Pete’s Burgers: The Coq au Vin (feat. Pheasant)

Last summer I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow and had dinner with one of Wayfair’s business partners, Good Ideas.  The Good Ideas guys know how to do a tradeshow dinner (amongst other things like innovative composters and chicken coops) and we enjoyed a couple hours of wine and massive amounts of Italian food.  During the course of the dinner I discovered Greg, the owner, has a sprawling ranch in South Dakota where he avidly hunts along with the Cary, Mike, and various other folks from the company.  I in turn babbled about my love of game meat and my complete lack of the necessary intestinal fortitude to hunt.  We found a yin and yang relationship there, and Greg agreed to send me a bunch of pheasants next time he went hunting as long as I came up with a good recipe for them.

Now, my teeth were stained purple and we’d all been on our feet for 12 hours, so I wasn’t exactly sure whether our agreement would come to fruition.  Then, a few months later, I got an email that I would be receiving a big box of birds in a few days.  Well then.

Here's a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don't tell your wife that it's coming and let her open it while you're at work.  Hilarity ensues.No, no, no.  Actually, I was in the dog house after that one

Here’s a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don’t tell your wife that it’s coming and let her open it while you’re at work.  Hilarity ensues.
No no, don’t do that actually.  I was in the doghouse after that one

A box of three gallon-sized bags with multiple frozen pheasants in each.  The pheasants were fully cleaned and skinned aside from one feather-covered wing that they like to keep on for identification purposes.  Definitely added to the slightly macabre scene and the general rage of my wife, though.  Since it was mid-December and we were planning to be out of town the next few weekends, I moved all three bags to the chest freezer in the basement.

In the following weeks, there weren’t many days that went by that I didn’t think about what the hell I was going to do with these things.  I originally wanted to make sausage but with how lean the meat was, I would need to probably go with a 1:2 ratio of pheasant to pork fat to make an enjoyable sausage.  So, it sat and I sat, and the weeks passed without me making a move.

Nemo got me housebound and antsy, so I thawed out a package and went with my original idea: fully prepared pheasant coq au vin, removed from the bones, ground, and formed into a patty.  Had no idea how it would work out, but what else is new.  Let’s start with some mirepoix.

I don't know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic

I don’t know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in case you were previously unaware

I chopped everything shown on the cutting board and placed in a bowl to wait their turn, then pulled the birds out of the bag and laid them on the cutting board.

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had not concept of how big these things were since all I could see was feathers

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had no concept of how big these things were since all I could see were the feathers.  Turns out the answer is 2.  These both looked identical, the one on the right is just wing side down

The birds smelled clean and poultry-like, but not like the occasionally farty smell of thawed grocery store sweatshop chicken.  I was immediately struck by how much the body looked like rabbit, particularly the thighs.  The wing was an odd sight, but it was easy to remove which left me to try and figure out how to break the pheasants down.

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process.  Either that or someone left loose change and their car keys in the shotgun barrel by accident

Since I was planning to braise bone-in, I wanted to break each bird down into two breast and two thigh portions.  I started by cutting perpendicular to the backbone and separating the thighs from the breast portion.  For the thighs, one cut through the center of the backbone was all I needed, but since the chest had to be cut on both sides, the breast bone was a little trickier.  The bones were thin and east to cut through with a little pressure, but I still felt like a I was mauling these things.    Eventually each bird ended up like this.

Very little trim away, mostly just the featery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let's move on

Very little to trim away, mostly just the feathery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let’s move on

It was around this time that I recognized the small tears in the flesh were likely due to the birdshot that brought the pheasant down.  I inspected each piece thoroughly but didn’t find any shot during the breaking down process aside from one small piece.  Made me a little wary about my teeth surviving the consumption of the finished product.

After breaking down the second bird, I had this pile of meat.

Been experimenting with shots by my window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

Been experimenting with fotos by the kitchen window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

With the ingredients all prepped, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in ‘Lil Blue.  After a good seasoning of salt and pepper, the pheasant went into the hot grease to brown in two waves.

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass given the size of the birds

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass and waste of time given the size of the birds

Once the meat had some decent color, I removed it from the pot and dumped in the mirepoix with a lot of dried herbs de provence.  After a few minutes of cooking they started to brown slightly around the edges and were pretty fragrant.

