Let’s face it, there’s only so many times you can wrap something in bacon and stuff it into a jalapeño before your family and friends stop coming over for dinner. Fortunately, one of my favorite parts of hunting has always been finding better ways to cook wild game, and today I’m going to share my secret to frying wild birds. (I actually use this recipe for frying any wild game that makes its way into my freezer, it’s that good.)
There are two keys to this recipe—dry brining your bird and a lot of clarified butter. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 4-6 Pheasant Breasts (or two to three whole pheasants, chukars, or quail)
- 2 tsp of salt
- 1 tbsp of garlic powder
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/4th tsp cumin (either high oil or fresh ground)
- 1/4th tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 cup of white flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups of breadcrumbs
- 1 cup of clarified butter
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp of powdered mushroom or 1/4 cup of finely chopped crimini mushrooms
- More salt
- Some black pepper
For the dry brine, mix together your salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne, and thyme into an empty shaker or bowl. Once you’ve got that mixed together, coat your bird in a liberal dusting of the rub and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, ideally overnight. When I make this recipe, I typically dry brine the entire bird and then break down the breasts for frying and keep the thighs and carcass for a soup, but you’re welcome to fry whatever you want. After all, it’s your kitchen.
Once you’re done brining, break down your bird and use a meat tenderizer (or the bottom of a skillet or sauce pan, in a pinch) to pound the breasts to about a 3/8 inch thickness. The goal here is to have the whole breast be about as thick as a pencil so it cooks through before the breading starts to burn. Dust the breasts with a little more of the rub and now you’re ready to prepare them for frying.
For the next step, you’re going to need three wide, shallow, bowls: one for the flour, one for the eggs, and one for the breadcrumbs. Crack your two eggs into your chosen egg bowl and whisk the heck out of them with a fork, boot-knife, or whatever whisk-like item you happen to have on hand. Then, dredge the breasts in flour, followed by the egg wash, and finally the breadcrumbs. Assuming nothing crazy has happened, you ought to end up with something that looks like this:
Set those off to the side for a few minutes, and heat up your cup of clarified butter in a large frying pan. By the time the butter is hot, the breading on your breasts should be set and ready to fry. You’ll want to fry them for about 3-minutes on each side until the breading is a nice, dark, golden brown.
Once you’re finished frying the breast (and whatever else you’re going to fry), set the meat out to rest on a paper towel and cover lightly with foil. While your meat is resting, it’s time to whip up some gravy.
I like to keep my gravy incredible simple and let the copious amounts of butter and cream speak for themselves. Toss a few tablespoons of the clarified butter you just used to fry your pheasant into a sauce pan on medium-high heat. Add in your minced garlic and mushrooms and stir for a minute or two, then add the cup of cream. Stir your sauce for another 5 minutes until it starts to thicken. When it gets thick enough to go from “sauce” to “gravy,” turn off the heat, season it with salt and pepper to taste and serve over your fried pheasant.
For a healthier alternative to gravy, you can also try pairing this with a good German mustard and some capers.
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