Personally bringing game to the table, and cooking deliberately, Scott Leysath lives the life of The Sporting Chef.
PHEASANT LEG STEW
8 to 10 servings
- ½ cup butter
- 1 cup carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup flour
- 5 cups pheasant or chicken stock
- 2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 cups whole milk (Optional—if omitted, add an additional 2 cups stock)
- 1 cup cooked wild rice
- 2 cups cooked pheasant, shredded
- Salt and pepper
Braising is much the same process that most people use with their slow-cookers. Tough cuts of meat are first browned before slowing simmering them in a shallow pool of flavorful liquid in a covered container. This is a great way to turn pheasant legs and thighs into tender vittles. After several hours in a low-temperature oven, otherwise tough muscles can be easily pulled away from the bones. Best of all, braising can be done well in advance and in mass quantities. Save the legs and carcasses in the freezer until ready to use and braise them all at once.
Brown the pheasant legs in a large lightly-oiled, heavy-duty, oven-safe stock pot. Add diced onion, celery, and carrot. Continue the browning process until the onions are translucent. Remove the pheasant legs. Add about 1 inch of liquid—wine, broth, water, or a combination—and stir to deglaze bits stuck to the pot. Return browned pheasant legs to the pot, cover, and place in a 325-degree oven, making sure that there is always at least ¾- to 1-inch of liquid in the pot. After 3 hours, test for doneness. Meat will fall off the bones when done. Cool and remove the meat.
Return picked leg and thigh bones to the braising pot. Add additional celery, carrots, onions, along with a few garlic cloves, a bay leaf or two, and, if available, a few sprigs of fresh herbs. Cover the contents of the pot with cold water. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for several hours. Pour contents of the pot through a colander to remove large pieces. Discard contents of colander, line the colander with cheesecloth or paper towels, and pour liquid through the colander to clarify the stock.
Any recipe for a stew should be used as an outline, a starting point from which you simmer a palatable blend of protein, vegetables, and stock. Adding a starchy component like potatoes or rice will add body to an otherwise brothy pot of stew.
- Melt half the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add next ingredients (from list at left) and cook until onions are translucent.
- Add butter. When the butter is melted, sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir often for 3 minutes. Stir in ½ cup pheasant or chicken stock and continue stirring until smooth. Add remaining stock, a little at a time, while stirring.
- Add mushrooms and milk (if you want it a little creamy), bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in rice and shredded pheasant. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Known as The Sporting Chef, Leysath has traveled the world with a gun in one hand and a carving knife in the other. His culinary ascension has been remarkable. His early work managing and owning restaurants affirmed his love of cooking and, at the same time, cast a light on a forested trail that only he could see, a path around the daily grind of food service that hung like an albatross around his culinary inclinations.
While it may be possible to become an expert on cooking wild game without ever picking up a gun, that’s not the road Leysath took. From his early years in the woods of Northern Virginia to his more recent residency in the heart of California duck country, The Sporting Chef has always explored the most direct connection between field and fork.
Fortunately for us, Covey Rise was able to spend time with him in the fields of North Dakota this winter. He prepared meals and also recipes for our enjoyment. Here are some takeaways from our interview with him, with a recipe following. Check out more recipes in the upcoming Chef + Plate posts.
“Wild game home cooks routinely go to extraordinary lengths to mask the taste of wild game. They’ve been told that no game shall be prepared without a lengthy soak in some concoction aimed at driving out the evil gamey spirits. After someone recites a recipe, they often end with, ‘It’s so good, it doesn’t even taste like duck,’ which, to me, is not a victory. I can’t say that I blame them. There’s a good chance that they were raised on overcooked wild meats that tasted muttony, livery and gamey. If my duck tasted like liver, I’d try and cover it up, too.”
“Once my freezer is full of sinewy upland bird legs and carcasses, I’ll load them into a roasting pan along with scraps of vegetable ends, peels, skins and a garlic bulb or two. After browning evenly in a 450-degree oven, I crank down the heat, add an inch or so of white wine and cover the pan while braising for several hours. Dump the whole mess into a stock pot, add cold water and simmer overnight. Oh sure, the windows get a little steamy and the shutters might be a tad greasy, but the aroma is intoxicating.”
“I grew up in Virginia when standard quail hunting protocol involved cruising the country in search of promising hedgerows and briar patches. We’d find the landowners the day before and assure them that all gates would be closed, no livestock would be liberated and, if needed, we were available to help with any heavy lifting or grunt work as repayment. We didn’t have dogs, just a good sense of where bobwhites like to hang out and we could always find enough rocks and sticks to scare them out of a brush pile or berry thicket. I’ve since never been without at least two setters, English and Gordon.”
“As a kid in suburban Virginia, I remember riding my bike into town with my buddies to find out what all the fuss was about a Jack-in-the-Box taco. We’d never had one before. It was deep-fried and delicious, but only a faint resemblance of the real deal. I later went to college in Tucson, Arizona, and soon discovered that ‘real’ tacos didn’t come with a slice of American cheese and the meat was, well, actually just meat—at least I think it was.” —Joe Healy
We featured Chef Leysath in the April-May 2016 issue of Covey Rise, where the full feature and all recipes are published.
Photographs by Terry Allen.
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