column By: Gordon Hamersley | November, 17
My friend David spends much of his life hunting and fishing around the world, and his emails from the road always leave me with mixed emotions. Sure I feel pure joy for him – “You’re where? Slovenia fishing for grayling? Nice!” But I’m simultaneously disgusted, envious and jealous – “I can’t leave town for a month, Dave. I’m just going to hunt stocked pheasants again this week. Really I’m fine with it.” Right.
His emails from the road are wonderful, especially this description of a recent chukar hunt. It paints a terrific picture of how tough these birds can be.
“Hell’s Canyon, Idaho.
“Hey Gordon, my new favorite place to hunt chukars is Hell’s Canyon. I think the canyon must have been named either by hunters frustrated by the challenging birds or by aching legs. The terrain is so steep that, at times, you have to unload your shotgun and use your hands to climb over a small ledge before you again start slogging up the steep incline.
“They (chukars) combine the ability to quickly run uphill through tiny gaps in seemingly impenetrable rock outcroppings and then suddenly fly downhill while dipping and diving behind rock ledges and Ponderosa pines. The hunter is forced to turn around while his feet are at dramatically different elevations and try to shoot under these fast, erratic flyers.”
As far as the kitchen goes, chukar partridges are one of the tastiest game birds around, and they are a lot easier to cook than they are to hit. Chukars tend to be on the mild side, and they are lean because of their athletic abilities, so brining is a good idea to keep them moist.
Getting ready to put this braise in the oven is easy. Dust the meat lightly with flour first and then, working in batches, brown the pieces over moderate heat. Do the same with the onions, the mushrooms and the garlic. All this takes less than ten minutes, and the oven does the rest of the work.
Plan to cook two birds per person as they are on the small side, something between grouse and quail. Cook them very slowly to ensure they stay moist and tender. Like any game bird, hard cooking has a tendency to dry them out. Vidalia onions enhance the flavor of the birds by adding a touch of natural sweetness to the dish, and the mushrooms a complementary earthiness. A tart spike of caramelized lemon gives the dish some mild acidity, and a splash of medium dry sherry adds some smokiness.
Served with rice or pasta, chukar partridges make for a fabulous winter evening meal. As for Dave, he rarely feels the sting of a New England winter for too long. I think he’s somewhere in Argentina fishing for large brown trout about now. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.