Harvest Kitchen Series: Jalapeño Dove Poppers
Editor’s note: 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.
Labor Day weekend serves as the unofficial launch of fall for many people, and the arrival of dove season further validates that point. Even with sweat dripping from the brow and temps exceeding 80-degrees, there’s a reassuring notion that nights will soon begin to cool, and several months of hunting bliss have transformed from a distant yearning to a present state of being.
That’s why I was elated when a local farmer gave me the greenlight to stake out his corn and bean fields for the migratory game birds earlier this month. Though it was warmer than normal, it felt like a breath of fresh air to sit on a bucket, take in the sights and sounds of the outdoors, and just soak it all in knowing I was finally out hunting again.
While I wish I could say I hit every bird I shot at, that’s simply not the case. But there was one dove that played it so perfectly, I must mention it.
I had just gotten done switching from 7-shot to smaller 8-shot, figuring the extra pellets in the shells certainly can’t hurt my shooting percentage, when I looked across the field and spotted the steady dart of a mourning dove flying in the distance.
It initially was crossing the soybeans west to east but seemingly spotted the spinning wings of my motion decoy I had placed in the field along with four stationary dekes on a dead tree branch. The bird turned and decided to make a beeline for my position, coming straight at me while I tucked the brim of my hat downward and tried to melt into the weeds and cornstalks behind me.
Just as the dove reached shooting range, it cornered hard into the wind and began to back flap as though it was ready to pitch down with my decoys. The swing of my 20-gauge beat him to it and dropped the nice-looking bird in a lush row of late beans below.
Since doves are such small game birds, and their season opener coincides so well with the ripening of jalapeños in my backyard garden, they really lend themselves to throwing together some zesty poppers on the grill.
I breasted out the dove meat and salt-water soaked then rinsed and marinated the breasts in Italian dressing for a day each. Then, I sauteed the marinated breasts in butter, being sure to brown them on all sides, while I split and removed the seeds from some fresh red jalapeño peppers.
I stuffed shredded cheddar cheese into the open cavity of the pepper halves, then layered the browned breast on top and wrapped each morsel with a half slice of bacon, carefully skewering the bacon to the meat, cheese, and pepper with a pre soaked toothpick.
This then went on the grill over low to medium heat and was flipped several times until the bacon was evenly cooked on all sides. I tried to pay no heed to the live mourning dove cooing on the powerline behind me while I grilled his long-lost cousins.
The Table Takeaway
These poppers turned out crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, while the gooey cheese blended nicely with the punch of the peppers. I served them with a ranch dipping sauce to further temper the heat and saltiness of the bacon.
They went great with a side of baked beans and creamy potato salad and were washed down with a crisp Coors Golden Banquet in a nostalgic stubby bottle, serving as a goodbye toast to a summer well-lived. Now, I’m ready for fall.