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs.  For some reason the last batch of onions Kristi and I purchased delivered an equivalent experience to getting pepper sprayed when chopping

At this point I added a few bay leaves, a bottle of red wine (#3BuckChuckMerlot) and turned up the heat until the liquid started bubbling.  After lowering the heat a little,  I let the wine and veggies simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit.  Then the browned pheasant pieces headed back in.

I was already well aware that this meal was running the risk of being extremely dry

I was already well aware that this meat was running the risk of being “The Turkey in Christmas Vacation”-level dry

After topping off with a little chicken broth to fully cover the meat, the lid went on and the heat went down to low for 60 minutes.  Leaving me with this:

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magic

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magical and I’m a wizard y’alllll

I pulled the pot off of the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before transferring the meat to a cutting board.  While the meat cooled, I removed the mirepoix from the pot using a slotted spoon and into a bowl lined with cheese cloth.

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person's face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person’s face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

After a few minutes of cooling, I twisted up the cheesecloth tight while holding it over the bowl and started to press some of the excess liquid out of the vegetables.  Press, tighten the cheesecloth, press some more, tighten, etc.  Eventually, I was content with the amount of excess moisture I’d pressed out.

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  That liquid is what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stew.  I am unpleasant to dine with

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  It was what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stews that I don’t make myself.  I am unpleasant to dine with

The pressed liquid went into the braising pot with the reserved cooking broth and set over low heat to reduce for the next few hours.  Which brings me back to the braised pheasant.

Here's a little thing: do this at home and tell your young child these are chicken McNuggets.  Then  blame Ronald

Here’s an idea: I should do this again in a few years and tell my young children that these are chicken McNuggets.  Then eat all their chicken McNuggets when they refuse to eat them on future visits to McDonalds

With the meat cooled, I went through the relatively annoying process of pulling the meat off of the bones and trying to fish out any small bones and bird shot.  Although there are less gnarly tendon-y pieces than on a bigger bird like chicken or turkey, I couldn’t believe all of the tiny pinbones around and in the thigh meat.  After some lightly burned fingers and frustration, I had this bowl:

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn.  I don't think it's possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn. I don’t think it’s possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

With this stage complete, I moved the meat and vegetables into the freezer for 30 minutes to chill to an easier grinding temperature.  While that cooled, I put together the attachments for our Kitchenaid mixer that makes it into a relatively easy to use meat grinder.

Finally, it was time to grind.  I loaded a handful of the shredded pheasant and pressed mirepoix into the grinder, continuing by alternating handfuls of both.

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spoungey feeling, but I knew that most of the moisture that would make them unpleasant once through a grinder were gone

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spongy feeling, but I knew that the excess moisture that would make the final ground product watery was gone

I've shown this grinder in action a few times.  Since the meat was cooked, it was relatively easy, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

I’ve shown this grinder in action a few times, but I like sharing my multitasking skills with a camera.  Since the meat was cooked, it looked a little less appetizing, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

With the meat and vegetables fully ground the mixture looked a bit like sand, which had me concerned about how dry it would be.  So, I added some broken homemade mayo.

Quick sidenote: my lovehandles have lovehandles these days, so I’ve been dabbling in a few different types of cooking and/or diets.  Making homemade mayo isn’t healthy, but it’s healthier since it uses better oil and no preservatives.  It’s also extremely frustrating and doesn’t work (correct term: emulsify) 50% of the times I’ve done it.  In those cases, you end up with lots of broken mayo; essentially olive oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar and some seasonings coexisting unpeacefully in a small space.  Seemed like the perfect item to fatten up and bind my ground meat mixture.

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper. The greenliness of the homemade mayo is the best part

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper.  The green color of homemade mayo and the sharp olive flavor are the best parts

After a few minutes in the mixer, the ground mixture looked like this:

First big moment of doubt; looked more like lunch line tuna salad than what I was going for

First big moment of doubt.  It looked more like cafeteria tuna salad than what I was going for.  Mmmm, cafeteria tuna salad

The ground mixture went into the fridge for an hour long “gettin to know ya” sesh which I was hoping would bring the flavors together and firm it up a bit.

