“Some men are mere hunters; others are turkey hunters.” ~ Archibald Rutledge
Nothing beats a good turkey hunt. The spring turkey hunt kind of feels like a good stretch when you first get out of bed. You have been tucked up under the covers, dreaming, maybe tossing and turning a little. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and check the clock to see if it’s time to get up yet, and it isn’t so you roll back into your cocoon of covers and sleep until, hopefully, morning. And then when you finally do crawl out of bed after that long night’s sleep, you stretch from the tips of your toes to your finger’s end, and it feel amazing. While the sleeping was great and much needed, that stretch awakens you and sets the tone for the rest of the day. That is how the spring turkey hunt feels to me. Like that great stretch after that long winter, and it is going to set the tone for the rest of the hunting seasons.
I was lucky enough to draw a limited entry spring tag this year. I have wanted that tag for quite some time because it allows you to hunt during the peak gobbling season. There is nothing more fun than sitting behind some brush, listening to toms gobble, drag their wing tips, and just put on a great show. The tail displays and chest puffing is at it’s prime, and nothing makes for a better hunt than just getting to sit in the midst of the show and soak it all in. It is a great time.
I was also lucky enough to bag a nice tom. So, my next few posts will be turkey recipes that I am creating from this spring’s bird. The first meal I concocted was a farmhouse turkey burger. Since turkey meat, especially wild, is quite lean, I mixed in some bacon to my ground turkey. It added a great hint of bacon flavor to the burger, made things a little extra juicy, and helped the burger hold together. I topped my farmhouse burger with chipotle mayo, spicy arugula, gorgonzola cheese crumbles, and a fried egg.
“You gotta try your luck at least once a day, because you could be going around lucky all day and not even know it.” ~ Jimmy Dean
Every year for St. Patrick’s Day, I put a corned beef in the crock pot to slowly cook throughout the day, make a loaf of Irish soda bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, and mix up a couple of green beers. It is a St. Patty’s Day tradition around our house, even though we are not of Irish heritage.
This year, I wanted to create a few twists on traditional St Patrick’s Day menu items and substitute the meat with wild game. I started doing some research on customary Irish foods, and learned a few things that kind of flipped my world momentarily upside down. First, in Ireland they do not traditionally eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. They usually serve lamb or bacon. That really put a twist in my plans. Second, the green beer thing is not actually a thing in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland. In fact, many of the traditions I have learned since I was a kid, like pinching anyone that did not don green, are customs and traditions that evolved in Irish-American cultures.
One of the biggest things I love about cooking is the connections created between the food and customs, traditions, or even just interesting facts that pop up. While my research into traditional St. Patrick’s Day foods was not what I expected it to be, the mere task of looking up some ways to work differently with corned beef directed me into a full on discovery of how St. Patrick’s Day was founded, which traditions are from Ireland and which grew from Irish-American cultures, and even the different celebrations that occur around the world for St. Patrick’s Day.
For this recipe, I stuck with the Irish-American tradition of corned beef. I love the flavor profile created in a corned beef. It is a salty, sweet, and pickled taste. I wanted to try that kind of seasoning on wild game. So, with from a chunk of elk meat, some corned beef seasonings, and a dry stout beer brewed in Ireland, I made an elk hand pie. This meal is a twist on two other meals: corned beef and cabbage, and Guinness pot pie.
To start, place a pound of potatoes in a large pot of water. I used fingerling potatoes and kept the skins on. You could also use red, Yukon, or russet potatoes. I think a fun twist for next time will be to replace the potato with a sweet potato. Also, you can peel the potatoes if you aren’t a fan of the skins. Turn the heat to high and bring the potatoes to a boil. Once the water is boiling, place a lid over the pot, turn the heat off, and allow the potatoes to cook for five minutes. Set the timer for this part, because you only want to parboil, or partially cook, the potatoes. For this dish, you want the potatoes to remain somewhat firm, not mushy, and also they will continue to cook more in the meat mixture and finally in the oven. After five minutes, drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool down.
For the elk meat, I ran mine through a coarse grind one time. For this recipe, I used the 3/8″ hole meat grinder plate. It is also a good idea to have the meat at a relatively cold temperature, or even partially frozen, when grinding. This will help to prevent the machine from pulverizing the meat, or as some people term it, “mashing” the meat through the plate. I made a pound of ground elk for this recipe, and had enough mixture by the end to create about a dozen hand pies. You could easily cut this recipe in half if you don’t want that many pies, but they freeze really well so I always make a big batch and eat the rest later.
