Wild About Game
Nicky USA is Portland’s very own specialty meat purveyor. A local business that can supply both chefs and adventurous home cooks with whatever game meats they could possibly want. And since the company supplies the area’s grocery stores and butcher shops, you can order your duck or pheasant or wild boar or what-have-you from, say, the New Seasons meat department and pick it up within a day or two. No crazy expensive cross-country shipments filled with dry ice and styrofoam.
Each fall the company hosts a wild game cookoff on Mt. Hood between a handful of Portland and Seattle chefs. It’s become kind of a big deal in the industry because it turns into a big overnight party. But for us attendees, it’s still a fun way to get to know the ranchers, farmers and artisans that supply Nicky with their meats.
We drove up to The Timberline lodge to check it out for the first time. The lines were long but the food was great. And the views, of course, were incredible. It was definitely a great way to spend a fall afternoon.
And we left with a renewed urge to take advantage of Nicky’s wild meat selection. Here’s the result.
Pheasant Breasts With Spaetzle, Bacon and Chanterelles
Makes 4 servings
Spaetzle are a deliciously chewy, eggy little dumplings that are easy to make (though it is slightly messy). Still, they’re well worth a few batter splatters. Pheasant has a more robust flavor than chicken, making it a welcome departure from the usual.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
4 (8-ounce) pheasant breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon, diced
3 ounces chanterelles or shiitakes, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup unsalted butter
To make spaetzle:
Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Salt generously. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. In a measuring cup, whisk together the milk and eggs. Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry until smooth.
Place a bowl of ice water near the stove. Scoop some of the batter into a spaetzle maker and press it out over the boiling water (or use a slotted spoon and press the batter out using the back of another spoon). Allow spaetzle to cook until they float to the surface, about 1 to 3 minutes. Then cook about 1 minute more. Remove spaetzle with a slotted spoon and place in the ice water. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Spaetzle can be made ahead; just drain, toss in oil and refrigerate.
To make pheasant: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season pheasant breasts with salt and pepper. Set a large cast iron Dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the drippings behind.
Set the pheasant breasts, skin-side down, in the bacon drippings. Place in the oven and roast breasts for about 10 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 155 degrees.
Transfer breasts to a warm plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Set the skillet over medium-high heat and add the drained spaetzle. Saute for a few minutes until beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and saute until mushrooms have released their juices. Add broth and thyme; stir to scrap up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer, and allow to cook until broth is reduced a bit. Add bacon, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the spaetzle mixture among 4 dishes, place a pheasant breast on top and serve.