Spring ’13 Turkey Hunt/Food

Sometimes luck is with you. That was the case opening weekend of turkey season for me in Idaho. I am rarely in Northern Sections of my own state and decided that I could not miss opening day of turkey hunting no matter were I was.

That said, the populations of the thunder chickens in the northern stretches of Idaho are much greater than the southern half. I was in Couer d’Alene for the Western States American Culinary Federation annual meeting. It is an idyllic setting.

I made my way over to Post Falls, thanks to the father of a good friend named Sara, and found some public land to hunt. Rolled in the night before, heard a gobble and strolled out. Shot a tom the next morning with my fellow chef friend Jason Jones, Sous Chef at Bella Aquila in Eagle Idaho. The tom is the best turkey, trophy wise, that I have ever taken.

The next morning I was three hours south and hunting with my cousin in law Wally from IDA GLOW Antlers. He put me on a quartet of jakes; one of them filled tag number two.

I have two recipes up on the site for turkey as well.  Check them out, I will  have more soon.

This past year was, by far, the best turkey season I have ever had, tagged out in two days.  I took some pics while I was out and hope you all enjoy!

Korned Goose!

Goose HunterI was lucky to have even been in this cold, snow covered goose blind, or so I kept telling myself. My right boot had a hole in it and I was freezing my toes off. But I had accepted the late night phone call inviting me. Apparently the “normal” guy was out of town and the three man blind had an opening. I had been on the short list for this blind for several years, but had never managed to get in.
The morning started with setting out the decoys and fixing the blind. Our spread is good, about 100 decoys total. All of them facing into the wind and we even have an empty section of the spread for the “kill zone”. I was instructed not to “look up” at the geese as the captain was calling them in. I had always watched my game before, this was weird, I had to simply trust that that goose could be shot when I was told. The suspense was unbelievable.
But this last flock of geese over my head where smart. They can see something about our decoy set up and don’t like it. Maybe they know that we have the bodies of there dead brethren hidden under the hard plastic decoys. Maybe it is the slight skiff of snow that has formed; snow doesn’t stick to the back of real geese. Maybe it is all the human sized foot prints in the snow. They start to circle around but are not committing to the landing. I am having a hard time not looking right at the geese, revealing my face and blowing the cover. I can hear the wing flaps and the honking but force myself to look at my boots. Oddly, I am not cold anymore.
One goose finally locks up to come in for a landing causing a chain reaction among them all. When the honkers reach about 30 yards out I hear “blast-em” from my left side. I jump up and shoot the goose that is farthest to the right, keeping in my shooting lane in mind.
Two geese fall on that volley and it is time to pack up. Its only 10am. We shot a total of ten geese between the three of us. My father in law has limited out having shot four birds and I am going home with three for myself. It was a good morning. I got back in time to watch SpongeBob with the boys and even cook a little breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast, wild game tends to be overlooked for this meal period. It is a shame since most game meat packs more protein per ounce than the commonly consumed pig. Getting a good dose of protein in the morning is a great way to keep focused and healthy. With that I mind one of my favorite breakfasts is a corned beef hash. Cured beef simmered in spices, salt and sugar and served with roasted potatoes. Two eggs on top and nothin’ is better. Filling and a large amount of protein.
However it was only in the past year that I was given a recipe for corning wild game. Remarkably it was very similar to my beef recipe. Well, duh. Anyway, I started with a venison roast and moved onto smaller cuts. Eventually I landed on goose meat. It was a perfect fit.
But for a lot of hunters goose is a tuff nut to crack. Like duck it often ends up in the smoker as jerky. I know why, it has a very gamey taste. I like the taste but understand how it can a little over the top for some palates. An easy way to cure the gamey-ness from goose is to “corn” it. Basically the brine cures the meat and changes the flavor and texture to that of the brine. Not a bad idea for those who don’t want to waste the birds they shot.
To corn the goose I use the McCormick’s pickling spice mix. While purist might call this cheating I find it a heck of a lot easier to adjust a pre-done mix than keep fresh stocks of all the different seasonings that go into corned meat. To be honest the package has a decent recipe for corned beef on it. However, the flavor does not penetrate the meat as well as it could without a curing time.
To cure the goose meat I remove the breasts and reserve the leg meat. I cure only the breasts because they are easier to slice and I do not have to remove the bones. This recipe will work for whatever type of meat that you want to cure. I never simply trash goose legs, they are tasty and it is against most states wanton waste laws to toss the meat.Korned Goose Hash

Recipe – Corned Goose

2 quarts water
1 cup salt, I use kosher
½ cup sugar
1 ounce Speed Cure (Prague Powder or Insta Cure #1 work the same)
3 tablespoons pickling spices