Preheat a large skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add a medium size onion, chopped into bite size pieces, and allow to sauté for three minutes. Add two cups of shredded cabbage, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook an additional five to seven minutes. The cabbage should be soft by now, and the onions should be starting to turn translucent. Remove the cabbage and onions from the pan and set aside.
To the already preheated skillet, drop in the pound of ground elk meat. Season the meat with a teaspoon each of ground cloves, ground mustard seed, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, all spice, and dill weed. Cook the elk until it is browned, about seven minutes. While the meat is browning, dice up the now cooled potatoes into bite size pieces in preparation for adding to the skillet.
Deglaze the skillet with the bottle of Irish dry stout beer. Also add in two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and return the cabbage and onions to the pan. Add the diced potatoes as well. Keep the heat high, and allow the beer to reduce down by half, which takes about five minutes. Turn off the skillet and let the mixture cool down.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While waiting, roll out the pre-made pie crusts. I rolled the dough a bit thinner so I could get more pies from the crusts. If you like a thicker crust on your pies, simply buy a couple of boxes of the premade dough. Use a biscuit cutter to make circles for the hand pies. I actually don’t own a biscuit cutter, so I used a bowl and a knife. A cup also works well in this situation. Place the dough circles on an ungreased cookie sheet. I lined my sheet with aluminum foil to make the clean-up a bit easier. Pile each circle with a couple of spoonfuls of the meat mixture and then top with a second circle. Pinch around the edges using a fork, poke a small vent in the top, and brush each pie with an egg wash.
Bake the pies in the oven for 12 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.
Well, I hope you enjoy this St. Patrick’s Day recipe with a twist on corned beef and cabbage. The pies, with their flaky crusts, give hints of corned beef seasonings paired with the sweetness of cabbage. Each bite is like a full meal, with potatoes, onions, meat, and cabbage. Enjoy!
“The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.” ~ E.M. Forster
Growing up, I hated mushrooms with a passion. My dad loved them. He would always order pizza with everything on it, including white button mushrooms. I could smell those white button mushrooms before the box was even open. And then I would complain, and whine, and moan, and let him know that not only had he ruined the pizza but my life as well. You know, a typically six year-old meltdown that somehow starts with mushrooms and evolves to a young life being destroyed by the mere presence of mushrooms in the home.
My mom would tell me to just pick them off. I would grumpily, using only two fingers, pull them off and place them as far away from my pizza slice as possible.
“I can still taste them,” I would whine. “And see where they were on my pizza!”
My parents would ignore me.
Eventually, I would start to reluctantly eat my slice because I was hungry, and well because I was six and it was pizza. What six year old can turn down pizza? Everything would be going fine until I realized that not only were there mushrooms on this pizza, but there were also onions. And I had just eaten one. Return to complain, whine, moan mode with probably a little crying because my dad had “tricked” me into eating onions and my life was once again ruined.
Nowadays, I love mushrooms and onions. I actually think of ways I can add them to my meal. Six year-old me would definitely be red-faced scolding me right now, hands in little tight fists, and a massive melt-down just around the corner. Luckily, she isn’t here, and I get to share this amazing, savory whiskey rosemary cream sauce over deer steak and mushrooms dish with you!
To start, select the cut of deer steak you want to serve for this dish. I used tenderloin, but this dish works well with any steak from the deer. Other suggestions I have are the back strap, the infraspinatus found in the shoulder of the deer, or a sirloin, which is cut from the hind quarter. To help get a better sear on my steaks, I usually pat them with a paper towel quickly to remove any moisture on the outside of the steak. Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side over the outside of the steaks. Season liberally with salt and pepper and place in the hot pan, which is my favorite part of cooking steak. I love that sizzling sound of the meat first hitting the pan.
Deer, like other wild game steaks, is best when cooked on the rare side of doneness. Deer is a very lean meat, and without the extra fat on the steaks, like is found on beef, it tends to dry out quickly when cooked. A well-done deer steak will be very tough and have an unpleasant texture, almost rubbery. So, I suggest cooking deer steaks to medium-rare or less. I like mine medium-rare and reach that cooking the steak about five minutes per side.
