.
On a cutting board pound out your pheasant to a uniform thickness. This helps tenderize tough birds – cover with plastic wrap to keep the mess to a minimum. Next, cut your pheasant across grain in thin strips – think clam size since the inspiration of this recipe is Linguine and Clam Sauce. Mince the garlic gloves and a good handful of the parsley just so you have all the knife work done.
Place a large skillet on the stove on high heat and begin melting the butter. Once it is good and hot, slide the pheasant in and begin sautéing. When the meat is cut into this strips like this, it really takes very little time to cook through. Cooking in butter helps keep lean pheasant moist. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and stir. Once your meat is cooked through, sprinkle enough floor into the pan to soak up the remaining butter when mixed – won’t take much, maybe a few tablespoons. We’re using the flour as a thickener.
Now pop the cork on that wine and add about a half bottle, stirring into the meat mixture. Once it comes back up to temperature, you’ll get a good idea of how thick your sauce is. Add more wine if it’s too thick for your liking. Add the handful of parsley and let some of the alcohol continue to burn off. I like creamy sauces that coat the noodles, so here’s where I included a liberal splash of half-n-half. Finally add the grated parmesan – how much really depends on how cheesy you like it, but 1/4 cup is a good starting place.
Your pasta should be drained and ready to plate. Give your sauce a taste first for seasoning, add pepper and salt as needed. Then spoon a generous helping over your pasta. Garlic bread would be a great addition. Enjoy!
Here’s an easy recipe for game day. When you serve some rooster chili everyone is a guaranteed winner.
2 Poblano (Anaheim) peppers, chopped
2 Jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 Cherry Pepper, diced
1 Large Onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 lb pheasant breast and thighs (2 birds), 1/2″ cubed
2-3 c. Chicken broth (depending how thick you like your chili)
3 cans cannelini beans, drained
4 T. butter
2 t. Cumin
Salt and white pepper to taste
Shredded white cheddar for topping
1. In large pot, saute onion and pheasant in butter until the cubed meat is browned
2. Season with salt, white pepper and cumin
3. Add the pepper trio
4. Cook on med-high until peppers are soft
5. Add garlic
6. Add chicken broth to desired consistency (2-3 cups)
7. Purée one can of beans and fold into the mix, they act as a thickener.
8. Add the other two cans of whole beans
8. Simmer until thickens, about one hour or longer if thicker consistency desired
9. Serve with tortilla chips and top with a big handful of cheese
I often see bird hunters profess that they hunt for food. But when I think about my days afield, meat is often the last thing that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Sharptail Fajitas and my Pheasant Chowder but eating game birds has always been one of the bonuses of being a passionate bird hunter.
With the current costs of licenses, gear, shot shells and dogs I had a strong suspicion that meat hunting just didn’t add up. But I wanted to put pencil to paper to find out exactly what a pound of upland bird actually costs the average bird hunter.
Since I have a number of birds in the fridge and have just returned from the field, I have some real world data of exact weights for birds (using multiple birds to get an average weight).
There are tons of choices for shotgun shells. If you take a broad look at shell prices you can shoot lead alternatives for over $25 per box or you can shoot target loads for around $7 per box – good luck knocking down tough birds with these. But the average cost of a box of hunting shells is right around $15 per box, or .60¢ per shell.
I know a lot of good shooters, but the average bird hunter would be lucky to match Ted Williams lifetime baseball batting average of .344 on wild birds. So let’s assume that hunters harvest one bird for every three shells fired making the ammo cost per bird $1.80.
Now to the issue of licenses. I’ve averaged the cost of annual small-game licenses across 50 states. The resident license average is $21.32 and the non-resident license is $99.68. And for our analysis let’s assume that the average bird hunter will take one trip out of state to hunt birds and will also hunt in their home state. So the annual license expenditure average for a bird hunter is $121.
Factoring the cost of a shotgun is a bit interesting, especially when gun prices have such a broad range. But a modest average would be $600. Sure you can get a cheaper shooting stick, but there are many more priced much higher. And of course you intend to use that same shotgun for multiple years – let’s factor you’ll only own that one bird gun for 15 years making the annual cost just $40.
A quick assessment of basic gear that nearly all upland hunters own: game vest ($50), brush pants ($50), hunting boots ($100). And when we first purchase these items we hope it will last forever. But let’s be realistic and give them a 7-year lifespan which makes the annual expense $28.57.
And now to the big line item, the bird dog. Consumer Reports estimates that the 2011 monthly cost of dog food averages $36 per canine ($432 annually). Add to this annual veterinary costs — flea and tick meds, vaccines and boosters, worming, occasional injuries with resulting antibiotics and painkillers. Based on my own bills from multiple dogs a modest yearly vet bill per dog is $520. So the total annual veterinary and food cost per bird dog is $952.
The annual expense for the average bird hunter is $1,141.57. If you own more than one bird dog, one gun, or hunt in more than two states the costs go up very quickly.
Below is the chart of how these costs then translate to the price per pound of specific upland bird. These prices assume the total number of birds harvested at 3 levels with the fixed cost of shells being $1.80 per bird. (Not many bird hunters actually harvest 20 birds per year, let alone 80.)
If you have hung around through all the math, you can now see what I’ve long suspected; hunting birds for food is just not a winning equation. To all the meathunters who aim to fill a freezer, do yourself a favor; go to the grocery store, buy some grass fed organic tenderloin and live Maine lobster and save yourself a ton of money. Leave the game birds to the true Ultimate Uplanders who value the pursuit beyond the heft of the game bag.
