On first look they seem completely empty, unless a heard of antelope can be seen in the distance, but the rolling hills of blond colored grass hold my attention. The crisp wind clips my exposed neck and sends a chill down my spine. Each blade of grass swaying in the wind can be the beginning of a flush. I fight to remain focused – the dog has frozen in place. It is clear that the conviction of the pup means that a hun is near. She has done her job, now it is my job to shoot it.
Waffles is a Britney Spaniel that is more pet than bird dog. She has developed that sausage look of an overfed and slightly lazy house dog. But after an hour or so in the field she comes alive. Her inner DNA reminds her about her purpose. The puppy disappears and the hunter locks in and that is the dog that is on point in front of me. My buddy Mac beams as we approach her holding a firm point on the birds.
“Gett’em up!” Mac yells. Waffles breaks her hold and bounds into the bunch grass. A small flock of huns break into the wind. Mac and I both trigger off a shot and a pair of the birds fall. At this point the day is a success – any more birds, rabbits or fun is just gravy.
Huns, or Hungarian Partridges, can be a frustrating bird to hunt. They are both abundant and scarce. They both flush near and far. They can be in small groups or giant flocks. This is why my buddy Hank considers them his nemesis bird. As their name would imply the birds are of European origin. They were brought over to the States as early as the 1790’s according to the Autobahn Society. Most of the birds like agriculture fields or ground that abuts them. However a rolling grassland will work just find for habitat.
When a hun is in hand the magic really begins. A single hun will be about enough for one person. Two is a little much. That said they are a white meat that is akin to pheasant or chicken in the kitchen. Basically they are culinary gold.
Brick Cooked and Spatchcocked Hun
I was working in a French/ Latino inspired fusion restaurant (it was the 00’s – everything was fusion) when I first learned about “spatchcocking” and “bricking” a bird. We would get in small broiler chickens and take a pair of tin snips and remove the backbone. Then we would lay the birds flat and smoke them over alder and use a jalapeno apricot jelly on top for some sweet-heat. The flavors were over the top and delicious but I mostly remember how convenient cutting the backbone out of the bird was.
According to some massive research effort – that means I googled some stuff – spatchcocking means “an abbreviation of ‘dispatch the cock,’ a phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat.” Alan Davidson explains in The Oxford Companion to Food. Davidson thinks that the term comes from Ireland but the term is used all over the world. The phonetics are hard to pin down. That said Davidson noticed the first cookbook usage in the 18th century in Ireland.
Spatchcocking is not only really cool looking it helps make cooking quicker as well. With game birds it really helps to keep them “one pan wonders”. Basically you can cook a spatchcocked bird in one pan and it will be great. I have used this technique on quail, huns, chukar, grouse and even a pheasant or two. It works really well when combined with a brick…no really.
“Brickng” is a really technical term for setting something heavy on top of an item in a sauté pan. Often the heavy item is a tinfoil wrapped brick. The idea with “brick cooking” is to increase the surface area of the item in the sauté pan and not let the item “shrink” onto itself. Then with some careful heat control you can get super crispy skin and incredible caramelization.
With this recipe I spatchcoked the Hun and then brick cooked him on the stove top. Then I topped him with a bit of huckleberry honey butter (game meat needs fat) and then a side salad. The result was delicious. Enjoy the recipe.
Huckleberry Honey Butter
1 cup butter, softened
¼ huckleberry preserves (store bought is fine, other flavors like blackberry are fine too)
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of salt
Optional – ½ diced jalapeno
When the butter is at room temperature add to a mixer. Add the preserves, honey and salt. Whip the mixture until the preserves are incorporated. Reserve and refrigerate. This will last a month in the fridge.
2 each huns
1 lemon, sliced thin
2 T butter
Salt and Pepper
Pluck each hun. Remove as many feathers and pin feathers as you can. Then, using a lighter or blow torch, burn off the pin feathers off the bird. Rinse under cold water.
Next take a pair of scissors and insert them, through the birds mono-hole on one side of the backbone (see picture 1). Clip upwards toward the neck. Next cut up the other side of the bird (see picture 2). No need to gut the birds, the insides will be easily removed when the backbone is gone. When the bird is split and the guts removed (save the heart, liver and gizzard if you want. They make a great dirty rice) wash the insides well. Then “keel” the bird by splitting it down the breastbone just enough to crack and let it allow to go flat. (see picture 3)
Tuck the legs under themselves and then pat the bird dry (picture 4). The bird is now ready for the pan.
Cooking the Hun
Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan on medium low for five minutes. Add the butter to the pan. Let melt. Season the bird with salt and pepper. Place the spatchcocked hun skin side down in the pan. It should sizzle but not loudly. Next place a slice of the lemon in the exposed side of the bird. Then place a “brick” on top of the bird. (Another good way to do this is use an additional sauté pan with some canned food inside the pan for weight, honestly I use a foil wrapped rock)
The “brick” will flatten out the meat. Let cook on medium low for about 10 minutes. Don’t let it burn but you want a deep brown color and crispy skin. After 10 minutes flip the bird and cook for an additional 3 minutes without the weight.
Remove the bird from the pan and let rest for 2 minutes then serve with a small scoop of the huckleberry honey butter. Enjoy!