I see hunting as one of the most respectful and honest ways one can acknowledge what meat eating means, so when a friend offered me a pheasant from his hunt, it was time to make pheasant confit and invite guests.
“People” always say “love is hard” and “love takes work,” and I nod while balking at the notion. Why? Why must it be so hard, especially when social media is full of bright and shiny couples leading perfect lives?
As we embraced, he said, “We’ve been through a lot.” The weight of our years together hit me in a new way in that moment. I saw two overlapping sinusoidal curves, and for the first time, I viewed those extreme highs and lows with compassion. I saw two people who followed their hearts down life and career paths that didn’t pan out.
I saw the way those failures broke each of us in different ways. I saw the financial stresses and vulnerabilities that came from those decisions. I saw the health scares and battle scars. For the first time in too long, I truly saw the person who stood beside me, built me up and put me back into the ring time after time. Perhaps for the first time, I really began to understand why love is hard.
Love is hard because we are two complex human beings who are constantly in search of ourselves, trying to communicate confusing feelings to one another. On solid ground, these complexities might find a rhythm, but life is like the insane tight rope strung between the twin towers.
It’s a constant barrage of wind and noise and (maybe not for the tightrope walker ?) a constant fear of face planting. Two humans on a tightrope is a gamble. One person’s tiny misstep sets the once taught rope into that sinusoidal curve. It’s a very tricky balancing act, but with great work, as they say, two people on a tight rope can become quite the act!
As I tried to shed my own defensiveness, and as I began to unravel the many challenges we’ve experienced in this curvy life of ours, my heart and mind returned over and over again to one dinner. When everything starts to feel uncertain, I return to my seat at that dinner party. It was a wintry feast featuring pheasant confit. It was the first time I cooked wild game.
It was the first time in far too long that the dining room brimmed with people and felt pleasantly small. Most importantly, it was the first time we truly hosted a gathering together, from the very start of ingredient sourcing to the very last dish. It was the first time welcoming our friends to the table felt truly like welcoming them to our table, in our home.
I find so often with the slow, intentional labors of love, pieces start to fall into place and exceed even my obsessive planning. This dinner started as a sort of bait from a friend after a hunting trip. Do you want a pheasant? The question was more accurately, do you want to cook and share a pheasant? I did, but let me tell you, there are not a lot of food bloggers sharing pheasant recipes. I researched, made a decision (the hard part), and then I dove into preparing pheasant confit, flipping the birds (literally!) in a pool of liquified duck fat.
Beyond the decision to confit a bird (a first for me), I felt a different sort of reverence for this bird. I didn’t just pick up a plasticized cut of meat from the neon-lit cooler. Our friend waited in the cold (this is one part of hunting I do not understand), hunted this bird, plucked its painterly feathers and [mostly] cleaned it (Josh, you could have been a bit more thorough, but we’ll allow it). We foraged winter branches, berries and greens from our dog’s happy place, which became a centerpiece backdrop for the pheasant feathers.
We went to a specialty, local business to find the duck fat. We shopped our local coop and chose local squash and roots to serve alongside a wild rice given to me from a partner in a rice farm. I had been waiting for the right moment to serve those grains, and this was the perfect time. We toasted Farmhouse Wines, whose label reminds me of the worn farmhouses surrounding my grandparents’ South Dakota land.
A friend brought fresh-baked biscuits by my very adamant request, I must admit. Every element of the meal was infused with effort and intention, and for once, because it was a gathering we hosted together, I had a quiet moment before the guests arrived to sit and enjoy the sparkle and order of it all.
The quiet gave way to the cacophony in the best sort of way: passing plates, clanking aged silver, booming voices, the soundtrack through the speakers, little dog pants hoping for a scrap of that slow-cooked meat… I want to sit at this table for as long as possible.
And now for more of the wintry feast elements…
Bird Dog Whiskey
A theme party enthusiast at heart, this whiskey was a must, especially because Josh’s dog, Sela helped with the hunt. (This was not sponsored. I’m just a beverage and dog nerd, obviously.)
Farmhouse Wines Natural California Red
Farmhouse Wines offered to send me two bottles of their wine to try (but all opinions are my own), and based off the quick refills at the gathering, the wine was a success, but the bigger merit, in my book, is the care and environmental stewardship that goes into each bottle.