Once the steaks are finished cooking, plate them under a loosely constructed aluminum foil tent. Allow the steaks to rest under the tent while you finish the cream sauce. A proper meat resting, which is about ten minutes, allows the juices to reabsorb into the meat. While cooking the meat, the moisture tends to move towards the surface of the steak, and if you immediately pull the meat from the heat source and cut into it, the juices will rush out of steak. This resting time stops that from happening and results in a moist, juicy steak.
While the steaks are resting, add four tablespoons of butter to the skillet. Once the butter is melted, drop in the diced onion and sauté for three minutes, allowing the onions to become soft. Add the minced garlic and cook an additional two minutes. Watch the garlic closely. If it starts to brown, drop the temperature on the skillet, as browned garlic adds a bitter taste to the dish.
Time to add the mushrooms! Roughly chop your favorite mushroom and add it to the onions and garlic. I used shiitakes this time, but I have also prepared this meal with baby portabellas or cremini mushrooms. Be sure to clean the mushrooms before using by taking a damp paper towel and gently rubbing the surface of the mushroom to remove any dirt. Also, with the portabellas or cremini, pull the stems from the mushrooms before chopping. Season the skillet with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms with the garlic and onions for five minutes.
Once the mushrooms have cooked down a bit, remove the pan from the heat source and deglaze with a half cup of whiskey. This is also one of those moments I love. When the whiskey hits the pan, it sizzles! Such a great sound! And I should mention that the kitchen will be smelling amazing at this point! The aromas created from the whiskey, onions and mushrooms together is intoxicating, and if you weren’t hungry when you started cooking this meal, you will be after those smells start mingling around the kitchen.
Return the skillet to the heat source, and allow the whiskey to cook down for about two minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue reducing the liquids for an additional two minutes.
Finally, add in 3/4 cup of cream, the minced fresh rosemary, and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Give everything a quick stir, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the sauce to simmer for five minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of spoon. It should be creamy and glossy.
To serve, slice the steaks against the grain into thick slabs, cover generously in the whiskey cream sauce, making sure to get a heaping serving of the mushrooms on each plate, and add a suitable side. I like to add a side of asparagus because it pairs wonderfully with the cream sauce. A side of mashed potatoes would also be delicious for absorbing some of the sauce.
I love this meal because it has simple flavors that highlight the tender, juicy deer steak. The earthy hints of rosemary and mushrooms pair great with the flavor from the deer, and the onions and cream add a savory but almost slightly sweet hit to the dish.
Learning to process game meat has been an eye opening experience. It is a challenging and ever-evolving labor. Cleaning a harvest is different, not only for different groups of animals, but even for different species within a specific subgroup of animals. For example, it is obvious that a fish is cleaned differently than a duck, but it isn’t always obvious that a duck may be cleaned differently than a goose, or even another species of duck. Cleaning also varies on how you plan to prepare or use the animal. I feel I have only touched on the surface of cleaning animals.
Cleaning is just the beginning step of processing game meat too. Storing and preserving meat is an entirely different story. And not to mention learning how to use different parts of the animal! We often hear stories of how Native Americans used every part of an animal. Meat was obviously processed and eaten, but hides or feathers were used for shelter creation or clothing, bones could be constructed into tools or weapons, and tendons or sinew could be used to create thread or string. Of course, those few examples only brush on the surface of how many parts of an animal are useful.
Utilizing the entire animal was definitely a survival tactic for Native Americans, and as a modern day hunter, that drive for survival isn’t quite the same. However, many hunters strive to use as much of an animal as possible. Whether this desire comes from a simple curiosity as to what you can come up with to use what you have at hand, or is from a deeper desire to use every part of the animal as a form of respect, there are limitless possibilities on what to create or how to utilize an animal in its entirety, and it is definitely a learning process.
So, while this might be a small step in terms of all the possible things I could use a pheasant for, it is a first step and I enjoyed trying something new with a different part of the bird. After cleaning all the meat from the pheasant, I saved the carcass and made a simple pheasant stock. While I was excited to find a use for the leftover bones of my pheasant harvest, my primary drive for creating a pheasant stock developed from a nagging feeling I got when using chicken stock in my pheasant recipes. For some reason, it bothered me when I would create a soup or sauce recipe for my pheasant meal, but had to use chicken stock as the base. It seemed silly. So, I made a small batch of pheasant stock from the carcass and can now use that as the base for whatever pheasant recipe I work on next.
For the stock, a few simple ingredients are necessary to help develop a deeper flavor profile. Aside from the pheasant carcass, you will need carrots, celery, and onion. I used around four medium sized carrots, three stalks of celery, and two medium sized onions. You could also add a few cloves of garlic. To create a little uniqueness in my stock, I also added in a four inch piece of whole ginger root.
