Tugging, pulling, plucking feathers . . . “Why would anyone want to do this?” my hubby complained.
“Don’t you know that the skin is the best part of the gamebird?” I retorted. I had finally talked him into helping me pluck feathers after years of using only the skinless breasts from our dove hunts. I had a plan and I was determined to roast the whole bird, not just the breast, and the feathers would be plucked!
The weather had really taken a toll on dove hunting this season, and with only 11 birds to clean, I assured him it would not take much time. If that wasn’t enough, I then told him we needed to make sure we kept the hearts and the gizzards, as I had a special plan to use these tiny gems with the feast I had planned to make that evening.
I’m all grown up now, but as a little girl it was nothing for me to help clean game. My dad was an avid hunter, and our farm in rural Pennsylvania was brimming with wild gamebirds, deer, rabbits, and squirrels, so this was very much our way of life. The important job of plucking feathers was tedious, and doing it without tearing the skin was how we were taught, and yes, we used sharp knives to clean the game and no one thought much about it being dangerous.
After all, we were farm kids, and farm kids got to do lots of things that other kids would never have an opportunity to do. One important lesson I learned was that very little would be wasted when cleaning game meat and for that, I am forever grateful.
I never heard of skinning a bird until I moved south. The skin is what makes the bird roast to a perfect color and texture, and it helps keep the bird moist while it cooks. Also, many health experts suggest that the nutrients in the fat in the skin are what have been missing from the standard diets of most people.
And, oh, , the dandelions! Growing up on the farm offered many opportunities to forage and harvest the bounty that nature offered. I cherish memories of walking barefoot in the fields, loving the warm spring breezes after long gray winters, when these beautiful yellow flowers were a welcome sight. The green leaves provided both fresh salads with just a splash of olive oil and vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper, or a special cooked side dish. My mom would sauté the tender green leaves with garlic and olive oil, and with a sprinkle of salt and pepper they were something everyone loved. Little did we know, these “weeds” offer amazing health benefits, We also made dandelion wine, but I will save that for another story!
Preparing the Birds:
Rinse and pat dry the cleaned birds and sprinkle sea salt and pepper generously, especially in the cavity area. Set aside while you prepare the marinade:
¼ pound grass-fed butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Sea salt to taste
Cracked peppercorns to taste
Fresh or dry rosemary
Fresh or dry thyme
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and allow it to warm slowly to melt the butter. Pour cooled-down butter and spice mixture generously over the birds, hearts, and gizzards and make sure all are covered completely. Refrigerate for an hour or more.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the birds on a rack and place a piece of fresh sage in the cavity of each bird. Roast breast side down for 5 minutes. Turn and roast for an additional 7-10 minutes until the birds are golden brown or to your desired taste. Grilling is also an excellent option. Place the hearts and gizzards in a saucepan and sauté with the herbed butter from the marinade until crispy and brown.
I highly recommend Reese All Natural Minnesota Wild Rice, which has an amazing nutty flavor and lots of texture. It takes 60 minutes to cook and is totally worth it, so plan accordingly.
Simply rinse well to make sure there are no small pebbles in the greens. I always buy organic, and don’t be surprised if you find a ladybug in the bunch. They are used on organic farms, as ladybugs are natural enemies of many insect pests. Dry the greens with a paper towel, but it is okay if they have some moisture.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and several crushed garlic cloves and then add the greens to the heated oil. Stir quickly until the greens are bright green and limp. Add some sea salt and pepper to taste. This will only take a few minutes, so prepare the greens last. If you want to spice it up, you can add a few crushed red pepper flakes.
Plating this meal is the best part. Heap the rice on the serving platter and place the birds on top. The dandelion nests not only add beautiful color, but pair so well with the rice and birds. Top the nests with the gizzards, hearts, and garlic. My hubby must have said at least 15 times that this was the very best dove dinner he has ever had, and he wished my article could include the amazing aroma from this dinner. Bon appétit!