Recipe: Pheasant Confit Barbecue Tacos

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This recipe combines two of my favorite cooking techniques: confit and barbecue. Confit stems from the French verb “confire,” which translates to “preserve.” Most often with meat, this involves cooking slowly in pure fat. In my case, duck fat! The preservation method prevents harmful bacterial growth and allows the finished product to store in a cool room for weeks or a refrigerator for months. In my presence, however, it barely lasts a day. This technique results in fall-off-the-bone, juicy, rich pheasant that tastes delicious by itself. That said, I like to take it a step further by warming corn tortillas in some reserved duck fat while smothering the meat in homemade barbecue sauce and finishing it with a “dollop” of my momma’s famous coleslaw. It already stands as one of my most beloved dishes and I promise it is soon to be one of yours. Get in the kitchen, turn on the music, and pour a drink. It is time to bring another dish from forest to fork. Let’s get cookin’.
 
Serves: 6 people or 12 tacos
 

For the confit: 

Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking & Curing
 
  • 2 whole pheasants or roughly 5 pounds of pheasant meat
  • 4 tablespoons of kosher salt
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 8 whole black peppercorns  
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 bay leaves broken into pieces
  • 4 cups rendered duck fat (lard or oil works as well)
Season the pheasants liberally with salt and place in a non-reactive container. Using a spice grinder, or the bottom of a heavy skillet, crush the cloves and peppercorns. Along with bay leaves and garlic, sprinkle the crushed mixture evenly over the pheasant. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and place it on the bottom level of the fridge to cure overnight or up to 48 hours.
 
Rinse the birds under cold water and wipe off the seasonings. Dry them with a paper towel.
 
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the pheasants into a heavy bottom six quart stock pot or large Dutch oven. Completely submerge the pheasants in the fat and place them on a burner over medium-high heat. Allow the oil to simmer and place the pheasants, uncovered, in the oven and cook for roughly eight hours, or until the meat pulls easily from the bone. Let the meat rest in the fat for an hour or until cool enough to remove and shred. Shred the meat from the bone and store in an airtight container until you’re ready to use it. As for the bones, be sure to save them for pheasant stock. WASTE NOTHING.
 
CRITICAL NOTE: Strain and reserve the fat for future use. 
 

For the BBQ sauce:

The sauce is a play on a Kansas City sauce but because I have spent many years in the South, I’ve added a southern twist with the sorghum.
 
  • 2 cups of ketchup
  • 1/2 cup of yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite steak sauce (Hint…unless homemade, you cannot beat the one that comes before B-2)
  • 1/4 cup of sorghum (dark molasses works as well)
  • 1/3 cup of honey 
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce (I like it spicy, so start with less and taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of hickory liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of chipotle chili powder (regular chili powder works, but chipotle adds a nice smokiness)
  • 1 teaspoon of toasted cumin (optional, but it is my favorite spice)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil (duck or bacon fat adds awesome flavor but reduces shelf life)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Once heated, add the oil and the onion. Season it with the salt and pepper and cook until the onion softens (roughly 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Now add the remaining dry spices and stir while cooking for an additional two minutes—this allows the spices to open their flavor. Finally, add the wet ingredients and simmer over medium heat with the lid off for about fifteen minutes. The sauce should become thick and a take on a beautiful sunset orange color. Taste and adjust seasonings, heat, or sweetness until your desired flavor is reached.
Straining the sauce is optional if you do not like the chunks. Personally, I am a bit lazy and like the texture. 
 
The sauce is best after sitting in the refrigerator overnight, but it’s still great served immediately.
 

For momma’s coleslaw:

Note: To get this recipe, I had to bribe my mother with a bottle of wine. It did not come easy.
 
  • 3 cups of shredded cabbage
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup of dill pickle juice
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup of regular ranch dressing (the secret)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Mix the pickle juice and sugar with the cabbage followed by the ranch and mayonnaise. According to Momma, “the ranch dressing and the pickle juice are the real secret to the great taste.” Momma does not believe in measuring, so adjust the measurements according to taste.
 

For the tacos:

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons of reserved fat from confit
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce plus more to finish
  • Fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
Heat two large, 10 to 12 inch skillets over medium-high heat. In one skillet add the pulled pheasant and allow it to build a nice crust and get warmed through. Add the 1/2 cup barbecue sauce to the skillet and toss to coat the pheasant. Once the sauce is heated through, remove from the burner and let rest.
 
Meanwhile, in the other skillet add the reserved fat and add the tortillas. The goal is to keep the tortillas pliable but warmed through. This takes 15-20 seconds per side. Remove from the heat and place on paper towels to drain. 
 
Now comes the fun part. Layer each tortilla with some of the pheasant, coleslaw, BBQ sauce, and top it off with some fresh chopped parsley. Hunt, cook, share, enjoy! 
 
An Ohio native and contestant on Fox' MasterChef, Tyler Viars prides himself as a “rooter to the tooter,” waste-nothing cook. Follow and interact with Viars and his Cookin’ in Camo brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.