Preheat the oven to 400 Fahrenheit and roast the pheasant carcass, celery, carrots, onion, and ginger root for 20 minutes. There is no need to cut anything up or do any type of prep work before roasting. The only step I took was the cut the onions in half. I did not peel the carrots or even remove the onion skin. If I had added garlic to this stock, I would have roasted the cloves whole as well.
Once the vegetables and pheasant are done roasting, transfer everything to a large pot. I did remove some of the skin from the ginger root before adding it to the pot, but that was about it. I left the onions whole and broke the celery in half so it would fit in the pot, but other than that not much work to be done! At this point, toss in a couple of bay leaves and add enough water to the pot to cover everything by about two inches. The amount of water needed will vary based on the size of your pot, but it should be somewhere between eight and twelve cups. I used ten for my pot. Heat the pot over a medium heat and watch until the water starts to boil. Once it boils, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the stock simmer for a few hours, checking occasionally to make sure there is still enough liquid in the pot and that the pot is still just simmering and not boiling. I let my stock simmer for about four hours. The liquid reduced from ten cups to eight by the end of the cooking time.
If you are interested in creating a little bit of a different flavor profile for your pheasant stock, instead of using onions you could substitute leeks. You could also add fennel for a hint of licorice. Herbs can also be infused into the stock, such as thyme, sage, or basil. Strain the entire pot through a fine mesh colander, and discard all the vegetables and carcass. Allow the liquid to cool. In the end, the stock should be a beautiful auburn color and have a mild savory flavor.
I plan on using my stock within the next couple of days, so I poured it into mason jars and stuck it in the fridge. It should last in the fridge for about five days. Canning the stock is another option; however the process for cooking is a bit different. I prefer to freeze homemade stock that I am not going to use. I put it in a large Tupperware container and just pop it in the freezer. It will last indefinitely in the freezer.
This stock has a hint of the richness from the pheasant bones and also a clean, fresh taste from the vegetables. It is not salty, which took me a minute to get used to. When using store bought chicken stock, the stock is salted and, for me, that is the main flavor that stands out. This pheasant stock is a base starting point for any sauces, broths, or soups you might create with it. Think of the stock as a building block that will enhance and develop flavor in your dish. This recipe allows you to extract the umami (one of the five basic tastes) to use as an ingredient from a bird carcass or other bones. It also gives a little more reward to yourself and the animal that provided for you.
“I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night.” ~ Lady Gaga
I am not always the best pre-planner. If I am headed on vacation, I am the one packing my bags thirty minutes before we are scheduled to leave. I tend to forget essentials, you know, like my tooth brush. I do not know why I have to wait until thirty minutes before our scheduled departure to start preparing for my trip, but I do it every time. And every time, as I am realizing I don’t have any clean socks to pack, because that would require a pre-check of my dresser drawers to ensure there are socks available for my trip, I curse myself for procrastinating. You would think I would learn my lesson. Arriving at your destination without pants to wear can be quite unfortunate. But every vacation, no matter what, I still find myself packing that bag thirty minutes before jumping in the car and hastily roaring away, most likely with a pair of dirty socks, no toothbrush, and pant-less.
This incredible skill of procrastination is also useful in other situations. This past New Year’s Eve, I was invited to a late night celebration. I was invited well over a week in advance, and was told to bring three simple things: myself, a drink to share, and an appetizer dish to share. Guess what was ready with an hour before party time? Nothing. Not my drink to share, not my appetizer dish, and certainly not myself.
Realizing people would probably not care if I stopped at the store and grabbed a bottle of some drink to share and that I was dressed like a slob (with dirty socks of course), I did think people would notice if I arrived with no appetizer in hand. I contemplated buying one of those pre-made vegetable or meat and cheese trays, but I figured my fellow procrastinators would also devise this plan and arrive with the same appetizer.
I opened my refrigerator in search of something to throw together, and luck would have it, there was a pack of elk chunk waiting to become my quick, throw together New Year’s Eve appetizer. I quickly ran the chunk through my meat grinder. It resulted in about a pound of ground elk. To the ground elk, I added a cup of panko bread crumbs, some fresh chopped parsley, and a little nutmeg. I also seasoned generously with salt and pepper. I also added in one beaten egg and two tablespoons of milk.