The label depicts the namesake schoolhouse at Green String Farm in Northern California, which serves as the library and study room for students seeking to learn the Green String method of sustainable farming, developed by Bobby Cannard and Fred Cline. The wines reflect Fred and Nancy Cline’s commitment to natural and renewable farming. The grapes are grown using many of the same standards Bob Cannard has used to nurture organic produce for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse for over three decades. I will gladly raise my glass, salute my friends and drink to that!
Goose Valley Ranch Brown & Wild Rice
Family-owned Goose Valley Ranch is nestled high in the Cascade Mountains, south of Mt. Shasta, and the wild rice, unlike most commercial brands, comes from just one location – Goose Valley, where sustainability for future generations is a high priority. Goose Valley uses solar panels and a hydro plant for energy. They use barley straw, not herbicides, to control moss and algae in irrigation, and they’re constantly striving for better practices.
I met one of the partners, Barbara D. Mattaliano, through my commercial food styling work, and we were instantly kindred spirits, swapping recipes, travel stories and ideas. Barbara had given me wild rice to sample, and I, like the nostalgic that I am, was waiting for just the right special occasion, and this dinner, with slow cooked pheasant confit, thoughtful California wine and my friends, was just the occasion. I’ll share the grain salad recipe in a separate post, so stay tuned.
Foraged Centerpiece & The Feathers
I know meat eating can be controversial, that this post might offend some, but as I have come to find my own way of eating and trying to live in support of nature, I have chosen to make meat a part of my diet (with many stipulations). I have a lot of respect for hunting and for those who make that deep of a connection to the food they eat.
Making this pheasant confit made Kyle and me question our own capacity to hunt and face the reality of our choices. I did not adorn the table with the pheasant feathers from a place of irreverence but rather as a way to honor the whole bird, and I foraged from a local area as a way to embrace the beauty of winter.
Pheasant Confit with Golden Beets & Sauerkraut
… and of course, there was dessert (a gluten-free apple pie), but that’s a story for another day (real soon)!
Thanks for taking a digital seat at this table!
Pheasant Confit with Golden Beets & Sauerkraut
About this Pheasant Confit Recipe
“Confit” is meat preserved in fat, usually its own fat, but since I didn’t have a stock of pheasant fat, I went to a local meat purveyor and purchased duck fat. I prepared 3 pheasants for 8 people, which was ample. You can adjust the recipe depending on your demand/supply. The pheasant had already been butchered, [mostly] cleaned and plucked and stored in salt by the time I received it, so I don’t have much information to offer on those steps. I didn’t season the meat, and it was so flavorful on its own and as a final dish with the beets, but you can also experiment with fresh herbs. The golden beets recipe works well with other white meats like pork or chicken, as well as simpler preparations of meat (think crispy chicken thighs for weeknight meals).
I recommend watching this Bon Appétit video on pheasant. It helped me a lot in planning this recipe.
Pheasant Confit Ingredients
3 pheasants, cleaned and butchered
3.5 lbs duck fat, melted (but not hot)
Golden Beets Ingredients
adapted from Bon Appétit
¼ cup walnuts
3 tablespoons plus ½ cup olive oil
Pink Himalayan sea or kosher salt
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
3 medium golden beets, scrubbed, cut into bite-size pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups sauerkraut, plus ½ cup brine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
½ cup finely chopped mint
½ cup finely chopped parsley
¼ cup finely chopped dried tart apricots
For the Pheasant Confit:
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Make sure the birds are cleaned of any feathers or visible buckshots (and be sure to warn eaters to be aware that buckshots might still be in the finished pheasant confit). Arrange the pheasants in a dutch oven and cover with liquified duck fat. Cook at 200°F until the meat is cooked, tender and falling off the bone, anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. (Note: You can serve the pheasant confit at this step, broil it for a crispy skin, or complete the recipe with the Golden Beats.) After the pheasant confit has cooked for 3 hours and is nearing doneness, start the golden beat preparation.
For the Golden Beats:
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant. Let cool, then chop.
Heat 3 Tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the onions and the beets to same skillet and cook, stirring often, until the onions are slightly translucent and browned, 10–12 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, sauerkraut, brine, broth, wine, and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook until beets are fork-tender, 25–30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the toasted, chopped walnuts, mint, parsley, apricots, remaining 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, and remaining ½ cup oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
Spoon beet mixture over the pheasant confit. Top with the walnut sauce.
Serve and enjoy!