Dove Weekend 2016 | Jamie Oliver's "Roast of Incredible Game Birds"

Last weekend we headed out to El Centro for a dove-hunting adventure to celebrate the dove season opener.

It's out past the Yuma desert and it can get crazy hot, crazy windy, or both:

As usual we probably got there too late. We're always aiming for a pre-dawn start to catch all the birds as they awaken and start their morning flights, but by the time we actually set up camp, the sun was well in the sky. I brought some reading material for the waiting game.
This is my favorite Jamie Oliver book, bar none.

The photographs are gorgeous all throughout this book, and if you are good at gardening, you will find inspiration in its pages. You will also find considerable hunting inspiration.

Here Jamie Oliver pens one of my favorite modern-day essays on hunting. I subscribe to the thinking behind it 100%: if you eat meat, why would you prefer to get it from a factory farm in which that animal lived a horrible life and died an inhumane death, instead of from a free-ranging animal that lived a good life and died a quick death? Why feed your family meat that is loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones over plucking a few feathers or trimming some fins? 

Hunting can affect the way you buy your non-hunted meat too... and cook it. It can also affect the way you think about that animal, having hunted before. 

So I settled on this recipe: Roast of Incredible Game Birds with Proper Polenta, in case we failed to limit-out on the doves (spoiler alert: of course we failed to limit out.) If you get a ton of doves you can make a bunch of them this way, or mix in some teal or grouse or whatever else you like. Do you make your own sausage? I don't, but if you do it would be phenomenal with this.

 Here's one of our doves. Good-sized, and their crops were full of long grain.

Plucking in the field. I love to do this out in the field because the feathers go everywhere. The wind takes them up and away, unless you save the bigger/prettier ones for later.

The doves cleaned up well. Do yourself a favor and watch this video by professional food photographer and hunting guide Holly Heyser. The simplicity of it changed my life with regard to dove cleaning!

And now, the recipe! 

Ingredients - mix up the birds any way you like. Use literally any kind, it's all good! 

1 pheasant or 2 chickens, spatchcocked, washed and patted dry - I used one chicken for the 5 of us.
2 wood pigeons, washed and patted dry - I used doves.
1 guinea fowl and/or 1 partridge and/or 4 quails, washed and patted dry - I did not have them.
Herbs from Provence, or sprigs of Thyme and Rosemary
1 lemon or orange, zested
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 sticks celery, trimmed and roughly chopped - I used peas because our household loves them!
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 Italian sausages - I used 2 chicken sausages and would recommend pork; they will do better in the oven.
A few sprigs fresh bay, leaves picked
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound polenta
A wineglass red wine (recommended: Chianti) - I used a pinot noir I had opened.
1/2 cup butter, divided
2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan
Extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat your oven to 475.

Either ask your butcher to spatchcock the guinea fowl / chicken / pheasant for you, or do it yourself: Turn the bird upside down and cut underneath the legs with a good pair of scissors. Remove the bony part of the carcass that has no meat on it (bearing in mind that you want to save the incredible meat around the legs) and open the bird out like a book. 

You can then stuff the cavities of the other birds with the flavorings - salt and pepper, olive oil, a sprig of rosemary, a sprig of thyme and a little orange or lemon zest. I love to use Herbs from Provence because it has a bunch of good stuff, especially lavender.

Place the onion, celery and carrots in a large roasting pan (or 2 small ones) and lay the sausages and birds on top. On the way home we picked up my favorite chicken sausage from Sprouts - both sweet and spicy. In retrospect, if I were you, I would try pork sausage in this recipe, and my reason is that chicken sausage is a bit lean to let roast in the oven for as long as required for the larger bird/s to cook.

Throw in the bay leaves and more Herbs from Provence or thyme + rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and massage it into each bird. Season all the meat generously, wedging the smaller birds between the larger ones and protecting them from direct heat by kind of burying them among the other ingredients. 

Place in the preheated oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, turning the birds a few times, until the meat is juicy and cooked through to the bone. With a few/smaller birds, one hour will be more than plenty.

After half an hour, bring 1 quart of salted water to the boil in a non-stick pan and whisk in the polenta. Turn the heat right down, place a lid on so it's ajar (otherwise the pan might spit hot polenta all over) and simmer for 50 minutes, stirring it as often as you can. If it starts to become too thick, add some more hot water. I had to do this many times. 

Is now the time to tell you that I don't really care for polenta? Because I really don't. I just kept thinking about how much more delicious this meal would have been with my mashed potatoes instead. But if you like polenta, go ahead and make it.

Remove the birds from the oven, lift them out of the pan and keep warm. Put the pan on the burner, pour in the wine and simmer gently to make a quick sauce. 

Then see to the polenta - stir in about 3/4 of the butter and all the grated Parmesan. Once smooth, taste and season if required. Spoon all the polenta onto a big board or platter, spread it out evenly and put to the side to firm up a little.

Give your sauce a stir and add the rest of the butter. Strain it through a sieve into a pan, pressing down hard. Cut the bigger birds into drumstick thighs and breast pieces and place with all the other birds on top of your polenta. Slice the sausages and add to the pile. Spoon the red wine sauce over the top and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Put the board in the middle of the table and let everyone dive in. As Jamie says, "A fantastic feast!"


Hope you enjoy! Thanks for looking, and happy hunting!


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