Gamebird Gourmet // Pheasant Tamales

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Enjoy the endless filling options and flavors of meat with friends and family

By Lukas Leaf

Believed to have originated in Mesoamerica, tamales are a steamed dish of masa, which is a dough made of nixtamalized (look it up!) corn formed around a filling and cooked in a corn husk or banana leaf. Masa Harina is most commonly used to make tamales, as I’ve used for this recipe.

What is historically fascinating about these little steamed wonders is that many ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans used tamales as an easy food source for hunting trips and supporting their armies. Tamales are the perfect complete meal in a portable form.

Tamales can be time- and labor-intensive to make. Invite friends over and make it a group effort by forming a tamale assembly line and giving the nod to the tradition of Mexican tamales made at home with extended family. Filling options are endless so have some fun experimenting with different flavors and types of meat.
 

Recipe: Pheasant Tamales

Servings: About 20 Tamales

Tamale Dough
Time To Make: 20 Minutes
  • 6 cups Tamal Masa Harina 
  • 11/2 cups pork lard, duck or bear fat
  • 5 cups game stock (unsalted or very 
  • lightly salted)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground ancho or guajillo chili
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons coarse salt
Salsa Verde - Makes One Quart
Time To Make: 3 Hours
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 yellow onion, large, diced
  • 5-7 large cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups chopped cilantro
  • 3 limes, juiced
  • Salt to taste 
  • Extra virgin olive oil
Lime Crema
Time To Make: 5 Minutes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1-2 limes, juiced
Pheasant Tamales
Time To Make: 2 Hours
  • 1 bag of corn husks
  • Tamale dough 
  • 11/2 pounds braised or roasted pulled pheasant
  • 1 quart salsa verde
  • 1 8-ounce bag queso quesadilla cheese
  • Lime crema
  • Cilantro

Directions
  1. Cook the meat. Braise or roast the pheasant meat until tender. If braising or slow cooking the meat in a crockpot, use simple aromatics like onion, garlic, spices and fresh herbs. Save and strain the cooking liquid to use alongside the stock called for in the tamale dough.
  2. Make the salsa verde. Peel and run tomatillos under hot water to remove any sticky residue. Toss the tomatillos, poblanos, jalapenos, onion and garlic in a pinch of salt and enough olive oil to coat everything. Roast the vegetables at 450º F for 25-30 minutes or until lightly charred and fully cooked through. Immediately move them to a metal or glass container and cover for 15 minutes to steam the peppers. Peel the skins and remove the seeds. Cool the vegetables in the refrigerator and purée until smooth with the lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste. 
  3. Soak the corn husks. Before mixing the dough, cover the corn husks in room temperature water to soak. Rinse them thoroughly, drain and soak again in clean water. If necessary, weigh the corn husks down to submerge them in the water.
  4. Make the dough. Mix the dry ingredients in a standing mixer or by hand. Melt the fat and mix it into the dry ingredients until fully incorporated. Lastly, add one cup of stock at a time until the dough is thoroughly mixed. 
  5. Mix the filling. Shred the meat and mix it with about ¾ of the salsa verde. Reserve the rest for serving the tamales. 
  6. Fill, roll and tie the tamales. Evenly spread about 3 ounces of the dough towards the top of each husk, leaving enough room at the bottom to fold the husk over and at the sides to roll together. Sprinkle the tamale dough with water as you go to keep it moist, and work with wet hands if you can; the dough will be easier to spread and won’t stick to your hands. Lay 1-2 ounces of meat in the middle of the dough, sprinkle some cheese and roll the husk around the tamale. Fold the end over and tie it off with a strip of corn husk or butcher’s twine.
  7. Steam and serve. Steam the tamales in a covered steamer pot with hard-simmering to almost-boiling water for 30-40 minutes. Remove and let the tamales sit for a few minutes and serve with the lime crema, extra salsa verde and a little cilantro. 
Tips And Tricks
Tamales freeze well and heat up in the microwave in a pinch for a quick meal. Though this recipe makes about 20 tamales, you could easily double or triple the recipe and stock up the freezer. Vacuum seal the tamales if you can. Wrap the tamales in a damp paper towel to keep the dough from drying out when reheating.

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to see more delicious pheasant recipes in the pages of Pheasants Forever Journal, become a Pheasants Forever member today!