It certainly is more convenient to breast out game birds. After a long day of hunting the bulk of uplanders look for the quickest way to clean birds and get them in the cooler. And if you have hunted for any length of time you probably have the breasting down to a science.
There are a number of recipes that call for whole bird preparation though. Most chefs would cringe at the idea of discarding the game bird skin which can become crispy goodness in the pan. So this season before standing on the wings and pulling on the legs to separate the upper and lower half of the bird, I encourage you to take a few extra moments and pluck a couple.
With pheasant, part of the challenge of plucking is that the skin tends to be very thin. From my experience, the best way to pluck a rooster and keep the most skin intact is to immediately begin defeathering as soon as it comes to hand. This isn’t practical in many hunting situations. But keep it in mind when you happen to harvest a bird on your walk back to the truck.
I like to reserve plucking for birds that are close to pristine; the ones I’ve somehow managed to put all the shot in the head and neck. These are the birds that can truly impress your non-hunting friends at the table.
Many states also have wanton waste regulations which make breasting birds a no no. Upland birds’ legs tend to have more tendon than meat, which is likely why there is hesitation to clean the whole bird. But the thighs of these birds are prime cuts (most grouse and pheasant included). So if plucking isn’t an option, take a few extra minutes and cuts to separate the thigh meat from the bone. It is well worth the time and will dramatically increase the amount of meat you get from a harvested bird with very little effort.
And just as a little extra incentive, here’s a recipe we just found. And now I need to find a chestnut tree.
Pheasant With Chestnuts
2 garlic heads, peeled
1 pheasant, about 2-3 pounds
2 stems of thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
12 chestnuts fresh or frozen
2 cups chicken stock
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Split the garlic heads in half and place in the pheasant cavity with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use butcher string to tie pheasant legs together. Place in roasting pan and cook at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Add butter to a large saute pan and melt on medium heat. Add chestnuts and chicken stock. Simmer until soft, but not broken. Remove and season with salt.Meanwhile, prepare chestnuts.
To serve, place pheasant on a platter with hot chestnuts.
Makes 2 servings.
Approximate values per serving: 948 calories, 52 g fat, 322 mg cholesterol, 98 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4,230 mg sodium, 49 percent calories from fat.
Note: Recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of salt to rub on pheasant before roasting. If you change that to 1 teaspoon, the total sodium amount would be 1,905 mg sodium.
I’m not sure that my chef skills are quite refined enough for these preparations, but I’m willing to try. And bravo Bay Area, hopefully your enthusiasm for upland meals will spark a few of you to head to the field and harvest your own. California quail hunting has deep roots.
State Bird Provisions
The signature item on the menu where Stuart Brioza uses a dim sum approach to Western food is his fried quail with changing seasonal accompaniments. Recently the bird was served on a tangled bed of vinegar-braised onions.
Quail becomes a main course at this sexy bar/restaurant tucked away on tiny Lusk Street, South of Market. Chef Matthew Dolan chicken-fries the bird ($27) and serves it with bing cherries, cherry reduction and a maitake mushroom pancake.
At Ari Rosen‘s follow-up to his wildly popular Scopa in Healdsburg, the chef creates a small-plates menu that includes a crisp quail ($14.50), mostly boned and propped on grilled peaches, along with arugula, almonds and pickled onions.
Joseph Humphrey is fulfilling his California/Southern vision at his new Presidio restaurant. He serves the bird ($15) with a roasted garlic waffle and spicy cabbage salad. On the tasting menu he pairs quail with bourbon-soaked morels.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu at this Mission restaurant was fried chicken flavored with five spice. Now Gayle Pirie and John Clark have applied that same idea to quail, accompanying it with tomato chutney, radicchio and balsamic.
At his Thai-inspired restaurant in Hayes Valley, chef Tom Silargorn coats pieces of quail ($9.95) with garlic, which falls off the skin in crisp flakes, and serves the bird with brick-red chile sauce. He offers a similar preparation for frog legs and rabbit.
Michael Bauer is The San Francisco Chronicle‘s restaurant critic. Go to sfgate.com/food to read his previous reviews. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @michaelbauer1 Michael Bauer is The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic. E-mail: email@example.com
2 pheasants (thighs and breasts)
4 celery stalks sliced
1/2 lb. bacon strips sliced
1 large onion diced
32 oz. of chicken broth (low sodium if desired)
4 medium size Yukon Gold potatoes – peeled and cubed
3 cloves garlic diced
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups half n half
1 cup parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper
Had an epiphany while eating clam chowder one evening; the texture of the clams in the soup is truly close to that of a tough old rooster. Hope you enjoy the resulting culinary concoction.
Peel and dice potatoes and place in a separate pot cover with the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they are soft.
Slice the pheasant meat across grain into strips similar to the size of a clam strip. Slice bacon and put in a dutch oven on medium heat. Add diced celery and onion and cook until the the bacon and celery is cooked through and onions are transparent. Add the garlic and pheasant. The meat should cook through fairly quickly because of the small sized pieces. At this point add the flour a tablespoon at a time while stirring the mixture which should thoroughly coat the vegetables and meat.
Add the potatoes and broth from the separate pot. Once incorporated stir in the half-n-half and finally include the parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. This chowder is ready to eat once heated through, but if you simmer for a bit the flavors should continue to meld and it will only get better.
Serve on a cold day with some warm beer bread. It is the perfect meal to follow a brisk day afield.