All the while, the braising liquid simmered.

Love the lines on the side, they are like merit badges for patience

Love the crusty high flood mark-type lines on the inside.  They are like merit badges for culinary patience

Once I felt the ground meat was ready for cooking (read: I was hungry), I heated up a round bottom pot on the stovetop and made a couple tablespoons of roux.  Once the flour had cooked for a few minutes and the roux had a little color, I whisked in the reduced braising liquid to make a poor man’s demi glace.

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn't into it but wanted some of the demi glace

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn’t into it but wanted some of the demi glace

With the sauce over low heat, I heated up a little olive oil in a pan and formed the ground pheasant meat into a patty.

Looks extremely high fat, but it clearly wasn't.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren't

Looks like extremely high fat sausage, but it clearly wasn’t.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren’t

Flip, fry, then smother with sauce.  That’s right, a burger post with no bun.  It was a friggin’ blizzard for cripes sake!  Trains weren’t running!  It felt like end of days outside and there was no chance I was hiking to 7-11 to engage in a knife fight over the last pack of hamburger buns.

Anyhoo, would have been a hell of a burger but,as it was, we had Salisbury steak.

Felt very old school.

Felt very old school, like I should have been giving Kristi a dressing down about not having enough starch in my collars while eating it

To get a key point out of the way, that sauce was absurd.  You could put it on pretty much anything and it would be delicious.  The burger also had great flavor, with the (slightly) gamey poultry and red wine cooked vegetables both clearly coming through in each bite.  Combined with the sauce, the flavors were rich and pretty awesome.

The only reason this wasn’t a complete victory were some texture problems.  The primary issue was that using a the broken homemade mayo threw off the egg to added fat balance a bit.  While the may was likely 3 parts olive oil, 1 part egg yolk, it should have been a half and half ratio to properly bind the burger and keep some density.  As it was, the texture was most similar to a crab cake, which probably would have been less of a big deal in a bun. The secondary issue was that  I missed some small bones and a few little ground pieces of them made it through.  Not a ton of pieces, but enough that you didn’t want to bite down too hard while chewing just in case you had one.

Oh well, all in all still a pretty successful experiment.  Thanks to Greg, Cary, and Mike for killing stuff and sending it to me.

Another weekend at home.  I have ideas.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Post Summer Purge

I’m sorry Kristi,  I never meant to hurt youuu, I never meant to make you cry, but tonight, I’m cleanin’ out the cabinets. – Eminem (or something)

As mentioned previously, Kristi and I spent the summer living in Boston.  We lived in a sublet near our old apartment while I had an internship between the first and second year of my MBA program.  When we returned to Philly, all of the supplies we had purchased for our two months in Boston came back with us and overloaded our minimal cabinet space.  To make things worse, our freezer was completely packed with everything frozen over the previous year plus leftovers from our stint in Boston.  It quickly got under my skin and I made it my mission to make use of as much of it as I could, as soon as possible.

First up, one of those marinated pork tenderloins.

There is something about Hormel food products that I find incredibly unappetizing

I hate these effing things but Kristi occasionally buys them.  The marinade is always too strong, really salty, and unpleasant tasting.  I wanted to get rid of as much of that marinade flavor as possible while adding in some new ones.  I started out with sauteed onions in the Le Creuset then turned up the heat and browned the outside of the tenderloin.

I love this le creuset dutch oven. The best part of getting married is the kitchen equipment. And, I guess, the marriage too

After browning both sides, I removed the tenderloin and deglazed the bottom of the pot with a healthy pour of sherry, then added mushrooms and sage.

Loved the smells as these items simmered together, but it really stinks up a one bedroom apartment

After the ingredients simmered for a few minutes together, the tenderloin went back into the pot with some chicken stock, and the pot went into the oven for about an hour. While it was cooking I mixed zucchini and brown rice to serve as a bed for the sliced tenderloin and sauce.

Bland looking, but thats why you need a lot of salt and pepper in 'der

When the tenderloin came out, I sliced it and reduced the braising liquid.  A decent dinner.

