Recipes from the trail: Two hunters’ takes on gourmet game

Photo: Stewart Butterfield / Wikimedia Commons Okay, you got me. These are quails. Would you believe it’s hard to find photos of cooked ptarmigan?

Photo: Stewart Butterfield / Wikimedia Commons
Okay, you got me. These are quails. Would you believe it’s hard to find photos of cooked ptarmigan?

Ptarmigan Dinner
by Erik Wanberg

2-3 clean ptarmigans
birch or applewood chips, for smoking
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup Port wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. ground sage
1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup dried chanterelle mushrooms (or other light mushroom)
1/2 cup dried cherries
(or dried cranberries, or a tablespoon or two of lingonberry jam)
1/2 cup boiled and peeled chestnuts

Take the ptarmigans and quarter them so the breasts are split in two pieces and the thigh/drumsticks are one piece.

Lightly cold smoke them with birch or applewood chips, about 1/2 hour, just for flavor. If you don’t have a smoker, this step can be omitted, but I really like the mild smoke flavor.

Remove from smoke and lightly brown on both sides on medium-high heat in a large fry or sauté pan with some melted butter. Remove from the pan and place on a plate.

Deglaze the pan with the Port. Add the remaining butter.

Add the flour to the chicken broth and stir or whisk to remove any lumps, then add to the pan. Add the optional ingredients and sage and bring to a simmer.

As it thickens, add the cream. Lower the heat and place the ptarmigan pieces flat in the pan. Simmer gently for approximately 45 minutes.

Serve with mashed rutabagas and a steamed green vegetable such as broccoli or sautéed green beans.

Notes: While the traditional Norwegian style is a simple brown sauce gravy, rich in butter and cream, it usually has some wild mushrooms in the sauce and a handful of lingonberries. I like adding the Port to bring out the flavor and the dried cherries and chestnuts. While rich, it is perfect around the holidays.

As ptarmigan are not flying around the midwest, or even available in the corner supermarket, this recipe works well with other game birds such as grouse or pheasant, and I have even cooked cottontail rabbits this way.

After dinner, open that Port wine bottle again and serve with a plate of Jarlsberg chunks…Hunting doesn’t always mean roughing it!

Photo: Andy Mabbett / Wikimedia Commons Red-legged Partridges hanging at an English butcher shop.

Photo: Andy Mabbett / Wikimedia Commons
Red-legged Partridges hanging at an English butcher shop.

To hang or not to hang: that is the question

When hunting with my Norwegian relatives it is customary—no, just expected—to hang the meat for a few days to make it darker and more flavorful. Some might say this makes it more gamey in taste, and they would be correct.

It is a practice in Norway, and especially in Voss, to hang the meat for a few days in the open air to cure it. I am almost embarrassed to say that they don’t even clean the bird first, just hang it fully intact. In the U.S., we often field clean the birds straight away. In contrast, in Voss, upon returning from a two-day hunting trip the ungutted birds are simply hung by their necks in the garage with the temperature in the 35-40 degree range. After a few days, the flesh is very dark, almost black, and the flavor is much stronger.

On one trip to Voss after a day of hunting, I offered to cook some freshly killed ptarmigan for dinner. My uncle wrinkled his nose and reluctantly agreed to let me forge ahead with dinner.
At dinner in the mountain cabin (hytte), I asked how he liked it. He said, “Well Erik, that is… ummmm, well, very interesting.”

Lesson learned. However, I don’t recommend doing it here unless you really know what you are doing.

Mashed Rutabagas
by Erik Wanberg

3 large rutabagas
1-2 large red potatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1/2 stick of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the rutabagas and potatoes and cut into one inch chunks. Boil in a large pot.

When soft to a fork (about 30-40 minutes), strain the water off and add the butter, start mashing, and then add the other ingredients and continue mashing until nearly smooth.

I sometimes add a splash or two of akevitt, as the caraway flavor really complements the rutabaga flavor, even more so if serving akevitt at dinner.

Notes: While I will often serve wine with a ptarmigan dinner, (a nice light-bodied pinot noir goes great with upland game like this), this is not always the case in Norway. The traditional beverage pairing in Norway, and especially in Voss, is a large glass of hjemmebrygg (homebrew) and a shot glass of akevitt. While a good wine is a great pairing with this dinner, nothing compares to the pairing of a smoky Voss homebrew (usually 10-12% alcohol) with juniper flavors, combined with smoked and hung (read gamey) ptarmigan. The akevitt then cleanses the palate with the caraway flavor, and you’re ready for another bite.

Wild stew at its best
by Ottar Nord

4.4 pounds tiur meat or a blend of poultry
2.6 ounces salt pork
4 tsps. flour
1/2 tsp. pepper
salt to taste
16 ounces boiled stock
one onion, chopped
1/4 tsp. crushed juniper berries
one cup lingonberry or cranberry jam

Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, and cube the salt pork.

Blend together the flour, salt, and pepper.

Brown the salt pork in a pot and remove, leaving the pork drippings in the pot.

Dredge the meat in the flour mixture and brown in the fat.

Pour the stock over the meat. Add the chopped onion, pork cubes, crushed juniper berries, and jam, and let the mixture steep until the meat is dark.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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