Six goose breasts, or up to one five pound roast

1 large potato per pound of meat, ½ inch cubes
1 medium onion per pound of meat, diced
Fresh sage
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Red chili flakes

Bring the salt, sugar, speed cure and pickling spices to a boil. The boiling of the spices will release the oils and flavors that might not otherwise fully develop.
The next step is to cool the brine to room temperature. If meat is added to the hot liquid it will start to cook and that can mess up the curing process. Not being one who likes to wait I have developed several methods of cooling the brine quickly after bringing it to a boil. An easy way is to simply cut the water amount in half that is brought to a boil and then add the remaining amount required in the form of ice at the end. So in this case I ask for 2qts of water. Bring one quart of water to a boil and then at the end add one quart of ice (32oz of ice, measure by weight not by volume on ice).
The method that I use a lot is the ice wand cooling. I have a frozen gel pack that I have vacuum sealed that I toss into brine. The ice pack drops the temperature very quickly and I don’t have to recalculate recipes. The icepack works well with soups and stocks as well. Make sure to vacuum seal it very well, no need to have any of that funky blue liquid in those packs in the brine! When I am done cooling the brine I simply rinse off the plastic and return it to the freezer, easy.
Next place the meat in the room temperature brine and place brine in the fridge, covered. For a venison roast, 5 pounds or so, it takes 5-7 days to cure. For a goose breast, about 1 pound each, it only takes 2 days. So all things equal cure for a minimum of 2 days and then add one day per pound of meat. This is a rough estimate of time needed. Adjust as your own to your taste.
When the meat is cured I rinse it off and let it air dry on a rack. Then I add it to a vacuum bag with a little butter and seal it closed.

Brined and Ready for Sous Vide

Next I place the vacuum packed meat into a crock-pot on low for about 24 hours. The low temperature cooks the meat gently and the yield is typically higher than if the meat is simply boiled.
When the meat is cooked, it should be nice and tender. Cool it down in the bag. This will allow some of the juices to reabsorb into the meat. When cool dice or slice the meat as you see fit.
Next brown the onions in a cast iron skillet with a little oil. Then add the cubed potatoes. Simmer the mix for 15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Then add the corned meat and heat. Toss in the fresh thyme and fresh sage. Season with salt a pepper. Add a little heat with a teaspoon of red chili flakes.
Serve with two eggs. This is a little slice of corned goose heaven.
This recipe also makes great meat for Ruben sandwiches. Also, feel free to simmer the goose with some more pickling spice, potatoes, carrots and cabbage for the Irish classic corned goose and cabbage.

Arm-Chair Quail Hunters

The other boat on the water had been playing hop-scotch with us all day long. My buddy Ryan and I would pull onto a small riparian bar along the Snake River to hunt quail; they would motor past hooting and hollering at us. The boaters seemed to be more intent on the 12oz curl and being our peanut gallery than doing any hunting, thank God. They never fired one shot but the offered our own private heckling section during parts of our quail hunts.

            It never failed that they would motor to within shouting distance when a covey of quail would bust up. The boaters would offer shooting suggestions to us while we fired away at the birds. Comments like “Oh! Just missed!” and “A little behind that one!” came off the water, unwelcome. They thought they were being hysterical, we did not.

            It occurred to me later that this was a classic case of arm-chair quail hunting. Offer advice on how to shoot a quail while not actually shooting at the birds. Most hunters I know, myself included, are fantastic at this. We can tell others, all day long, the proper technique, lead time and choke to use for hunting the little birds. That said, in the field most of arm-chair quailers can’t hit one in five birds.

            Over time I have noticed that arm-chair quail hunters tend to have a rash of equipment issues when actually out hunting. The guns action isn’t working right. The safety is sticking. The wrong choke is in the gun. Creative reasons de jour escape every honest quail hunter’s mouth. As well as some profanities when a shot is missed.   

            It seems that the birds also have a great sense of timing. Hopping the fence? Time to bust up. Taking a pee? Never fails, birds will fly.

            It is this combination of poor shooting; equipment failure and the birds’ knack for timing that make every precious ounce of quail meat all the more valuable. A hunter can spend an entire day out and get four birds with pride, only to not have enough for an appetizer course with his family. Hitting a flying quail is hard plain as simple. They humble me.  

            Over the years I have picked up on a few tricks for getting quail into my vest. The first thing that recommend is learn to whistle like a quail, or just buy a quail call. When a covey busts they will often starting calling out to each other in hopes of reconnecting and relocating. Give a busted covey a few minuets and then hit the call. They will often reply giving you the location of a few more birds in the rough.

            After busting the covey it is also a good idea to stop and mark the location they flew to. Then take a five minute break. If you immediately follow the birds they will tend to run and disappear. If you give them a little time to settle they will be more apt to bust giving hunters a good shot opportunity.

            The single biggest factor for success with quail is a dog. I don’t care if it is a Yorkie with ear plugs just about any dog while hunting quail is better than no dog. That said the dog has to stay close to be effective. While a nice pointer would be invaluable any mutt with its nose to the ground and the drive to have birds fly will prove effective.

            We did not reach our limit on the river that day. But we did show ourselves the limit of our shooting capabilities. It showed me that I need to bust more clay in the off season and that I needed to check what choke I had in my gun.            

One day I will be able to limit out on quail. The perfect shooter somewhere inside me will show itself and I will manage to whack ten in one day. Take that limit home and actually be able to make a whole meal for my family.  But like my buddy and fellow quail hunter Matt Lindley says – “You need to walk a lot and shoot a lot just to get a little stew.”

Recipe – Smashed Quail with Mountain Dew and Soy Glaze

The Birds 

8ea Quail, plucked and gutted

To “smash” the quail all that you need to do is lay them on their backs, breast up, and press firmly down with your hand. This will crush the ribs and flatten out the bird. This will allow it to be cooked more evenly.

Another option for a “smashed quail” it to cut the back and ribs out of the bird with a pair of kitchen scissors. Place the bird breast side down on the cutting board. With the scissors cut between the legs and then remove the rib cage with two additional cuts. The cutting will look like a “Y” shape. With out the backbone the bird will cook quicker and more evenly.

Marinate the quail over night in the Mountain Dew Ponzu.

Mountain Dew Ponzu

Like many people of my generationMountain Dew was a food group growing up. That said I have, over the years, tried to turn the beverage into various things. I have made desserts, corn cakes and in this case a sauce for quail.

The drink has two major flavors in it – citrus and sugar. A classic Asian Style Ponzu sauce has three flavors – citrus, sugar and soy. Use the Mountain Dew as a base and you are 2/3 the way to a ponzu sauce.

Mountain Dew Ponzu Recipe

1 can Mountain Dew

½ cup soy sauce

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 green onions, sliced

1 thumb sized chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced thick

Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Chill. Use as marinade for game birds.

To use as a glaze. Pour small amounts of the sauce over the top of a grilling quail. It has a high sugar content so be careful not to burn the bird. Repeat until a firm crust of sauce is formed on the bird. Enjoy!

Soba Noodle Salad

With this recipe any type of round noodle will work. I have used angel hair and spaghetti in the past. Soba noodles are just a Japanese take on the thin round noodle. You can find them dry or fresh in most grocery stores. Look in the ethnic section for the dry noodles and in produce for the fresh.

12 oz cooked and chilled soba noodles

1 ea lime, juice and zest

1 red pepper, sliced thin

½ red onion, sliced thin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 each green onions

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Mix zest and juice evenly. Season with salt and pepper.

Bringing it all together

Place a 3 oz of noodle mix in the center of a plate. Pour a small amount of mountain dew ponzu around the noodles. Top with hot “smashed” quail. Serve.

Asparagus and Wild Mint Salad

Striking the spring time gold is what I have done today. This time of year is perfect for growing asparagus, it gets wet then hot very quickly and leads to explosive growth. Apparently, an asparagus spear can grow up to 4 inches an hour in the right climate.

Today I climbed to the top of that green mountain and came home with something just incredible and edible. Check out this sucker.

Now, that is an eight inch blade and a six-inch handle. That thing was gigantic. Hope that it eats as good as it looks. The ones next to the knife are the standard sized ones that I found next to it. Let the phallic jokes abound…

Asparagus and wild mint salad

Just about the best damn thing on the planet is a plate of wild gathered asparagus. I have a few spots that I go to every year, my father doesn’t even know where they are. I gather as many as I can each time and then break the stalks on the ones that have started branching. My grandmother told me to do this so the plant would keep sending up new, tender and tasty shoots. Toping asparagus with some mint, a little oil and some lime juice is simply divine. The dish literally screams FRESH at the top of its lungs.

10-12 medium sized asparagus

1/2 ea lemon, zest and juice

10 wild mint leafs

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a boil. Make an ice bath with a bowl of ½ water and ½ ice. Slice the asparagus into ½ inch strips at a hard angle; this is called bias cut by the way.

Drop the asparagus into the boiling water. Count to 30 and then remove the asparagus to the water bath to cool. Remove when cool, pat dry and place in a salad bowl.

Top the greens with lime juice, lime zest, sliced mint leaves and a squirt of olive oil. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Sunday breakfasts never tasted so good.