I find the best tactic for mixing meatballs is to just dig right in with your hands. This gets everything incorporated really thoroughly. Also, it allows you to test the consistency of the meatballs. If the meatballs feel too wet and things aren’t really sticking together, add more panko bread crumbs. If things feel to dry, add in more milk.
Since this was a quick throw together appetizer, I used what was available in my pantry to make my meatballs. If you don’t have, or maybe you don’t like, panko bread crumbs, traditional bread crumbs will also work. Also, I don’t always have fresh parsley on hand. I actually never have it on hand, but for some reason on this particular evening I did. If you don’t have fresh parsley, dried would also work. You would only need a tablespoon of dried parsley instead of a quarter cup like with the fresh.
Roll the meatballs into balls using about a tablespoon of the meat mixture. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet. For easier clean-up, line the sheet with aluminum foil. Bake the meatballs in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. The meatballs should be slightly browned and your kitchen should smell delicious!
While the meatballs are roasting away, pull out a crockpot. Set the crockpot on low heat.
To the pot, add 3/4 to 1 cup of hoisin sauce. I started with 3/4 of a cup and then added more at the end of I wanted more of the hoisin flavor to stand out. A beautiful dark amber color, hoisin is a sweet and salty sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is a pungent sauce packed with a ton of flavor, so start with less and you can always add more.
To the hoisin, add one tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame seed oil, two cloves of minced garlic, and a teaspoon of ground ginger. To help liven up the flavor of the spices in the hoisin sauce, add a tablespoon or two of rice wine vinegar. Give everything a stir and a quick taste. The sauce should taste salty and a bit spicy. Now it is time develop the sweetness of this sauce. I always taste things before I start adding my sweetener to see where things are at. This is important with the hoisin because it also adds sweetness to the dish, and you don’t want the meatballs tasting like lollipops! Anyway, slowly add the honey in a drizzle at a time, tasting as you go, until the sauce is where you want it. If you desire a bit more salt, add a little more soy sauce. If you want more hoisin flavor, drizzle some more of that in. I ended up with about a tablespoon of honey at the end.
After the meatballs are done cooking, add them to the hoisin sauce, making sure to coat all the meatballs with the sauce, and you are ready to party! I took the entire crockpot to the gathering with me, this way everything stayed nice and warm. To serve the meatballs, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top.
Meatballs are a great party appetizer. A pound of meat and a few simple ingredients make a deliciously quick treat. They can be served using only toothpicks, so there is no need for utensils or plates. They can also be made in advance and then just added to the crock-pot to heat back up.
These salty and sweet Asian-style meatballs received lots of praise at the party, and no one suspected they were a product of procrastination.
Asian Style Elk Meatballs: A Perfect Party Appetizer
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 22 minutes
Total Time: 32 minutes
For the Meatballs
1 pound ground elk
1 cup panko bread crumbs (more as needed)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
For Hoisin Sauce
3/4 to 1 cup hoisin sauce
1-2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat the oven to 400. For easier clean up, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, mix together the ground elk, panko bread crumbs, parsley, nutmeg, milk, beaten egg, and salt and pepper. Use your hands to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients. If meatballs seem to wet, add more panko. If meatballs feel to dry, add more milk.
With around a tablespoon size scoop of meat, rolls the meatballs and place on the baking sheet.
Bake in oven for 12 minutes, until meatballs are browned.
For Hoisin Sauce
Turn the slow cooker on low.
In a large bowl, whisk together the hoisin, rice vinegar, soy sauce , sesame seed oil, garlic, ginger, and honey. Taste to see if it is as sweet or salty as you desire. If you want it a bit sweeter, add a little more hoisin or honey. If you want things a bit saltier add a little more soy sauce. If you want more acid, add a little more vinegar.
Once things taste how you want it, pour the bowl into the crock pot. Add the meatballs.
Allow meatballs to cook in crock pot for ten minutes before serving so everything is evenly warm. Garnish meatballs with sesame seeds and serve using toothpicks!
“When turkeys mate they think of swans.” ~ Johnny Carson
I am always amazed how different wild turkey is from farm-raised turkey. With my first wild turkey harvest, I plucked the entire bird and roasted it in traditional Thanksgiving style. I was so excited for that dinner. I was having Thanksgiving in May complete with mashed potatoes, wild turkey gravy, cranberries, and stuffing. I love the smell a roasting turkey fills the house with, and this wild bird was no exception. Somehow the day was transformed from a typical May evening with sparse clouds, a warming breeze, and blooming flowers to a fall evening, with crisp leaves, a chill in the air, and that beautifully roasting turkey. As I pulled the turkey out the oven and let it rest on the counter, I was bursting with excitement and anticipation of the delicacy before me.
