By Lucas Leaf
There's nothing better than walking into a giant patch of ramps, also known as wild leeks, or discovering that first morel on a beautiful spring day. I always look forward to springtime when nature wakes up from hibernation and the foraging season begins. Combining foraged ingredients with wild game is a perfect field-to-table experience.
The sausage here involves wrapping and tying the meat mixture plastic cling wrap and poaching it in simmering water. The addition of the ramps gives the sausage its vibrant green color and adds the distinct wild and sweet onion flavor that the wild leek is known for in the culinary world.
Like all wild foraged goods, proper harvesting is key to ensuring a bounty in future years. If you come across a patch of ramps, only to take what you need. Don't dig up the whole plant. Instead, cut a leaf or two from each plant down to the top of the wild leek bulb.
RECIPE: Pheasant & Ramp Sausage with Moral Mushroom Reduction
2 pounds ground pheasant (about 2 birds: breast, leg and thigh meat)
2 pounds ground pork shoulder
1 large egg
6 ounces blanched ramp leaves
¼ cup powdered milk
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups cold water
8 ounces unsalted butter (one stick)
1 cup cornmeal
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup dried morels (or your mushroom of choice)
3 cups pheasant stock (any stock can be substituted)
1 cup liquid from reconstituting morels
1 tablespoon butter
Salt to taste
Note 1: You can also make the sausage into patties or meatballs
Note 2: Garnish with pea shoots or another great spring forage like watercress
Cut the pheasant with quality pork shoulder. Pheasant is lean, and the pork adds needed fat. Cut the meat into ½-inch chunks, season lightly with salt and pepper, and place in freezer to firm up. Cool grinder parts in the freezer. Grind the pheasant and pork through the coarse plate and then the fine plate.
Blend blanched and cooled ramp leaves with the egg until the mixture is smooth. Hand-mix the ramp and egg into the meat, season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper until the mixture is tacky and well combined.
Place about 8 ounces of the sausage mix onto 12 inches of plastic cling wrap laid out onto the counter. Lightly roll the sausage into the desired size. Twist the ends until the sausage evenly formed and tie the ends off with butcher’s twine.
Drop the sausage into a pot of simmering water with enough room for the sausage to float. Cook for 15 minutes and remove to cool.
In a small pot, heat up the heavy cream, water, butter and salt until scalding (not quite simmering). Cook the polenta low and slow the entire time. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal until you the mixture begins to lift from the bottom and sides of the pan. Whisk in Parmesan and remove from the heat. Pour the polenta into a 9x9 parchment-lined baking dish. Let cool overnight if possible.
When ready to cook polenta, cut to desired size, sear in a pan and finish heating in the oven.
3: Morel Mushroom Reduction
Use chicken stock or any wild game stock that you might have in the freezer. In a small saucepot, add the stock and liquid from reconstituting the dried morels. If you're using fresh morels, sauté them in the butter and add at the end. Reduce the sauce until to about ½ cup, season to taste, add morels and simmer for one more minute.