Pheasant Soup

Hot Ginger Pheasant Soup

It‘s time for another pheasant recipe. This pheasant soup recipe sounds a bit like a scavenger hunt.  But relax.  It’s as versatile as you need it to be.  For instance: if you don’t have chicken soup base, use an equal amount of low-sodium chicken broth.  If you can’t get the lemon grass stalks, the zest (or yellow part of the rind) of half a lemon is a pretty good substitute.  And don’t worry if you don’t own a zester.  It’s a lot easier to just peel the lemon with a potato peeler.  But use a light touch.  All you want is the intensely flavored, and microscopically thin yellow layer of the rind: that’s where the rich lemony oils are.   Oh, one more note: if you double or triple the recipe, be sure to double and triple everything, including the ginger and lemon grass.

This recipe is from The Upland Gamebird Cookery book, which has 100 game bird recipes for all the upland birds we hunt, from pheasant and forest grouse, chukar to quail, and those problem children–woodcock, sage and sharptail grouse

Before we get to the pheasant soup recipe, though, let’s talk about breasting upland game birds. (FYI: It’s exactly like breasting geese and ducks.)

Breasting pheasants:  Years ago, my sister, a City Girl, was raising alpacas so she could take their wool, spin, and knit with it.  Apparently along the way, she discovered that alpacas could become insect infested, and that guinea fowl would eat those pesky insects, protecting her wool.   So, where is this going? Well, I got a call at 6am Christmas morning, one of those years.  No hello, no Merry Christmas. Just ‘There’s a dead guinea fowl. Benji wants to eat it.  What do I do.’  (Benji is my nephew, a teen at the time.)

I thought for a minute. My sister wasn’t eating meat at that time, and if she ever would, she’d buy it at the Winn Dixie, in a tightly wrapped cellophane package.And Benji didn’t hunt. I’d have to make it simple. (And there was no Zoom, FaceTime, etc.)

“Pull the skin off, and feathers. Cut off everything that’s soft; leave everything that’s hard.  Rinse with cold water, until it runs absolutely clear.”

“Oh. Merry Christmas.”

Except for the skinning part, I’d say the same today.  The skin has a bit of fat and some flavor so if the birds’ pretty undamaged, I do like to leave it on, even if I part the bird out.

So let’s get back to breasting.  It’s easy. You take off all the soft stuff, leave the hard stuff, and then rinse with cold water until it runs clear.

Starting with the bird breast up, and head away from you, feel for the breast bone which runs in an arc right down the middle of the bird’s chest.  Using a sharp paring knife, or boning knife, feel for one side of the breast bone and insert the knife straight down, keeping it pressed against that side of the breast bone. .

Insert an index finger in that slit, and press the flesh away from the bone as you continue to cut along the top of the breastbone to the hip.  The hip bone is rather square here, So turn your knife at a 90 degree angle, and scrape along the hip bone to separate the flesh. Lift that tag of meat up, and continue to separate meat from bone up the rib cage. The breast bone and rib cage form an L-shaped corner, with the rib cage sloping down from the breastbone gradually as you go forward, so that’s the way your knife needs to go, pressed against the rib cage.

Once you get to the wishbone area, fillet the wishbone off the carcass, and lift the breast meat, as you continue to slide the knife along the bone. Free it from the carcass at the shoulder.  Some people don’t take the breastbone off, but if you are looking to cook a complete breast, rather than chunks, you’ll lose the piece of breast meat that the wishbone straddles.

Done.  Now do the other side, and rinse.  Dry with paper towels and set the two pieces on a plate, wrapped in dry paper towels so that moisture doesn’t dilute the sauce.

PS: In case you’re wondering, my sister says a male owl killed the guinea fowl and flew off with its head as a mating offering to his sweetie.  She says that’s what the local game warden told her when she called him that Christmas morning at 6:30 am.  Like I said, a City Girl.

Need photos on breasting pheasants and other birds? Upland Gamebird Cookery has lots.

Hot Ginger Pheasant Soup Recipe

Serves 2-4

Have you ever reached for a glass of water when you ate something too hot and found it did absolutely nothing to put out the fire?   That’s why there’s cream in this recipe. Yes, it’s spicy.  Cream–actually anything dairy– is much more effective at curing the burn of chilies and other hot foods.   That’s probably why you see a lot of sour cream in Mexican dishes, and cream in some Thai food.

If you like hot foods, omit the cream.   If, however, you’re like me and have overactive taste buds, 1-2 tablespoons of cream will be enough to let you taste the full range of flavors in this delicious soup, without having to put up with the fire.

What else cures the heat? A bit of sugar. As little as ¼ teaspoon in a glass of water. FYI: that’s about how much sugar is in those little white packets at restaurants. So if you’re lactose intolerant, or get surprised at a restaurant, you can sip a bit of sugar water to quell the fire.

Pheasant Soup Ingredients

4 cups hot water

4 teaspoons chicken soup base

4 stalks lemon grass

2” cube of fresh ginger, sliced thin

1 diced serrano chili, seeded

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

8 ounces diced pheasant breast meat

2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

Cooking The Pheasant Soup

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, soup base, lemon grass, and ginger.   Bring to a rolling boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes.   Remove from heat, and when the pot is cool enough to handle, pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl.   Toss the chunks of ginger and lemon grass and return the broth to the saucepan.
  2. Bring the heat back up to medium high, and add the serrano chili, red bell pepper, and diced pheasant.   When the soup comes back to a slow boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook about 15 minutes more.   Add the cream just before serving.
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