My family sat around the table, and we even shared a few hunting stories about past bird hunts. It was a so much fun! And then we started eating the turkey. It was dry. Really dry. Like chewy, can’t swallow, force a bite down and chase it with a giant gulp of water, dry. I was heartbroken. It had appeared so perfect, the skin was lightly browned and glistening, and it smelled so great. It even felt tender and juicy to the touch while I carved it, but it did not taste that way.
No one really said much about the turkey until long after dinner.
“That turkey was good,” my dad ventured. “But it was, kind of, I don’t know…”
“Dry,” I unenthusiastically replied.
“Yes,” he concurred.
Not only was I disappointed in the turkey dinner itself, as I had tried so hard to roast it at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time, but I felt like I had wasted the bird. I felt bad that I had prepared it so poorly, and I felt basically disrespectful.
After that first turkey experience, I decided to prepare subsequent harvests with more thought and planning. I got creative with how I used my bird, and this also led to using more of the bird efficiently, such as the legs. Typically, the legs are very, very tough and basically inedible on a roasted wild turkey. I make wild turkey and dumplings soup with my legs, and it is easily one of my favorite meals.
So far with the breasts, I have only experimented with grinding. Both of these meatball based recipes were made with pheasant, but they would work really well with turkey too: Marsala Meatballs and Brandy Apples and Onions. I plan on spending this spring working with some other types of recipes with different preparation methods for the breast.
For this chili recipe, I started the same as the meatball recipes by running the turkey breasts through my meat grinder. I used the 3/8″ hole meat grinder plate. It is also a good idea to have the meat at a relatively cold temperature when grinding. This will help to prevent the machine from pulverizing the meat, or as some people term is “mashing” the meat through the plate. A lot of people even partially freeze the meat before grinding it.
After running through the grinder, I drop the meat directly into my ceramic dutch oven, which I just have to quickly add that I love it because it is wonderful for both the stove top and putting directly into the oven. Anyway, I start browning the meat over medium high heat and while it is cooking I dice up a large onion, chop the bell peppers, mince four to five cloves of garlic, and chop up one jalapeno. If you like a lot of heat in your chili, leave the seeds in the jalapeno. If you are not that big of a fan of hot and spicy foods, then I would suggest removing the seeds before chopping up the pepper. Add those ingredients to the turkey and cook until the meat is browned and the onions start to soften, about eight to ten minutes.
On a quick side note, did you know you can freeze your peppers from the garden hole and they are great for use in soups, sauces, stews, and chili’s all year! Yep, those are frozen peppers in the picture.
To the cooked turkey, add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and coriander. A little tip for quick measuring when cooking is to use your hand instead of measuring spoons (although be sure you washed your hands good before this because nobody wants to eat from a dirty palm!) The rough estimate way is done by filling the base of your palm for a tablespoon and the small little cup in the center of your palm for a teaspoon. Since everyone has a bit different size of hand, the best way to find out what this means for your hand is to take a tablespoon and fill your hand with a scoop of something. Make a mental note on how where that fills to on your palm. Do the same for a teaspoon. This is just a little trick I learned from a cooking show, and it just helps save on dirtying measuring spoons, which makes more dishes, which I hate!
I also like to add a pinch of nutmeg when I make chili. So, throw that pinch in there, season the pot with black pepper and salt, and drop in three bay leaves. Give everything a quick stir and coat the turkey and onions in all those delicious spices. Add three tablespoons of tomato paste, stir, and let the pot cook for one minute.
After the minute, pour in the red wine. I tend to use a merlot when I make this chili, but any dry red wine will work, such as a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. You could also use chicken stock if you are not a wine drinker. The pot should be hot when the wine hits the pan, and it will make this glorious sizzling sound. You want to stir the turkey mixture at this point and break up all the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan that the wine has helped release. This adds flavor to the dish!
Next, add in the tomatoes. I use my home-grown garden tomatoes. During the summer, I harvest tomatoes and fill a quart size bag with them. I cut the stem and a little bit of the core out of the tomato, but I don’t remove the skins or do any other prep work. I simply place the bag in the freezer and then dump the entire bag into any soup, stew, or chili that calls for a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. It is easy and tastes great! If you don’t have home preserved tomatoes, you just add a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes at this step.
