Monday, October 17, 2011

Family birdbrains

We spend much of this past Thanksgiving weekend roaming the land and hunting.  We didn’t have any luck with caribou or moose.  They figured it was a long weekend so they slept in.
There was a smattering of little critters out there. We managed to get something for the stew pot.

This one brought the whole family together.

My darling , dashingly handsome, dear husband shot at the ptarmigan.

The shot only clipped its wing and  when he went to retreive it, the bird hopped into the thick bushes and poof disappeared into a cloud of magical snow. 

My husband and I beat the bushes and traced and re-traced the blood trail to no avail. 

So we called out the experts:
Lyra and Loulou in their natural state
Who shamed us completely and found the downed bird in no time flat. Which is nice but really not that impressive because , well, they are the most houndy- hounds ever. What was really impressive was when Lyra, who had recovered the still flapping bird, was asked to 'drop it’, the little bugger actually dropped the freaking bird at my feet and sat back, waiting for further instructions.  Now THAT is impressive considering that she is known to de-squeak and de-gut her toys in a whirlwind of puppy-manic delight. (All those 'tuff' dog toys...yeah, not so much in the hands & jaws of Lyra-girl, the Shredder.)
Here are the girls ‘inspecting’ the booty:

We got it home quick enough that it was easy to dry pluck.

I brined the bird overnight and threw it into a lemon-garlic marinade but didn’t get around to cooking it for a few days. Actually 5 days. It was a crazy week of board meetings, volunteering and all-round non-stop insanity. By the time I got home, it would be nearly 9 pm and I barely had enough energy tin me to nuke a dinner of leftovers let alone deal with preparing and cooking a bird, much less with having to clean up the mess afterwards. Anyways, we had a crap load of leftover turkey to get through.

Finally came a night when I didn’t have plans after work beyond training and and walking the girls. I got into the kitchen at the civilized time of 7:30pm. I had ptarmigan plans brewing in my head for days. 

 Since it was plucked so nicely, the skin was begging to be roasted up nice and crispy. However, if you overcook the breast meat, it not only is dry but livery and not in a good pâté  sort of way.  So I’ve developed a bifurcated cooking method that incorporates roasting and a quick sear and broil to finish off the bird.

I served the ptarmigan in a red wine cranberry sauce made with local cranberries.  Here’s the recipe:

Roasted-Broiled Ptarmigan

1-2 ptarmigan (brined at overnight, then marinated in lemon and garlic overnight or for a few days if you have a crazy stupid schedule like mine)

1 cup red wine (on top of the one you're already drinking while you prepare this dish)

Handful of minced red onion

Cupful of cranberries

Olive oil

 Sherry or balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

     1)      Prep: Preheat the oven to 425F. I have realized that my oven is a bit cranky when  it gets about 350F. So  I have it at 375F to 450F depending on the alignment of the stars.

2)      Separate the breast from the rest of the bird. Then cut the meat off the bone. Throw the bones into your handy dandy freezer cache of soup bones. Sprinkle salt and pepper onto the breasts.  Set them aside for now.

3)      Roast: Flatten the rest of the ptarmigan (back, legs and wings) so it looks like roadkill. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place it on a pan skin side up. Throw into the oven for 15 minutes.

4)      Sear: Heat a couple glugs of olive oil over medium high heat in a pan. Sear the breasts (skin side up) for 5 minutes. There should be a nice brown crust. Remove the meat from pan and set aside on a plate.
5)      Red wine-cranberry sauce:  In the same pan, add another glug of oil and toss in minced red onion. Sauté the onion until you get it nice and caramelized.

6)      Deglazed the pan with red wine.  Reduce heat to a low simmer.

7)      Simmer away the red wine until it is reduced by half. The wine should be thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.

8)      Toss in cranberries.

9)      Add a splash of either sherry or balsamic vinegar.

10)   Season to taste and set aside for plating.

     11)   Broil: When the bird is done roasting, turn on the broiler.

12)   Place breasts (skin side up) in the pan with the rest of the bird.

13)   Place pan a few inches from broiler and broil for 5 minutes.  

14)   Let meat rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

15)   Serve: Slice breast meat into slices.  The breast meat should be medium rare (Still pink on the inside) Chop the bird lengthwise along the spine.

Plate however you want.  I lay down the sauce first instead of spooning the sauce onto the bird because I like my skin to remain crispy.

drool all over the keyboard goodness
Darling, dashingly handsome, dear husband gave this meal two enthusiastic thumbs up. The skin was nice and crispy. The breast meat was juicy and reminiscent of a medium rare steak with enough gaminess to remind you that this chunk of protein is not a product of the corn industrial complex.   The sauce provided just enough tartness to compliment the wild meat. It would go well with other upland birds. 
You could do the sauce with store bought cranberries but those are basically crimson coloured packing material compared to wild lowbush cranberries.  The sauce would be good with blueberries or blackberries. Kevin suggested that a kick of orange zest would be nice but I didn’t want to have to deal with cleaning another kitchen utensil. 

Don’t think the girls were left out. They got ptarmigan guts in their puppy stew.

In all this kitchen tomfoolery, the handle for the oven door broke off. The darn thing is on its last legs. The oven came with the house when we bought it. It might be time for a new one. Where did I put that Sears catalogue??


  1. FANTASTIC blog Jen. I look forward to future posts. Shafia

  2. Hi Jen,

    I am currently writing an article about ptarmigan for the Canadian in-flight magazine Above & Beyond. I've been looking for an Arctic recipe to include and like yours very much. Would you grant me permission to have that printed in the magazine?

    You can contact me at

    Michael Engelhard
    (in Fairbanks, Alaska)