Recipes & Cooking  |  06/26/2024

Use Those Birds


6 ideas for the last pheasants in your freezer

Story and Photos By Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Pheasant season has long ended, but there are a few birds left in your freezer. Should you make pheasant nuggets ... again? Nah, you’ve eaten your fill. On the other hand, pheasant in cream of mushroom soup doesn’t sound so appetizing in the heat of summer.

If you’ve still got some birds to eat up before fall, and are tired of the same old pheasant recipes, here are 6 solutions.

» A Breakfast Pie

Breakfast is a good place to use pheasant meat, especially leftovers. Or you can fry or crockpot meat just for this use. Shred or cut up cooked pheasant meat to drop in an omelet, quiche or frittata. Breakfast eggs are a good way to use up small amounts of ingredients that you need to stretch.

I’m partial to quiche. This savory egg pie is an elegant brunch item to highlight pheasant meat. Use storebought or homemade pie crust and prebake it, or blind bake, before adding the filling, because “nobody likes a soggy bottom,” as Mary Berry would say.

There are plenty of great quiche recipes out there — you’ll need a custard recipe, which is essentially a combination of eggs and heavy cream. For the other ingredients, add or swap out whatever you like. I like frozen spinach (thawed and squeezed dry), goat cheese, leeks and caramelized shallot. You can layer in kale and breakfast sausage for a more substantial pie.

Important: Soften veggies and cook additional meat in a pan before adding them to the pie, because they won’t cook through if added raw. Plus, precooking vegetables will help to release moisture, which can make your custard filling watery.

» Soup

Alongside pheasant noodle soup, I also enjoy pheasant tortilla soup, French coq au vin, pheasant and dumplings, pheasant and wild rice, and Scottish cock-a-leekie. Similar to casseroles, you can swap in pheasant for chicken in any soup recipe. Soup is an especially nice way to use up birds that have been in the freezer awhile.

The only thing to watch for is cooking time: Pheasant will take a bit longer than chicken to become tender in a soup or stew. If using a recipe that originally calls for chicken, make sure you set aside extra time to allow the pheasant to simmer longer to tenderize, and then proceed with the remaining steps. One hour and 30 minutes is usually my starting point with pheasant — legs, thighs and all. If you have bones, add them to the pot for a richer stock.

» Casserole

One-dish meals require little cleanup; the large portions can feed an army; and casseroles aren’t fussy to make — pop them in the oven and go about your daily life, at least for 45 minutes.

Basically, you can swap in pheasant in any casserole recipe that calls for chicken. Pheasant enchiladas, pheasant and pasta, broccoli pheasant, pheasant and rice… the possibilities are endless.

Follow the recipe instructions. If it calls for adding raw meat, then add the pheasant breasts raw. If the recipe calls for cooked or rotisserie chicken, sear or poach the pheasant breasts before adding them to the baking dish, erring on the side of undercooked rather than overcooked.

If using pheasant legs and thighs, you’d have to take the extra step of slow-cooking them first, which can be done in a slow cooker with water or broth to tenderize these tougher parts. Cook the legs and thighs until tender, remove the bones and then add the meat to your casserole. If you suspect that you’ve shot an old and extra tough rooster, or you have a little freezer burn going on, throw the breasts in the slow cooker too. I use the same technique when making wild game pot pies. Chewy meat is a no-go in either dish.

» Sandwiches

Like a good chicken sandwich, a well-made pheasant sandwich can be divine. Unless you’re making pulled pheasant sandwiches, in which you can slow cook the entire bird, pheasant sandwiches are usually best made with breast meat.

For tenderness, lightly pound the breasts with a meat mallet between two sheets of plastic wrap for uniform thickness and thus, even cooking. For juiciness and additional tenderness, soak breasts in buttermilk overnight or brine for an hour. My go-to brine recipe is:

  • 4 cups cold water
  • ¼ cup of kosher salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar

When making a sandwich that calls for coating and deep-frying pheasant, I typically reach for buttermilk. When searing uncoated breasts in a pan, I usually opt for brining. That’s just my preference.

The best pheasant sandwich I’ve ever made was battered, deep-fried pheasant breast with bread and butter pickles and coleslaw between honey-butter biscuits. Another favorite is pan-seared pheasant breast with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella, pesto and good balsamic vinegar between ciabatta. Nashville hot pheasant sandwiches are also tasty.

» Fry It

Don’t fry the legs and thighs, because these cuts will likely end up being too tough. Stick with the breasts, which can be fried to make a variety of dishes.

Use your favorite fried chicken recipes as guides, because there are a few nuances to frying meat. For example, wetting meat in buttermilk or a thick marinade will allow you to usea dry flour batter closely resembling Southern-fried chicken. Whereas brined meat doesn’t have the same binding ability, resulting in a very thin crust if using the same dry batter, so a wet batter might be a better option.

Coatings like breadcrumbs, cracker crumbs and Panko require the breading technique (e.g. dredging in flour, eggwash, final coating) to ensure the coating sticks.

If you’re a fan of German schnitzel, pound the breasts thinly and use the breading technique to make sure the breadcrumbs stick. A similar dish called katsu uses Panko bread crumbs.

One recipe I’ve tried recently is Taiwanese popcorn pheasant, which is marinated in a thick mixture of soy sauce, 5-spice, garlic, ginger, egg white and corn starch overnight. This viscous marinade — like buttermilk —helped the final coating of plain tapioca flour adhere to the meat, which gave the popcorn pheasant an amazing crunch.

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley is a writer, photographer and editor based in Nebraska. She specializes in wild game and food photography.

This story originally appeared in the 2024 Summer Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a member today!