National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2015 has come and gone, and like every Fest I’ve been to, it’s been fun to explore the host city’s food culture. This year we were in Des Moines, Iowa, and while there are plenty of upscale restaurants to enjoy – the James Beard Award-nominated Proof on Locust Street among them – what I really wanted was a pork tenderloin sandwich.
What is it? It’s an iconic sandwich in Iowa (and Indiana, too) that is essentially a schnitzel cutlet on a bun. In Iowa, land of pork, it’s a pork schnitzel. But since I was cooking pheasant schnitzel at the show, it just seemed appropriate to tip my cap to Des Moines and make a pheasant “tenderloin” sandwich.
The key here is to pound your cutlets, your ersatz tenderloins, really thin – about 1/8 inch thick. You salt them, dust in seasoned flour, place in a mix of beaten egg and buttermilk, place in breadcrumbs and fry. Ideally in fresh lard, but vegetable oil will do. Then slap that golden brown puppy on a soft burger bun, add your favorite condiments – pickles are a must – and revel in the magnificence.
- 4 skinless pheasant breasts
- 1 cup of flour
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup of buttermilk or whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs
- Enough lard or vegetable oil to come 1/2 inch up the sides of your frying pan
- Burger buns
- Bread-and-butter pickles
Set out a work surface and lay a pheasant breast on a piece of plastic wrap. Lay another piece of plastic wrap over the breast, and pat it down to seal. Pound the meat out into a very flat cutlet, about 1/8 inch thick. Take your time, hitting the meat with about the same force as knocking on a door. Work from the center of the meat outward. You will need to pound the thick end of the breast more than the thin end. Do one breast at a time. When you are finished with one, remove the top layer of plastic wrap and set it aside. As you finish more, stack them (removing the one layer of plastic wrap will make them easier to get off the plastic later).
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Place a baking sheet lined with paper towels in the oven – this is for the tenderloins as they come out of the frying pan. Set up a breading station. Put the flour in a large tray, plate or shallow bowl along with the garlic powder, cayenne, black pepper and paprika. Do the same for the eggs and buttermilk, then have a third bowl for the breadcrumbs. Put the lard or butter in the frying pan and turn the heat to medium-high. You want to fry at a temperature of about 350°F.
When the fat is ready, salt the cutlets. Dredge one cutlet in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess. Dredge it in the egg-buttermilk mixture, then the breadcrumbs. Immediately put the breaded cutlet into the hot fat. Shake the pan a little to make sure the tenderloin does not stick to the bottom. The cutlet should float in the hot fat. Repeat quickly with as many cutlets as will fit in your pan.
Fry the tenderloins until they are golden brown, about two minutes per side. As the first side is cooking, spoon some hot fat over the other side – this will speed up the cooking process. Flip only once. When the tenderloins are done, put them in the oven on the baking sheet and repeat until you’re done.
Serve on burger buns with the pickles, mustard and mayo. You can also put onions, lettuce and tomato on your sandwich too.
A member of both Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Hank Shaw is a hunter, cookbook author and award-winning writer. His website is Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net). He lives near Sacramento, CA.