The heart is my favorite flavor of any hunt. It tastes of the quarry—all cuts, in one comprehensive bite. While eating it, I feel as if I can almost smell the animal, like taking a deep breath of its scent, its essence, the way it smelled in the wild. There is a ritualistic nature to consuming the heart—something primitive, maybe even spiritual. One of my fondest hunting memories was when my father-in-law and I spent part of a recent weekend family vacation grouse hunting in Ironton, Minn. I shot a snowshoe hare and we returned to camp, split the heart and fried it in bacon grease leftover from breakfast. No spices necessary. Just a few seconds sizzling in a skillet, sharing with family. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten.
If cooked correctly, the heart of any animal or bird should be arguably the best-tasting portion. (Or maybe that is just my opinion.) However, should you overcook it, it will both feel and taste like rubber. In my experience, “very high heat, very quickly” remains the key, because you don’t want to cook your hearts past medium-rare. The heart is such a valuable, yet culinary fragile, component of your harvest. It is worth saving. Whenever possible, I believe it best to carry a small Ziploc bag afield, so should you field dress your birds, you can easily save the giblets (the heart, the live and gizzard) and place in a small cooler, on ice.
While this recipe calls for many pheasant hearts, any bird hearts would work. Additionally, you can easily substitute whatever cuts of bird meat you have available in your freezer, should you, like me, have enjoyed most of your hearts the same day they were harvested.
Makes two servings.
20 pheasant hearts, or 10 ounces raw pheasant, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, julienne
3 red jalapeño peppers, seeded and sliced julienne
8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
2 3-ounce Ramen packages, without spice packet
Tangerine Teriyaki sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 Mirin rice wine
1/2 cup honey
Juice from 1 medium tangerine
Zest from same 1 whole medium tangerine
1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure sesame oil
2 teaspoons corn starch slurry
Garnished with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds (optional).
Peel two cloves of fresh garlic and use a small spoon to skin 1 tablespoon worth of fresh ginger. Lightly chop and add to food processor along with soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, rice vinegar and honey. Zest and juice tangerine and also add to food processor. Blend thoroughly. Add contents to medium pot and set to simmer. Add brown sugar. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Right before serving, mix 2 teaspoons of corn starch with a few drops of water, mix with fingers and add to teriyaki to thicken sauce. Stir thoroughly.
While sauce simmers, seed peppers and slice julienne along with onion. Wash mushrooms and set aside with cut vegetables. Cut all hearts in half. Heat a medium pot of water to a boil. Break Ramen bricks in half and add to boiling water. Drain water once noodles start to soften in order to keep Ramen al dente (2 to 4 minutes).
In a large skillet or wok, heat a thin layer of canola oil on medium high until oil reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add onions and peppers and turn heat to high. Once onions and peppers are seared, after less than a minute, add mushrooms. Lightly salt and pepper and stir thoroughly for 20 seconds. Finally, add pheasant hearts and ramen. Stir. Lightly salt and pepper once more. Add desired amount of sauce. Stir. In the brief time it took to salt and pepper and sauce, your hearts should have cooked to desired temperature. Plate skillet contents and garnish with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.
Jack Hennessy is a freelance outdoors journalist based out of Minneapolis and the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.