Finally, it is time to add the beans. I use three 15 ounce cans of beans when I make chili. The type depends mostly on what I have in the pantry at the time, and it generally includes pinto, red kidney, and black beans. But you can add whatever cans of beans you prefer. If you are simply a black bean fan, just use three cans of those babies. If you like a variety, add all three types. Or get crazy and drop in a can of great northern beans or navy beans. It’s totally up to you! Be sure to drain the beans before adding them in.
Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot, and then drop the temperature down to a low simmer. Let the dutch oven simmer for one hour, stirring every once in awhile. During this time, the flavors will really start to develop and blend together. This chili is a very hearty dish, but because of the wild turkey, it is not a greasy dish. It offers up a beautiful mixture of tomatoes and chili flavor with the hints of cumin and oregano jumping out. And as with most chilis, it is even better the next day!
For serving, pile on some cheddar cheese, maybe a few fresh chopped onion pieces, and a dollop of sour cream. I also enjoy a corn bread muffin for soaking up those juices on the bottom of my quickly emptied bowl. Enjoy!
“When he was young, I told Dale Jr. that hunting and racing are a lot alike. Holding that steering wheel and holding that rifle both mean you better be responsible.” ~Dale Earnhardt
As I sit here about to write-up this recipe for pheasant meatballs with sweet apples and onions in an apple and brandy sauce, the one who made this all possible is curled up right on top of my feet. I call her my puppy, but she is no longer a puppy. She is a seasoned, seven year-old chocolate lab with a passion for pheasant hunting named Sienna. I am not a bird dog trainer. To be honest, I am not even much of a day-to-day discipline dog owner. Sienna knows a few simple commands, like sit and lay, and she is probably the best heeler I have ever met. I didn’t teach her that though, she just kind of naturally decided that her place when walking with you is pressed against your right knee. And like I didn’t teach her to heel, I certainly didn’t teach her to hunt.
I have only been bird hunting for a few years, and Sienna has been hunting even less than that. She spent her first five or six seasons wandering around through the reeds, most of the time behind you, smelling everything but bird scent. I had actually given up on pheasant hunting trips being anything more to her than just walks through horribly thick vegetation. I was trying to learn the ins-and-outs of pheasant hunting myself, I certainly didn’t have time to learn how to train a very unenthusiastic chocolate lab.
Three seasons ago, something changed in that little chocolate lab that I can’t explain. She was wandering around, sniffing at her leisurely pace, lackadaisically pushing reeds and brush out of her way. Our hunting group ignored her as usual and continued on our way. She jumped a bird, and no one even took a shot because of the shock of the entire situation. She jumped three more that day, and left the field a new girl.
This season was a very uneventful one. In three weeks, we jumped one bird, which of course we missed. There just wasn’t anything out in all the usual places. Sienna seemed bored while we were hunting, returning to her old habits of smelling flowers instead of working. I complained a lot about carrying my shot gun and having to walk through such rough terrain. It was a disappointing season, which resulted in a sour attitude.
I had given up on the whole idea of even trying to hunt anymore when the closing day arrived. I’m sure everyone has experienced that feeling. You go out into the field, it is empty and lonely. That desolate atmosphere makes you think life must not even exist in this area because there aren’t even bugs. You dramatically decide to give up hunting forever. And then the closing day arrives, and you can’t ignore the nagging desire to go out just one more time, just to make sure there really is no hope. I had hit that point. I thought Sienna had as well, but I was wrong. Closing day of the season was one of the best hunts ever. Sienna was jumping roosters and hens, tracking them down, retrieving, flushing. You name it, she was doing it. It just goes to prove, you never know what is going to happen out there in the field.
In honor of a memorable closing day to the 2016 pheasant season, I decided to make a pheasant dinner for everyone out in the field with me and my splendid chocolate pooch. One of my favorite methods for preparing pheasant breast is to grind them, straight from the bird with no added fat or other meats, and make them into a flavor packed meatball. I used the same meatball base for this recipe as I did for pheasant marsala meatballs. The recipe can be found for those at this link: Pheasant Marsala Meatballs.
To start, cut two pheasant breasts into large chunks and drop them straight into your meat grinder. I use the 3/8″ hole meat grinder plate when I make meatballs. It is also a good idea to have the meat at a relatively cold temperature when grinding. This will help to prevent the machine from pulverizing the meat, or as some people term is “mashing” the meat through the plate. A lot of people even partially freeze the meat before grinding it.
