It’s pheasant season. My neighbor, Mark, of Bloody Mary fame, is a hunter. He asked me earlier this week if I would like a couple of birds to cook up.
Rewind to a balmy Summer night, friends gathered on the patio, sweet cigar smoke scenting the air, drinking a new whiskey, an old favorite beer, or a yummy glass of Pinot Grigio. Lots of talk around the table. Catching up on the latest news of the neighborhood, talk of the past, and talk of the future. The upcoming hunting season was approaching and the talk went to cooking game. This city girl (who would so love to be a country gal) had never cooked edible game. Oh, I tried wild duck breasts a few years ago and they turned out to be inedible. They were tough, bloody, and tasted like bad liver. I was clueless to the whole process. I told Mark I was willing to learn to cook anything he hunted. Game on!
Mark and I had a hard time catching each other this week for a coordinated “bird drop”. Finally, last night we came up with a plan. He was going hunting very early this morning and would drop off the dressed and frozen birds on my porch. I told him I would leave homemade cinnamon rolls for him. So, I rolled out of a very warm bed at 6:30 this morning, went to the kitchen, put a couple of cinnamon rolls in a baggie, and then taped them to the storm door. I then crawled back into bed and put my frozen feet on Mr. Gravy. I’m guessing it was about 18 degrees outside, too cold and dark for me. So, back to sleep I went.
When I got up, later, there was a bag of frozen birds on the porch and the cinnamon rolls were gone. Heckuva deal! I thawed the birds, cut them up, and cleaned them up a little. Mark did an awesome job cleaning those birds. He even threw in a couple of dressed little quail.
I had watched a cooking show called Farmhouse Rules with Nancy Fuller earlier this Fall. She cooked a wild duck cacciatore. So, I did some reading around the internet and found out that cacciatore means “hunter style” of preparation. Sounded good to me. I ended up using her recipe for the pheasant and it turned out fabulous! I was totally amazed.
I served it with smashed potatoes and green beans with bacon and onion. I had dinner rolls left from yesterday and we also had those. I think a very crusty french bread or sour dough bread would be perfect with this dish. The wine we had was the wine I opened to use in the cacciatore.
Old Vine Red Lot Number 60 was a very tasty red blend made up of mostly zinfandel grapes. I found this wine as a result of the wine tasting our neighborhood grocery store has every month. It tasted like a mouth full of jammy, dark berries with just a touch of oak and not a lot of tannins. It paired very well with the pheasant. I picked it up for under $12.
Duck (or chicken or pheasant or duck or rabbit) Cacciatore
by Nancy Fuller, Farmhouse Rules, The Food Network, 2014
1 duck, cut into 8 pieces (I used two pheasants, cut up and two tiny little quail leg quarters)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour, for dusting
Olive oil, for the pan (I used a canola oil blend, which was just fine)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
One 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, include the juice
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, whole
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2 sprigs parsley, whole (I did not use)
Sprinkle the duck pieces with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Brown the duck pieces on both sides until golden brown.
Remove the pieces to a plate and pour off most of the fat from the pot. In the same pot, over medium heat, add the garlic, carrots, celery, onions, and red wine. Scrape the pot to dislodge the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Next, add the tomatoes and mushrooms, and stir.
Place the duck on top of the vegetables and top with the pieces of butter and parsley. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 1 hour or until the meat is very tender.
Note: I had to cook my pheasant almost two hours on that medium-low heat.
Remove the duck pieces and vegetables to a serving platter. Spoon over the juices and serve warm.
Please forgive the pictures. I had steam everywhere, flour on my hands, and (I know it will come as a shock to you) I am not a professional photographer. I’m a cook and a baker. I just want to show you what it looks like along the way. It is not staged…it is real time cooking. It’s messy.