Somehow, wild game tastes better in winter than at any other time of year — and perhaps tastes best during the holidays. And while pheasant and ruffed grouse seasons remain open, and at least a smattering of archers are still in the woods hoping to lay up venison for the coming cold months, for the most part, hunters’ guns are hung up for the season. Now let’s cook. Venison, anyone? Of course. But here we offer it walnut-crusted, along with a delectable mulled pheasant, accompanied by green beans and sweet potatoes with candied bacon. Enjoy!
Pheasant in Brine
Note: This needs to be refrigerated overnight.
• 1 gallon (16 cups) water
• 1/2 c. noniodized salt
• 1/2 c. sugar
• 8 cinnamon sticks
• 1/2 bulb garlic, peeled and smashed
• 6 oz. fresh ginger, smashed
• 3 tbsp. allspice berries
• 1 (2½-lb.) pheasant, plucked
In a large pot, combine 1 gallon water, salt, sugar, cinnamon sticks, garlic, ginger and allspice. Stir until both salt and sugar have dissolved. Add pheasant. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight. Thoroughly rinse pheasant and pat dry when ready to roast.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Truss dry pheasant and place on roasting tray, breast-side-up, and slide into oven. Do not salt and pepper. After 10 minutes, turn oven down to 350 degrees, continue to roast and rotate roasting tray for even roast, if necessary. Roast for another 30 to 40 min, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Cover with aluminum foil until ready to serve.
Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
• 1 c. bourbon
• 1/2 c. sugar
• 1/2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
• Orange zest from half an orange
• 1 c. orange juice
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 3 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 (12-oz.) bag fresh cranberries
• 3/4 c. chicken stock
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
Heat a deep sauce pan on medium low and add bourbon and sugar. Stir until sugar is mostly dissolved, then add fresh ginger, orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Bring to a boil and add cranberries, stirring often until sauce thickens, then reduce heat to very low. When ready to serve, add chicken stock and stir until absorbed. (You can also add any drippings from pheasant into your cranberry sauce.)
• 3 tbsp. butter, divided
• 3 medium shallots, thinly julienned
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
• 8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
• 1 lb. fresh green beans, stemmed
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. pepper
• 1 tbsp. dry oregano
• 1 tsp. paprika
In a large skillet, heated on medium low, add 1 tablespoon butter and the shallots. Stir until soft, add garlic and deglaze with balsamic vinegar.
Add mushrooms and another 1 tablespoon butter. Once mushrooms absorb liquids, add green beans, along with salt, pepper, oregano, paprika and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Cover and toss ingredients often. Turn heat to very low once beans are soft but still slightly crisp.
Sweet Potatoes With Candied Bacon
Note: The colder the bacon, the easier it is to dice.
• 12 oz. bacon, diced
• 3 lb. sweet potatoes
• Canola oil spray
• 3 tbsp. butter, melted
• 1 tbsp. brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Add bacon to large skillet on medium heat. Stir often until bacon bits are brown but not overly crisp, about 18 minutes. Drain bits through sieve and set aside. Save bacon grease for use with the venison.
Rinse sweet potatoes and chop into 1-inch cubes. Lightly salt cubes and place on roasting tray. Spray with canola oil and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until potatoes are slightly brown and soft. Remove and set aside.
Mix bacon bits with melted butter and brown sugar. Add that mixture to roasted potatoes and place all back in oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
• 1 (8-in.) length of venison backstrap (about 1 lb.)
• Bourbon Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)
• 4 oz. walnuts, crushed
• Fresh basil for venison garnish
In a small skillet, heat leftover bacon grease on medium. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
On stovetop, in grease, sear all sides of venison roast. Place in roasting tray and into oven (can go at same time as sweet potatoes). After 10 minutes, remove venison roast, place topside in Bourbon Cranberry Sauce, then roll in crushed walnuts. Place back in oven for 5 minutes.
Remove venison, cover with foil and let sit for 5 minutes. Slice and garnish with fresh basil.
Former line cook and passionate denizen of the outdoors, Jack Hennessy is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” He lives with his wife in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.