Often when developing wild-game recipes, I like to pair animals with plants or flavors native or common in their home range.
But, sometime it’s fun to pluck a wild meat from here and mix it with flavors from over there, and the pheasant is perfect for that kind of experimentation.
Although more flavorful than a supermarket chicken, a ringneck’s taste isn’t that overpowering. That makes is a good protein to match with cuisines carrying bigger flavor profiles, such as the spicy notes of the Southwest.
Here, prairie pheasants team up with New Mexico’s Hatch green chiles to create a vegetal, lightly spiced enchilada sauce.
Since roosters always seem to be on the move, running or flying across the dusty landscape, they carry a lean meat that can easily dry out if cooked with a hot, dry method such as grilling or frying.
Instead, this recipe starts with an easy cooking technique that all but guarantees moist, tender meat.
By leaving the meat on the bone, then poaching it in a simple broth, the pheasant has a chance to absorb a richer, more savory flavor without drying out. Once cooked, the meat can be pulled from the bone and diced or shredded to use in any number of ways.
Bone-in breasts of two pheasants, skinned
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
6 cups organic chicken broth
1 tsp. organic chicken base
2 tbs. butter
½ medium white onion, grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
12 Hatch green chiles
Reserved poaching liquid
½ cup sour cream
12 corn tortillas
2 cups Colby jack cheese
Queso fresco, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1. In a large pot, combine onion, garlic, chicken broth and base, Kosher salt and pepper to taste. Set the pot over med-high heat and bring the poaching liquid just to the boiling point. Add the pheasant breasts, ensuring they are submerged and cover the pot.
Turn the heat off and let the pheasant cook in the poaching liquid for 30 to 45 minutes. Once the pheasants have cooked through, remove them from the poaching liquid and shred the meat from the bone using two forks. Strain and reserve the poaching liquid, discarding the solids.
2. While the pheasant is poaching, prepare the green chiles by roasting them over a hot grill or under a broiler until the skin is charred in spots. Place the roasted chilies in a paper bag or covered bowl and let steam 10-15 minutes.
Stem the green chiles, then use the back of the knife to peel the blackened skins from the peppers and remove the seeds. Roughly chop the green chiles.
To make the enchilada sauce:
1. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. When the butter is just foaming, add the onions and cook for three minutes. Sprinkle the cumin and a pinch of kosher salt over the minced onions, stir and let cook for a minute or so.
2. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute, then add the chopped green chiles and about three cups of the reserved poaching liquid. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, until slightly reduced, then remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the sour cream.
To assemble the enchiladas:
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚. Place the shredded pheasant into a bowl and cover with about ½ cup of the enchilada sauce, adding more if necessary to adequately moisten the meat. Use a flexible spatula to spread a thin layer of the sauce into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
2. Wrap the tortillas in a moist tea towel and place in the oven for 5 minutes to steam. Once softened, dip a tortilla into the enchilada sauce. Fill the dipped tortilla with shredded pheasant and Colby jack cheese. Roll the enchilada into a tube around the contents and place it seam side down in the casserole. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
3. Once the casserole dish is full, pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas, being sure to cover the ends of the tortillas. Top the enchiladas with the remaining Colby jack cheese and transfer the dish to the hot oven.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling. Sprinkle queso fresco crumbles and chopped cilantro over the enchiladas and serve.