I never said this would be a good post, its mostly just me making dinner

Next up was a concerted effort to take down equal parts freezer and cabinets but definitely needed a few fresh ingredients.  You know, to make it less gross.

I made the decision to do a spinach pie while sitting in Consumer Behavior.  Very interesting class, but unlike Wednesdays when I spend the down moments checking to see who got picked up in fantasy football, it was an iphone activity-less Monday.  So I thought about food and what I wanted to do with food.  Here’s where I started:

Title: a bunch of stuff purchased in bulk at Costco. Alt title: things I never owned in my 20's.

A few chicken breasts went into the oven to bake while the spinach thawed and I sauteed diced carrots and garlic.  Once the garlic and carrots cooked, they were mixed with the thawed and drained spinach and the can of mushroom soup.

Mixing a can of soup in your food is a very grandma move, so just think of me as your DB grandma. Actually, forget that, that doesn't work at all

Add two cubed chicken breasts, some egg beaters and a little flour.

The rare in-progress shot. I never remember to take these

Mixed together with salt and pepper and into a pyrex to bake for 30 minutes.

I knew I would like this. Not so sure about anyone else, but it is right up my alley

Served the finished product by the firm(ish) spoonful with some roasted carrots.

Maybe the carrots were a little bit more charred than I wanted, but browned carrots with lots of salt, pepper and herbs de provence are freaking delicious

To complete the freezer cleanout, I went to my old go-to: kitchen sink chili.  I had about a pound and a half of pulled pork leftover from last fall and two containers of frozen chili (probably made from 2008 leftovers).  The pulled pork browned in a pot with some smashed garlic.

The pulled pork held up remarkably well in the freezer

The chili, not so much. Had a lot of ice that needed to be scraped off

Once the pulled pork had browned a while I added chicken stock, V8, and lots of cayenne/cumin/chili powder.  The goal was to get the liquid level high enough to put the two chili ice cubes in.

just enough liquid for the...

...chili ice cubes. Very gross looking, glad Kristi didn't see this part

Once the cubes melted I added another can of black beans and the chili eventually came together well.

When I tasted it at this point, I felt like it needed a little more spice, so I acted accordingly

After simmering for a couple hours, it was ready to eat.  And that added spice was pretty apparent.

Thats the color of angry chili. I had to crumble up some biscuits to make it edible for Kristi and a few friends

The end goal of all of this was accomplished, because my freezer now looks like this:

Those two pork shoulders on the right will be showing up on this blog sometime soon

Kristi and I are heading to Boston for the long weekend and I am going to hit up Hi Lo for some football sunday inspiration.  Next week’s post should be back to the adventurous type of cooking that I prefer to write about on this blog.

Weird Crap I Cook: Oxtail Stew

On the camping trip that featured the hogs head barbacoa, my friend Conor brought along a couple pounds of oxtail from our JP supermarket.  We browned them in a pot with some spices and a quartered onion, covered with water, and set the pot on the edge of the fire to simmer.  A few minutes later our friend Marshall got back to the campsite, dumped out the water, stuck the oxtails in a pan on the center of the fire, and covered them with a pound of sliced bacon (unseparated) and a block of ice.  I’d describe the experience as similar to watching someone make food while they are sleepwalking, but with more violent rage and foul language from me.  Anyway, the oxtails burned, we shifted our attention to the hogs head, and Conor and I agreed to make another attempt at oxtail soup sometime soon.

Two weeks ago we held our annual fantasy football draft and for the first time in the eight year history of our league, the draft was not held in a hotel room at a casino.  The downside was that only 5 members of the league convened in Boston with the rest online elsewhere.  The upside was that there was a kitchen to make food instead of having to eat crappy central connecticut pizza.  Sounded like a perfect chance to take another crack at oxtail stew.

I have lost 30+ minutes, multiple times, looking at and poking products in the meat section at Hi Lo Foods

Oxtail is just the tail of a cow, skinned and chopped into sections.  Hard cartilage/bone runs down the center of the tail with muscle, segmented by cartilage and surrounded by a thin membrane, running up the sides.  Its an extremely popular food item in the Caribbean, mainly in stew form.  Most recently it got a little media coverage when Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos claimed he lost 15 pounds in the offseason just by no longer eating oxtail. Back to the cooking.

