The Super Bowl is all about parties – and appetizers. Normally that can mean anything from oysters Rockefeller to caviar on blintzes to, well, pigs in a blanket. But for a pheasant hunter, it can also mean pheasant bites – and a great way to introduce your friends to wild game.
You can do some easy ones, like fried pheasant tenders or “pheasant fingers,” slices of breast meat fried and served with a random sauce. Or maybe pheasant meatballs, done Swedish style. My favorite, however, are wings.
Yes, wings. Wha? You don’t keep the wings on your pheasants? You’re missing out. Pheasants do fly a lot more than store-bought chickens, but they’re not as athletic as ducks – when was the last time you saw the Great Northern Migration of pheasants to the Arctic? That means it’s easy to cook and enjoy their wings.
Normally, my go-to is Buffalo wings. But if I’ve had a great season, I will do a second flavor, which is actually a bit more accessible than the classic Buffalo wing, which can be too spicy for some people. I go for honey-mustard wings.
Wings are best here, but you can also use pheasant thighs. Note I say thighs, not drumsticks. Pheasants may have wimpy wings, but they are serious runners… but if you’ve ever hunted them you already know that. Thighs are awesome, but the drumsticks need to be slow-braised and the meat pulled off those rock-hard sinews. That’s another post.
The trick here is to braise the wings (or thighs) until they are all tender. And since you are using wild birds, not all wings will get there at the same time. So you can do one of two things: Pick out the wings as they become ready, or you can just braise them all the way until the last one wants to fall off the bone. You might have a couple wings fall apart if you do this, but this is what I do – it’s easier.
Once the wings are tender, coat them in the sauce and let them sit an hour or more, up to overnight, really. Then roast in a hot oven until crispified (technical term). Coat with a bit more sauce and hammer ‘em, buys!
- 3 to 4 pounds pheasant wings
- 1 quart pheasant stock or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce
- Cayenne and black pepper to taste
Put the wings and the broth in a heavy, lidded pot. If they are not totally covered by the broth, add water until the wings are just barely covered. If you need to add water, sprinkle a little salt in there, too. Bring to a bare simmer and cook gently, with the lid on, until all the wings are tender. You want the meat to be thinking about falling off the bone. Normally this takes an hour, but 2 hours isn’t unreasonable.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing all the other ingredients to a small pot and bringing it to a simmer. Turn off the heat and tinker with the flavors by adding more salt, honey, cayenne or black pepper.
When the wings are ready, put them in a bowl and add the sauce. Toss to coat. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Set the wings on a baking sheet (save the excess sauce) so they don’t touch each other and bake until they begin to brown on top, about 15 minutes or so. Turn and repeat. Toss with the remaining sauce and eat.
A member of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Hank Shaw is a hunter, cookbook author and award-winning writer. His website is Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. He lives near Sacramento, Calif.