Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Smoked Pheasant (Bacon Wrapped)

Pheasants are only one letter away from being a true working-class bird (Pheasant -> Peasant... get it?  See what I did there?).  Honestly, pheasants do work for a living.  They're wild, they typically eat swamp grass, seeds, and buds, and they don't have any fat on them, whatsoever.  They are a beautiful bird, however, and they do present quite a challenge to hunters so; many a home-cook has been presented with a clutch of these birds to "cook for the family meal." 

Since plucking the bird is rather time consuming, most hunters simply peel the skin off.  As the cook,  you're presented with a skinless, super-lean, fairly small bird, and you're expected to turn it into a moist and delicious "Family Dinner" masterpiece?  That's a challenge!

You Will Need:

  • 2 whole pheasants
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 cups maple syrup
  • 8 whole strips of bacon, cut in half 

We'll start this process by brining the birds.  Brining is easy, but finding space in your refrigerator for a huge bucket of soaking birds is not.  So... Start by dissolving the salt, sugar, and syrup in the water, and then pour half of the liquid, each, into a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Add one whole, skinned pheasant to the bag, squeeze all of the air out, and zip it up!

Now, empty out your vegetable crisper drawer (who needs vegetables, anyway?), and drop the bagged and brining birds into the drawer.  Why?  Because if one of those bags springs a leak, you don't want birdy brine juice leaking all over your fridge!  I did 6 pheasants at once, and this method worked very well for me.

Walk away, and leave the birds in there to soak for 24 hours.  This should tenderize and season the pheasants, and give their skinless bodies a fighting chance while they're in the smoker (or oven).

Once 24 hours has gone by, take the birds out and pat them dry.  Rub them down with olive oil and lay them out on a nice cutting board so you can wrap them with bacon!  Bacon will add fat, flavor, and moisture to these bare-muscled birds.

Wrap them however you like, as long as you achieve maximum coverage of the bare muscle with some good fatty bacon!  My method uses 8 1/2-slices of bacon, and it covers the legs, thighs, and breasts of the bird.  Get them all wrapped and then sprinkle some BBQ seasoning on the outside, if you like.

Preheat your smoker (or oven) to 250 degrees, and line up the birds.  Caution, when these birds hit the 160 degree mark, they're done!  Every second after that means time spent drying out so... use a probe and pull those birds as soon as they touch 160.  It took mine just 3 hours to get there.

In my case, the hunter who successfully nabbed these birds told me, "The best way to enjoy pheasant is with a cocktail in your hand, as you leisurely pick the meat from the bones and eat it."  I won't argue with the "cocktail" part of his method, but I'm not really a "picker" when it comes to birds.  I'd prefer to cut them into their respective parts... legs, breasts, etc.  So that's what I did.

They were quite flavorful, I must say.  The brine did its job... they were a little bit "chewier" than chicken (for example), but I don't think I could have tenderized them any further, without stewing or braising them, and I really wanted to try cooking them in the pit.  I'm anxious to hear your opinions!  My wife ate it... and she's picky!  So; I consider it a "thumbs up" success!

The Twelve Days of Christmas (BBQ Edition)

There are so many birds found in the list of gifts from the "12 days of Christmas" song, Partridges, Geese, French Hens, Turtle Doves, etc... When I recently cooked six pheasants on my pit, I said, "If 6 Smoky Pheasants isn't in the list, it should be!"  Then, my friend Rayna challenged me to write the "12 Foodbreeze Days of Christmas," and by golly, it seemed like a good idea so... Here's my song, complete with links to all of the recipes!  Sing it to the tune of the original "12 Days of Christmas," (obviously), and enjoy a recipe or two!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Pit-boss cooked for me:

Eleven Pots of Gumbo...
Ten Racks of Spare Ribs...
Nine Crispy Ducklings...
Eight Roasted Turkeys...
Seven Whole Pastramis...
Six Smoky Pheasants...
FIIIIIIVE Bone-in Hams...
Four Cornish Hens...
Three Beef Ribs...

And a Brisket for you and for meeee!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!  Roll that smoke!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

Ahhh, pie.  Is there anything more amazing than your favorite pie?  Americans have gone absolutely crazy, inventing ridiculous designer pies for all sorts of occasions.  I tend to enjoy the classic pies, Apple, Blueberry, etc, but once in awhile, a modern designer pie grabs my attention and I think, "Now, THAT sounds delicious!"

With that being said, I'll offer a more modern designer pie, "Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie," or what my friend Mark calls, "Bourbo-Choco-Peco-Madness!"

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan

A quick word about pie crust; While I believe that a properly homemade pie crust is superior in flakyness, tenderness, and appearance, I do not believe that it is superior enough to go through the tedious process of creating one from scratch.  In my own personal blind taste tests, I pick the homemade crust every time, but I'm simply not prepared to invest the time and effort to "cube cold butter" and to "rest the dough in the refrigerator," etc.  This recipe calls for "Frozen 9-inch deep dish pie crusts" and I believe the filling is so fantastic, that nobody (except for perhaps your Grandmother) will mention your lack of pie crust effort.

For the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie, you will need:
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 Cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 Cups Pecan Halves, divided
  • 3/4 Cup dark chocolate baking chips, divided

A word of caution about this particular recipe... Pecan pies are notorious for their ability to look perfectly set and awesome on the outside, while staying unset and gooey on the inside.  You'll notice the small amount of flour and the extra egg yolk to bring some protein to the mix that should help solve this problem.  Bread flour has a lot more protein strings than regular flour, so use it if you can.  In any case, you'll want to pay particularly close attention to the quantity of the ingredients here, do not use more or less than what is described, and be sure to bake it the full amount of time.

Preheat your oven to 350, and take the frozen pie crust out of the freezer to thaw.  Spray some "Pam" inside of your measuring cup, so the syrup will pour out quickly and easily.  Dump your eggs (and yolks) into the bowl, turn on your mixer and get the party started... When the eggs are thoroughly mixed and bright yellow, measure exactly 1/2 cup of dark syrup and 1/2 cup of light syrup into your mixing bowl. While the mixer is turning and burning, add the bourbon, and then add the dark brown sugar, a little bit at a time.  Go slowly, you want it all to disolve.  Drink a shot of the Bourbon in the meantime, you know, for... "fortification and courage."  Sprinkle in the flour.  Pour in the butter and a pinch of salt.  Turn off the mixer and use a silicon spatula to mix in 1/2 of the pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour the mix into the pie crust and then sprinkle or decorate the top with the remaining pecans and chocolate chips.  Place the pie onto a cookie sheet in case it boils over, and then pop it into the oven for 55 minutes to an hour.  Remove the pie and let it set up for another hour or so, before parking it in the fridge.  Here's my before and after pics of the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie: