When Did I Shoot That? Saving a Freezer-Burned Pheasant

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By Hank Shaw
 
It’s August. Pheasant and quail seasons are less of a distant memory than an eager anticipation: Huns, doves and sharpies start in just a few weeks, and chasing Gentleman Bob and the wily old roosters of the Great Plains can’t be far behind. You think about this as you dive into your freezer to thaw something for dinner.
 
That’s when you see it: a Ziploc bag with something vaguely beige inside. It’s coated in frost, like your dog’s muzzle on that last frigid hunt before the season closes. Your heart sinks. Freezer burn. Terminal. Damn. You’ve just wasted an entire day’s limit of pheasants.
 
It doesn’t have to be so. Those freezer-burned pheasants do not have to die in vain. Here’s how to salvage old, torched pheasants, quail and other upland game birds:
 
  • Thaw them in the fridge. Typically freezer burn happens with resealable plastic bags, meats wrapped in plastic wrap, poorly wrapped butcher paper, or vacuum bags that have broken their seal. In all those cases except for the vacuum bag, meat juice will flow all over the place as it thaws. Make sure you put the bag in a bowl to catch it, or your fridge will be stinky.
  • Trim, baby, trim. Once the birds are thawed, use a sharp knife to trim off the freezer-burned bits. Feed them to your dog or cat. Whatever’s left is perfectly OK to eat. Not as good as fresh pheasant, but hey, better than the trash bin, right? 
Now what do you do with this old pheasant? My favorite salvage meal is white chili, which I wrote about here in April. The spices and broth mask any off flavors.

Another good option is to grind the pheasant – be sure to weigh the meat and add 20 percent of its weight in bacon – and use it for meatballs, spaghetti sauce, burgers or loose sausage.
 
You can also put trimmed, salvaged meat into any spicy dish, such as my General Tso’s Pheasant or you can use it in a pheasant curry. Think big flavors, which will hide any imperfections in the meat.
 
But the bottom line is that you can almost eliminate freezer burn by using a vacuum sealer. I’ve thawed two-year-old, vac-packed pheasant and it was virtually the same as pheasant frozen for just a few days. Typical vacuum sealers are too weak for hunters, especially if you hunt deer or elk, so I recommend buying a heavy duty version. Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro and sometimes even Walmart or Target will carry heavier duty vacuum sealers. Decent ones run about $200 to $400, but they are more than worth their price.
 
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.