Not so fast, turkey: Try another bird — pheasant
The jack-o’-lanterns are still fresh, Halloween costumes have yet to be packed away, the profits of treating are still in their wrappers and I am hearing turkey talk. What’s happening here? Hold on — I need a breather!
I love celebrating the holidays. I really do. But my brain can really only focus on one holiday event at a time. And it so happens that my brain is not thinking turkey. Not quite yet. My brain is currently focused on pheasant. Lots of pheasant.
As I type this, my husband, along with 10 or so of his faithful buddies, are blowing up their text threads and packing for their annual fall pheasant hunt in South Dakota. For almost as long as I have known my husband — more than 22 years now — he and his hunter fellows have taken this annual weeklong guys’ trip. This is a win-win for most relationships, as the husband gets a weeklong play date with the boys and the wives get ... well, we get what we get. The added bonus is that I end up with a ton of pheasant in my freezer.
Year after year, I have to figure out what to do with all the pheasant that ends up in my freezer. Obviously, the pheasant is an indication that the trip was a success, but after all the fun is had by the boys, my work begins. Conveniently, at least lately, the birds are all processed on site and frozen in nice little packages; broken down into breasts, legs and thighs. Rarely do I get a whole bird to roast anymore. That being said, I love the simplicity of the prepackaged birds and substitute them into our meals throughout the year.
Pheasant is a wonderful alternative to the traditional poultry most of us consume. Pheasant meat resembles dark poultry meat in texture and flavor, however, pheasant is substantially lower in fat than commercially produced poultry. Pheasant can be substituted for any protein like chicken, pork and turkey, but keep in mind the final outcome may differ slightly due to it being a leaner protein. Because of the lack of fat, which provides moisture, pheasant can easily dry out or become a little tough. On the flip side, the flavor of pheasant is more pronounced, which results in a very tasty alternative to the norm. Cooking and shredding pheasant meat is an excellent substitution. Shredding it eliminates the possibility of the meat being too tough. Another successful method is making sure the meat is not overcooked. Cook it slowly over low heat just until done and let it rest.
When our son was 11, he entered a drawing for a youth pheasant hunt at a local guest ranch here in Western Colorado. He won the draw and was quite successful in his pheasant hunt, harvesting five plump birds. To conclude the wonderful experience he had, that evening I made soup out of some of the pheasant. On short notice, I simply replaced the pheasant for chicken in a favorite Mexican-style soup and the family went crazy. Yes, we were proud and the excitement of the day was lingering in the air, but the comments continued on throughout the evening about how tasty the soup was. I attribute the depth of flavor of the soup that day to the pheasant, as I make that same recipe quite often and it’s delicious but ordinary.
When talking pheasant, I find that a lot of people often treat it like wild game in that they are trying to disguise it. I confess that in my younger years I also was guilty of this. My husband would come home proudly announcing his success when suddenly his words morphed together and all I could hear were my own thoughts as they consumed me with how I was going to prepare the meat without actually tasting it.
Years have passed, and many types of wild game have ended up in our freezer. I have grown as a chef and learned to appreciate all ingredients for their uniqueness. I now prefer to enhance foods like wild game rather than to camouflage them. That being said, I do recognize differing comfort levels of preparing uncommon foods.
So, year after year, my freezer is stocked with tidy little packages of South Dakota pheasant and my creativity in the kitchen is tested. As wild (pun intended) as my ideas may get, I find that my victories result from my more simplistic creations. My three not-always-so-kind food critics at home give honest feedback daily, solicited or not, especially when working with uncommon ingredients.
Anticipating another successful hunting trip this year, I have been thinking pheasant and recently made a common chicken dish substituting pheasant and received excellent reviews. If you don’t happen to know anyone who could spare a bird for you, there are several specialty meat markets in the valley who do carry pheasant. Fall is a great time to experiment in the kitchen. You may even want to consider giving the turkey a pardon this Thanksgiving.