Tuesday, October 7, 2008

harvest your own free range, organic, heirloom chickens

As a stomach driven individual, one of the more fulfilling ways to eat is to participate in each step of the process: harvest, preparation, and cooking. Gardeners know this. Mushroom foragers know this. And yes, hunters know this. I'm saddened by the tension that often exists between people who selectively harvest wild raspberries, and the people who selectively harvest the birds that eat those berries. Hunting is one of my passions, as it's an excellent way to spend time with friends/family, get some exercise, and possibly procure some delicious table fare.

In my home state, Minnesota, we have a plentiful (yet shrinking) amount of wild, open space that supports a massive amount of edible plants and animals. For those of you not familiar with the ruffed grouse, it's basically a wild chicken that lives in new growth forests in the northern United States and Canada. Like other chicken-type birds, ruffed grouse obtain most of their food by searching the forest floor for berries, nuts, tree buds, clover, and other tasty bits. Because they spend the majority of their day on the ground (rather than in the air), their meat and flavor resembles that of a free range, domesticated chicken - white and juicy.

For a long time, Europeans and Americans have understood and respected the utilization of wild food sources, but as lifestyles continue to shift away from local food sources, the perceived importance of ethical, sustainable, hunting practices is waning. This is not to say we should all build our own sod huts and eat only what we kill; rather, it's a matter of revisiting concepts like hunting as part of a broader, sustainable eating culture and philosophy.

To further pique your interest, here's a recipe for the next grouse you procure (either through the sights of your 20 gauge, or the freezer of a friend).


  • one whole grouse (plucked*, with feet and head removed)
  • 2 tbsp high quality butter (softened)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bottle of bold, mildly expensive red wine (how many grouse do you shoot?)
  • one small shallot, minced
A note about plucking wild game: Many people think it's a huge hassle to pluck their game birds, so they skin them. Don't follow their advice - when you remove the skin prior to cooking, you remove the fat (the flavor!) and expose the normally juicy meat to intense heat. Plucking is easy work if you plan ahead. Once the bird is shot, field dress it normally, and find a cool, dark, sheltered location, such as a root cellar, basement, garage, shed, or old refrigerator. Using a piece of string, hang the bird by its feet and let age for 24-36 hours. The secret is simple: soon after the bird is shot, it cools and rigor mortis stiffens the birds muscles, including those that hold the feathers in. By aging the bird, the muscles loosen again, and they can be pulled out with ease. Don't whine. Just trust me.

  1. preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. wash and dry the bird and make sure you've removed any remaining shot (tweezers work well)
  3. smear one tablespoon of the butter all over the bird (inside and out); repeat with the salt and pepper
  4. find a small, heavy bottomed, ovenproof sauce pan or skillet that will hold the bird(s), heat it over medium/high flame, and add the olive oil
  5. once the oil is hot, sear the bird on all sides using a tongs - should be golden brown when you're done (4-6 minutes)
  6. put the pan in the oven and roast for 15-30 minutes (until internal temparature reaches 150 degrees - this is wild game, not some sickly factory bird, so don't worry)
  7. once the bird is ready, put it on a small serving plate and loosely cover with foil
  8. put the pan back on the stove and toss in the minced shallot, saute over low heat for 1 minute (don't burn the f'in shallots!)
  9. add 1/4 cup of the red wine and reduce until the remaining liquid has thickened and resembles a light syrup.
  10. off heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter. then carve the bird and drizzle with the sauce.
  11. pour and drink the remaining wine with elegant-yet-woodsy confidence.
*serves 1 tired, accomplished hunter, or two normal people (as a first course)


Matt said...

Excellent recipe! It makes me squeamish and hungry at the same time. You do the dressin', I'll do the eatin' and the praisin' your mad survival skills.

Housekeepers said...

Thanks, Matt. Can I hang some birds at your house? Sadly, if I had to survive on grouse I'd weight 86 lbs and die in about a week, since it usually takes about 5 miles of walking per bird shot. A delicacy indeed.

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