Harvest Kitchen Series: Game Bird Stir Fry
Like most readers, I’m not a master chef — just a guy who loves to hunt, fish, and eat what he harvests. If success afield and family schedule allows, this series will highlight a new game or fish dish each month. I’ll cover all the details from take to table, and everyone will benefit with a collection of easy, everyday meals harvested from nature’s pantry and celebrated in the home kitchen.
Once the die-hard nature of deer season settles down, my older brother Travis and I love to get our bird dogs out for some late-winter wing shooting on the weekends with our good pal Clint. The three of us split the cost of 100-plus birds at a private upland club close to our homes this year and spread that out over several weeks of bookings.
At age 11, I figured I ought to get my Springer-Setter hybrid Cali out for some bird hunting as often as possible while she can still do it, and my brother’s Hungarian Vizsla Hazel was equally ecstatic for the chance to point planted birds on a more regular basis. The steady action keeps our shotgun skills dialed in, it’s a good way to pass the slow winter months, and the dogs absolutely love it.
Hazel and Cali hunt with entirely different styles. Strategic and steady to point, Hazel works the wind perimeters and creeps along with meticulous precision, waiting for the hunter to flush the birds once found and fetching them immediately thereafter.
Cali bounds along in zig zagging fashion, making eye contact with me often and heeding directional commands. When she finds a bird, her tail sweeps low until we close the distance, then she flushes it for us, pouncing on the downed bird with playful zeal.
They make a great team, both with different tendencies, but reliable abilities. And they usually yield to each other, backing the point or assisting in the retrieve. It’s rare that we don’t find all the chukar and quail put out on a given day, which if our aim holds true, we are fortunate to divide equally on a tailgate at the end of the day’s hunt.
Chukar and quail are similar in flavor and texture, with the quail being a slightly smaller and thinner-skinned species — albeit quicker and more elusive in flight. Both are easy to clean by piercing the skin near the breast plate and peeling it back to reveal the lean breast and thigh meat within.
Occasionally I will dress the birds and cook them whole, but for this dish, I simply cut out the breasts and chunkier thigh meat, rinsed it thoroughly, and sliced it into thin strips, being careful to cut away any shot up meat, fat, or ligaments — just as I would with pheasant, grouse, dove or woodcock.
These slivers of upland poultry were then placed in a teriyaki marinade with a couple shakes of black pepper and minced garlic and sealed in a Ziploc bag with air removed. I gave the marinade two days to set in the refrigerator and then into the freezer it went until we were ready to use it.
On a busy weekday when we were ready for a quick and easy meal, I pulled the bag of pre-marinated game bird strips from the freezer before heading to work. While I tinkered around the yard tapping maple trees with my son later that evening, my wife dug out the big wok we keep in a drawer beneath our stove.
She doused the metal pan with olive oil and browned the meat on both sides. Then she poured in a drained can each of diced mushrooms, baby corn, water chestnuts and bamboo strips, as well as a bag of stir fry greens from the grocery store, which included broccoli, bok-choy, carrots, green cabbage, and Brussel sprouts in a ginger garlic sauce. A quick teriyaki flavored rice side simmering on the stove completed the dish.
The Table Takeaway
This meal was excellent. We mixed the rice and the stir fry together to make a bowl of Asian-inspired deliciousness that begged for seconds. I easily added a little heat by shaking some crushed red pepper flakes onto my serving, while my wife went for the milder standalone version.
Cleanup was a matter of handwashing two stovetop cook pieces and throwing our bowls and forks into the dishwasher. It was ridiculously easy for a weeknight meal but rivaled the occasional treat of sweet and savory Chinese takeout, minus the delivery fee.