Wild Game Appetizers - Quail Empanadas

Two Wild Game Appetizers for this Merry December Week

It’s that partying time of year and I’m feeling it.  Yes, we’re making chilies and venison steaks with Portobello mushrooms in the cast iron skillet, but many nights we’re treating ourselves to an appet-inner.  Wild game appetizers, for dinner, in other words. Or taking the appetizers to the local brewery to share with friends.  These empanadas can be made with any kind of pale-meated birds you have around but could also with a mild tasting wild pig.  It’s just one of many upland gamebird recipes in the Upland Game Bird Cookery book I wrote a few years ago for Ducks Unlimited. Among the 100 upland bird recipes in that book are more appetizers, including a Turkey Nugget recipe –dredged and deep fried turkey strips with two dipping sauces: one a Tex-Mex and the other a lemon/horseradish combo.  

On the other hand, there’s the chopped liver. My parents were from New York City, and whenever I’m anywhere near a true Kosher deli, I’m looking for the chopped liver.  Traditionally made with chicken livers, wild game livers make a very good appetizer too.  And for those who hate fried liver and onion (like me) let me just say chopped liver is nothing like hot liver. It is much more tender and juicier, plus you can make it ahead of time, keep it chilled and, when friends drop in unannounced, you’re ready.  Just scroll down.  The empanadas are first, then the chopped liver.  

PS:  The chopped liver appeared in Outdoor News a couple of years ago.  If you live where Outdoor News is available, I do a cooking column there 4 times a year.  I’ll be in it again this February, April, June and September.  My hand-held quesadilla is on their web site right now.  https://www.outdoornews.com/

Wild Game Appetizer #1: Upland Empanadas

Makes 48 appetizers

A delicate filling, deep fried, then topped in a tasty sour cream dip.   A meal in itself, or party food.   I wrote this originally for quail, but any pale-meated bird will do—wild turkey to pheasant to the aforesaid quail.  And if you don’t have leftover cooked meat, slice up about 6 ounces (1 cup) of breast meat, then lightly sauté in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, for about 4-5 minutes.  Stir as it sautés, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper as it finishes.  Turn the sautéed meat out onto paper towels, cool, and then chop.    

As for a dipping sauce, salsa is really good, but the sour cream-based Tex-Mex sauce below is pretty easy too and who doesn’t love sour cream?  


For the empanadas

  • 2 cups shredded cooked pale upland meat
  • 1 cup fresh tomato salsa
  • 12 sheets egg roll wrappers
  • 1 egg white
  • For the dip
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon green pepper Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1.   In a small bowl, combine the shredded breast meat and the salsa.  Stir and set aside.   In a second small bowl, combine the dip ingredients: sour cream, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, green Tabasco sauce, salt, and set that aside, too.   Now preheat your deep fat fryer to 350 to 375F.   (A Fry Daddy works well, but maybe you have an air fryer.) 
  2.   Lay out the egg roll wrappers on a cutting board, and cut in half, then half again so you have four 3-inch squares.    Lay a teaspoon of the salsa mixture into the middle of the square, wipe the edges with egg white, and fold the wrapper over to seal.   Once you get a few made, you can start frying the empanadas 2 to 3 at a time.   Fry until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each.      
  3.   Serve with the chili dip or fresh salsa.   

*For a baked Empanada: Place the empanadas on a lightly oiled baking sheet in a 400F oven for 8 minutes, turning once.   Then, instead of the sour cream dip, serve the empanadas with more fresh salsa.   


Wild Game Appetizer #2: Two Bit Chopped Liver

Makes 2 cups 

The only trick in making this simple, 4-ingredient, never-fail recipe is to double-soak the liver–starting immediately after the kill.  The water leeches excess blood from the organ and makes the liver taste much milder.  


  • 1 pound (1/2 kg) liver
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves


As soon as possible after the kill, rinse the liver of all dirt, errant leaves or twigs and anything else not actually the liver.  Place the liver in enough cold water to cover, and soak it overnight in the refrigerator. (If you’re camping in the woods, put it in a resealable plastic bag with fresh cold water, and place it in an ice-filled cooler.) The next day, pour off the water, rinse the liver, and soak it again overnight, in the fridge or ice-filled cooler.  After the second soak, remove it from the soak water, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. It’s now ready to cook.  


  1. Slice the liver into strips 1/2 inch thick.  In a medium sized saucepan, sauté the liver in the butter over medium-low heat until it’s just pink in the middle.  Don’t overcook it. It will taste like liver. (Yes, that’s a joke. But don’t overcook it.)  
  2. Remove the liver from the pan and let it cool.  Sauté the onion and garlic in the same pan over low heat until soft.  (Add more butter to the pan if the liver soaked all the original butter up.)
  3. Run the meat and onion/garlic mixture through a meat grinder, chill and serve with crackers or cocktail rye bread.  (Use a food processor if that’s all you have, but a grinder gives it better texture.)
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