By Jim Steiert
With fall days come high-flying harbingers of the season. Spiraling sandhill cranes trumpet their September/October arrival.
Combines flush cackling winged rainbows that are ring-necked pheasants from corn and sorghum fields.
Around Thanksgiving come elongated skeins of barking Canada and snow geese join an array of ducks in playa country.
These winged wonders bring the promise of delicious fare to grace the tables of fortunate sportsmen.
Naysayers lambast the table-worthiness of ducks, geese, and even sandhill cranes and pheasants. Folks in the know rate sandhill crane “ribeye of the sky.” Pheasant is a delicacy in many circles. And yes, ducks and geese can prove delicious. It’s all in the pre-cooking preparation, and in slow and easy cooking.
In my estimation, dark-meated ducks, geese, and cranes require thorough soaking in salt water to draw out blood that can give them an unpleasant flavor. I fillet breasts of any of these birds into moderately thick steaks and place in a bowl of water in the refrigerator for several hours, changing the water a couple of times. An overnight soak is ideal.
To prepare these dark-meated fillets, fire up the grill. While it’s heating, in a saucepan melt a half-pound of butter. Pour in a half-cup of catsup, one tablespoon of sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, one tablespoon of Worcestershire, one teaspoon of salt, ground pepper to taste, and ½ teaspoon of Tobasco. Finely dice a small onion and toss it in. Stir well, cover the saucepan and let the concoction simmer over gentle heat for five minutes.
Soaked and washed goose, crane, or duck steaks should be pounded well with a meat tenderizing hammer, then taken to the hot grill. Souse them with the sauce, and toss on the grate. Turn once. Don’t let these delicacies overcook—a little pink in the middle is perfect. I’ve had guests think they were dining on fine steak. Fresh sauce can be served with the fare.
Roast ducks, geese, or pheasant in a simple manner. I skin these birds. After thorough washing, place in a roasting pan, Stuff the cavity with diced onion and a diced sharp apple. Pin strips of bacon across the breast with toothpicks. Add water in the bottom of the roasting pan, cover, and slide in a 300 degree oven—slow and easy cooking does it. The aroma will tell you when the bird is getting right—test for doneness with a fork. Remove from the oven, separate apple and onion from the bird, pour drippings in a sauce pan and thicken with a flour and milk solution poured through a strainer to make gravy, seasoning to taste. Goes down wonderfully with mashed potatoes, cranberry, and rolls.
For pheasant nuggets fillet all of the meat off the bones into bite-sized chunks. Avoid leader-laden drumsticks. Wash pieces thoroughly.
Place flour in a plastic food bag, toss in dashes of pepper and assorted seasoning salts. Add pheasant pieces, zip the bag closed, and shake thoroughly so pheasant is well covered in seasoned flour.
Heat cooking oil in a frying pan. Scatter pheasant pieces in the hot cooking oil and let fry—not too long, not too fast, or too hot. Turning fork “feel” and “taste testing” say when nuggets are ready. Take up pheasant pieces, pour off excess oil, leaving just enough in the pan along with cracklings to make gravy. Two tablespoons of flour for every cup of milk is about right—one tablespoon for thinner gravy. Brown the flour, shoving it around with a spatula, then pour in the milk and stir thoroughly and constantly until the elixir comes to a boil. Ladle over biscuits and mashed potatoes alongside your pheasant pieces.
Treats from Nature all.