Preheat the oven broiler to high. To the ground pheasant, add panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, fresh chopped parsley, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper, milk, and a beaten egg. Mix everything together, and my suggestion is to use your hands for this part. They let you really get down in there and work everything together. Another suggestion I have when making meatballs is to not take the recipe word-for-word. For example, it says to use a cup of panko and two tablespoons of milk per pound of ground pheasant, but you might want your meatball a bit drier or a bit wetter. Also, the moisture level of the meat can play into how dry or wet the meatball turns out. When I am making meatballs, I always start at a base point of one cup panko and the two tablespoons of milk, but if the meat isn’t rolling into nice balls that hold together well, I will add more panko or milk slowly until they start to form the way I want. Also, you can roll the meatballs into whatever size you want, but for this recipe I used about a tablespoon of meat mixture per ball.
Place the meatballs on an ungreased baking sheet and put in the oven for five to seven minutes. They will not be cooked all the way through, but that is okay. They will finish cooking in the sauce.
While the meatballs are broiling away in the oven, it is time to start on the brandy apple and onion sauce. Slice the apple into wedges about a half to an inch thick (be sure to remove the core first). Cut the onions into long, slender slices. To a large skillet, add a tablespoon of cooking oil, I used olive but you could use canola or vegetable if that is what you have on hand. Heat the pan to medium high heat and drop in the onion slices. Allow them to cook for two to three minutes and then add in the apple slices. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle in the minced rosemary and cinnamon, and cook for five minutes more. If you like a little heat to your dishes, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.
Once the apples and onions are starting to soften, and the room should be filling with the rustically sweet smells of cinnamon and apples, deglaze the pan with a half cup of brandy. Brandy is a fruit-based wine that is distilled into a liquor and the taste varies depending on the fruit used. I think the subtly sweet fruit flavor of brandy really highlights the apple and onion flavor in this dish, and nothing can compare to the aromas that brandy adds to a dish. The house smells great at this point! Let the apples and onions simmer in the brandy for two or three minutes.
Next, add two cups of apple cider and two cups of chicken broth to the pan. In a small cup, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of water. Mix until the cornstarch is broken down and there are no chunks. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir. Bring the pan to a light boil and then let it simmer for about five minutes. The sauce should start to thicken and become glossy. After five minutes, add the meatballs to the pan, coating them in the sauce, and let the entire beautifully orchestrated dish simmer for an additional five minutes. The flavors will really start to develop, with strong tastes of sweet apples and onion, and the meatballs will be cooked perfectly.
I served the pheasant apples and onions over simple white rice. If you are someone that likes a little more hearty dish, a great substitute would also be a mashed sweet potato or russet potato. The sauce created from the brandy, cider, and stock really soaks up well in some type of a meal base, but if you were so inclined you could also just eat the meatballs straight-up. Garnish with some nice fresh minced parsley.
Pheasant, apples, and onions are a tasty combination! Pheasant is actually quite a mild meat, so it really pairs well with robust flavors like apple and onion. The brandy also adds a new depth to the sauce of this dish and really kicks up the rustic flavor of the apple cider and hint of cinnamon. This meal is perfect for a quick meal during the week, but it is also a great one for introducing friends and family to pheasant. Enjoy!
3 red apples (I used macintosh), cored and sliced into wedges
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon cinammon
1/2 cup brandy
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons water
2 cups apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
To the pound of ground pheasant, add the panko bread crumbs, parsley, shredded cheese, nutmeg, milk, and beaten egg.
Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients. If the meat seems to dry, add another tablespoon of milk. If it seems to wet, add more panko.
Roll about a tablespoon of the meat mixture into balls and place on ungreased baking sheet.
Cook under broiler on high for seven minutes.
To a large skillet, add a tablespoon of cooking oil and heat over medium high heat. Add sliced onions and cook for two minutes. Add apples, rosemary, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook an additional five minutes. Apples and onions should be starting to soften.
Deglaze the pan with the brandy. Allow apples and onions to cook in brandy for two minutes.
Add apple cider and chicken stock to the pot.
In a small cup, mix together the corn starch and water. Add this to the pan and stir. Increase the heat until sauce starts to lightly boil. Allow the sauce to simmer for five minutes. It should start to thicken and become glossy.
Add meatballs to the pan and simmer in sauce for additional five minutes.
Serve meatballs, apples and onions over rice or mashed potatoes.