I started off the stew, in a homage to my oldest friend (and enemy) Marshall, with a half slab of chopped bacon that I browned in the stew pot.

I was cooking this in Buschy's apartment which meant I needed to start with some comforting smells to up the chances he might actually try a few bites of the finished product

While the bacon cooked I trimmed excess fat and cartilage off the oxtail pieces.

It was tough to tell how far to go with the trimming, so I left on anything that didn't appear to be fat

Once the bacon was cooked I removed it from the pot and reserved it.  I then browned the oxtail pieces in the remaining bacon grease.

Seasoned with salt and pepper and quickly browned on both sides. Had to cook them in three waves due to space

Super Zooommm!!!!!!

While the meat browned, I got to work on prepping the base of every stew: carrots, onions, and celery.   When I asked my wife to grab me a couple “good sized” carrots at Hi Lo, here is what she got for me.

"YOU MEAN THERES CAR'TS OUT THERE THIS BIIG?" Little Anaconda/Ice Cube reference. What?

With a bit more effort than usual, I got through the process of chopping the carrots and then the celery and onion.

That pile represents one half of one of the carrots. Reeeeeeediculous

The last batch of the browned oxtail was removed from the pot and put to the side until the base of the stew was ready for them.

Its tough to reject the idea of eating oxtail once you've seen and smelled this plate

Once the onions were translucent I added a few big pinches of fresh thyme.

This picture could be from many different past and future posts

At this point in went a few smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, chicken stock, and red wine.  Once I was sure everything had deglazed off the bottom of the pot, I let the liquid simmer for a few minutes, added the oxtail, covered and cooked for four hours.

Once again, I make a hearty stew on an 85 degree night. Still, looks delicious

During the four hours of stewing I cut the remainder of the carrots into sticks and roasted them.  I also engaged in some fantasy football panic, an online mock draft, and 1,500 calories of Shuman’s buffalo chicken dip. When I checked the stew, the meat was fork tender which was what I was looking for according to the oxtail research I’d done online.  There was also a little time pressure with the draft starting in thirty minutes.

I removed the fully cooked oxtails and set them to the side.

Thanks to Buschy for taking pictures in between swallowing back vomit. He is about as adventurous with food as a breast feeding infant

Because the mirepoix had basically cooked down to mush, I poured the remaining liquid through a strainer and pressed the solids down to make sure I got all of the juice back.  Once the liquid settled I skimmed off excess fat and returned the liquid to the stove.

The remaining liquid. At this point Tim would have walked in and insulted the stew, then me, then the clothes that I was wearing, and then punched me. I was glad he was probably 6 hours into his ride home from Little Compton

Bacon and roasted carrots went in first…

Both had a few burned pieces, but I guiltily really like that flavor

…then chopped scallion and boiled red potatoes…

I hate wasting food, and those red potatoes are admittedly leftovers. But I would have just cut and boiled fresh potatoes then added them, so I don't think it changed the stew much

…plus the oxtail to make this completely awful looking pot of food:

I let this simmer together for fifteen minutes or so

And then… I turned the heat off because the draft was starting.  Probably for the best; in my experience soups and chilis are always better after they have rested for a bit.  After two sweaty and technology error-laden hours of auction drafting, I decided to turn the heat back on the stew.  My first bowl:

Once I had the bowl sitting next to my computer, I fully understood how effing stupid I was to make a stew for an online auction draft. I blame it for any stupid picks I made in the draft. And any typos in this post

The flavor of the stew was awesome; we went through a loaf of painfully hard bread just dipping it in the liquid. The problem was that the  Caribbean recipes I saw made a clear point not to cook past fork tender since the meat will fall off the bone.  So I did that without questioning it.  But it really sucked pausing while eating spoonfuls of stew to gnaw the meat off of the oxtail.  If I had taken the time to think about it, I would have just cooked it an extra hour or two to make the meat fall off the bones.  Oh well, looks like there will be a third round.

And Con, you still owe me for the oxtails based on our bowling bet.

Next week, the only time I have ever cooked something out of anger towards the animal.