Simply Scrumptious Pheasant Recipe – with the simplest marinade
From Tenderize the Wild: Marinades, Brines and Rubs for Wild Game
Don’t look at the ingredients yet. Let’s talk about the one-ingredient marinating-marvel of a melon. When I first started thinking of Tenderize the Wild, the fourth thing I did was look up comparative pH levels of common foods, especially foods that were on the acidic side of the list. That’s 0ne thing you need for marinating: acid. Vinegar, of course is a very powerful acid/marinator, which is why bottled salad dressings are so often used as marinades. But a marinade book that uses salad dressings is a very short book. (Kind of like a movie where The Hero dies in the first scene. Cut, wrap, print. Four minutes. Never gonna happen.)
So I started experimenting with the list. We already used oranges (7 being neutral, orange juice is an acidic 3), buttermilk, dry rubs with salt, homemade salad dressings (my favorite being balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper), and soy sauce, but there were a lot more possibilities. Fresh pineapple was way too powerful, canned juice was good. But in the fruit section I was intrigued with the melons, (a mildly acidic 6.4). Canteloupe lived up to its nickname of musk melon, a flavor hunters would not want to add to their wild game, but honey dew was a whole other thing. With a low acidic level I didn’t expect much, but it was a gentle, slow moving, but very effective 48-72 hour marinade and added a delicate but definite fresh flavor—like the crisp freshness of a cucumber and, like cucumber, didn’t conflict with the other flavors, but complimented them.
So let’s talk about the other flavors. Gremolata is another Italian condiment (a sister-sauce of basil pesto) of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. A cheap ‘zester’ makes that part easy and garlic and parsley reduce very easily in a mini-grinder. (One cup of whole parsley will give you ½ cup of minced. And you can make Gremolata 2-3 days ahead. And you can use a potato peeler for the zesting: just don’t scrape so deeply that you get the bitter white pulp. Just the very thin and flavorful yellow rind.)
‘Milano?’ That just means a tomato sauce with heavy cream. So make the dish, plate it up with a dollop of gremolata. This pheasant recipe is absolutely wonderful! (And of course any pale-meated bird works for this pheasant recipe, from forest grouse to Hungarians, quail and chukar.)
So, I suppose you want to know what the first three things I did before writing Tenderize the Wild were: First I protested, loudly, that we never marinate our game meat. Second I pawed through all my recipe notebooks and sticky-noted every marinade, brine and rub we’d tried and liked. Third, I ate my words. While John does like to hunt trophy mule deer which often need help, mostly we used the marinades, brines and rubs to enhance already good game meat. But there it was: we had 35 favorites. As my friend Shelley says often, That’s a pretty good start!
Honey dew has made it to the top of that favorite pheasant marinades list. A cup of honey dew chunks purees faster than you can open a bottle of commercial dressing. Give it a try with this Italian classic. It may become your new favorite pheasant recipe.
Pheasant Milano Supreme
The Marinade Ingredients
48-72 hours ahead
- 1 pheasant, parted out
- 1 cup honey dew melon chunks
Purée the honey dew melon. Put it and the pheasant meat–including drumsticks) in a re-sealable plastic bag, Chill 48-72 hours.
The Rest of the Pheasant Recipe Ingredients:
For the Gremolata
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Zest of 2 lemons
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the Dish
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 onion, chopped coarsely
- 1 red sweet bell pepper, chopped coarsely
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 3 cup cooked pasta
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the parted out pheasant from the honey dew marinade, rinse and dry with paper towels. Place on a cutting board or platter between layers of paper towels. Prepare the gremolata: Chop the parsley and garlic in a mini grinder. Add the oil, lemon zest, salt and red pepper flakes. Cover and chill. (Or prepare the gremolata ahead of time.)
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a 3-quart non-reactive Dutch oven. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the onion and red bell pepper and sauté until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Make a small space in the center of the pan, and add the minced garlic to it. Sauté until you start to smell the garlic, then mix it into the onions and peppers.
- Add the canned diced tomatoes, salt and pepper and bury the pheasant pieces in the sauce. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer, cover and put in the center of the oven. Bake about 45 minutes, until you can easily poke a sharp knife into the pheasant meat. (You don’t need to have it falling apart.)
- Remove the pheasant pieces from the pot, and arrange them on 2 to 4 plates. On the stove top over medium heat, add the cream, and stir it into the sauce until it is hot again. Add the cooked pasta to each plate next to the pheasant and spoon the tomato/cream sauce over both pasta and meat. Divide the gremolata among the plates and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.