Wild game makes some wild dishes

While I am not a hunter, I do understand the enjoyment hunters derive from a day in the great outdoors, especially if they end with a reward. I get the same enjoyment from time spent in the kitchen, preparing dishes that I’ve never prepared before for folks that I care about. I believe cooking is truly a labor of love.

Hunting is not on my list of hobbies but I have personally experienced the rush that comes from watching the sun rise up from the darkness and the flight of ducks as they swoop across a lake. I had such an experience with Edward Reynolds, Mark Loeffler and Rob Rosenbury back in 1981 when home form college for Christmas break. I went along to experience what duck hunting was all about.

I didn’t carry a gun but I dressed the part, right down to camo and duck shoes. Being quiet was a challenge, but keeping my head down was even harder. How could I experience this if I couldn’t see? I don’t remember who, but someone in the group kept saying, “Keep your head down, don’t let ‘em see the whites of your eyes.”

Sunrise was celebrated by a series of loud bangs from the shotguns of my friends, and in the wee hours of the morning, I watched ducks hit the water and a lab swim out to greet them. Looking back it seemed to all happen so quickly. My souvenir from the adventure was a few fine mallards which I laid out on a picnic table back at home for my family to see.

I had every intention of cleaning them myself, until my daddy advised me I would be at it all day, at the rate I was going. He suggested that I take the ducks to a Ms. Dutchess Jackson on Sims Street, who charged me one bird and one buck.

When asked to write this column/article, I began to search for great recipes — hope you enjoy this one.

Wild Rice and Duck Casserole

3 or 4 duck breasts

1/4 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups chicken broth

1 box Uncle Ben’s wild rice

1 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup green onions, sliced

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Boil the duck breasts with onion, celery, salt, pepper and garlic powder until tender. Remove from heat, allow to cool. Debone then chop duck into chunks. Strain broth and place cooked celery and onions aside. Melt butter in a saucepan until bubbly (do not allow to brown) and add chicken broth. Add rice and season packet and boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat to a simmer and add in cranberries, cover with lid and cook according to instructions on rice box. When rice is done, add green onions, parsley and duck, and the celery and onions from the broth. Mix well and spoon into an oiled casserole dish. Pour whipping cream over the top, cover and bake for 30-45 minutes. Sprinkle toasted pecans over top of casserole just before serving.

One of my all time favorite local cooks — and there are, and have been, many — was my friend Betty Jo Mills. I loved being around her when the pots were jumping. You could always count on great conversation and a lot of laughter and love being served in her kitchen. And another thing you could count on, was the finest quail, biscuit and gravy in the universe. Although I never wrote down this simple, yet delicious recipe for fried quail, this is more or less what I observed from her and have prepared over the years.

This recipe is supposed to feed four, but it never does. Word up: Cook plenty or leave your guests thinking you served them appetizers. Also, use your favorite recipe for biscuits!

Betty Jo’s Quail and Gravy

6 quail, cleaned and split in half

1/4 cup of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of pepper

oil for frying, a little more than 1/4-inch depth in the skillet

3 tablespoons of flour in separate bowl

1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water mixed together with 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Place the quail halves on paper towels and pat dry. Combine the 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, mix well with dry hands, dredge the quail in the seasoned flour mixture and add to the hot oil (a thermometer works great to ensure perfect frying temperature of 350 degrees). Cook until brown on both sides and remove from skillet, stirring well to combine. Place quail back in the skillet and add enough water to come halfway up the quail. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes or until quail is tender and gravy has thickened (spoon gravy over the quail occasionally while cooking). Grab a biscuit and dig in.

Since coming back to south Georgia, I have had the opportunity to catch up with old friends and the pleasure of also making new ones. One of my best finds has been Jane Grubbs of Eldorendo. While so many people are spending less and less time in the kitchen, these days Miss Jane spends more and more. Her love and passion for cooking is obvious to anyone who finds their feet under her table, and I am lucky to have had that opportunity on many occasions.

Not only has Miss Jane mastered the art of wild game cooking, she also loves to hunt. At this time of the year, that’s about the only way she is assured of spending time with her husband, Bobby. With a rifle standing on its end, she’s not much taller, but she can handle whatever crosses her path. And that’s good, because the men in her life are going to push, pull and drag many things into her kitchen during hunting season.

Miss Jane’s venison techniques

When cooking venison, she uses only “back strap and the man.” Cutting the meat properly is critical — “always cut across the grain of the meat.” She slices the venison into strips, about half an inch thick, adds salt and pepper and tenderizer. Next, she covers the meat in buttermilk, allows the excess to drip off, and then rolls it in flour and fries it until it is golden brown. She then uses enough oil to cover the venison strips. Use this method to prepare wild turkey breast, quail, duck and other fowl.

Let’s eat!

Comments are closed.