We had a nice quail hunt at Field & Fin Adventures in Loris, South Carolina last month. The weather was unseasonably warm for mid February, and the sunny skies made for a very pleasant afternoon. We welcomed the blustery wind to cool us down as the temperatures rose to around 75 degrees. Luke, the owner of Field & Fin Adventures and our guide for the day explained that it was as close to a wild quail hunt as possible. He, along with his amazing German Shorthair Pointer named Sam, got us on birds and we were delighted to be able to take home some beautiful quail for our upcoming Valentine’s Day dinner.
Once we got our birds back to camp, I watched the cleaning process of skinning the birds, which is typical of how almost all outfitters clean their game with the volume they have to deal with. Seeing the cleaning process brought back memories of growing up in Pennsylvania. My Dad was a great wing shooter. I can still to this day see that grin on his face when he came back from a hunt with an array of wild birds. He harvested a lot of small game including, quail, pheasants, and grouse.
My Mom was more like a pioneer woman as she proceeded to clean the birds and prep them for dinner. It was not long before cleaning game became a routine chore for the “girls” and I learned from my Mom as she expertly cleaned and butchered the game. The method used was a quick dip in scalding water. We had no thermometer, just common sense and experience. The quick dip of the bird in the scalding water allowed us to pull the feathers so that we did not tear the skin. We took our time and each bird was cleaned and ready to roast in the oven.
Skinning birds was never an option when I was cleaning game. As a matter of fact, I had never heard of it until I harvested my first turkey in South Carolina a number of years back, and the guide proceeded to “breast” it. I thought to myself that it seemed a shame to not to use the entire bird. I know, it is time consuming to pluck feathers and who eats the skin and bones anyway, right? Actually wrong…Valuable collagen and minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium and are found in the very carcass we throw away. It not only makes our joints and bones stronger, it will help us keep our youth, energy and protects our immune system. Is that what we have been missing out of our diets… boneless chicken breasts, boneless chicken wings?
A popular trend, of drinking hot bone broth is now making headlines. It is actually referred to as a super food. You can buy it already prepared or you can make your own. For us hunters, we are as invested in our food as anyone could possibly be. We are in control of what we hunt and what we bring home. When we harvest a duck, think about the amazing soup you can make with the bones. When you harvest a deer, having the bone in roasts and shanks is the perfect way to utilize the best part of the deer. Most people have their processor turn them into ground meat, but that is not your best option. Roasted deer shanks are tender and delicious. I am not a butcher by any means. You can have a conversation with your processor and learn ways to include more cuts that include bone.
Making your own bone broth is very easy to do. In your own crockpot, add bones of your choice- even fish bones and add vegetables- just about anything you have in your refrigerator. Then add water to the top and cook on low for 24 to 72 hours. Once you put it through a fine colander, you will end up with a beautiful broth. Many people do not realize that you can “reuse” left over carcasses such as a turkey or chicken roast. Once you have enjoyed your meal, don’t let it end there. Take the bones and put them in your crockpot along with water and let the magic begin. These bones provide an enriched broth that you can enjoy as a soup or ingredient for other dishes.
So how do we get back to where we were harvesting our game and not wasting this gift from nature? Whenever possible, take the time to process your game in a way where you can enjoy the best and most nutritious cuts. If your hunt includes cleaning game birds, pay the extra money to have them plucked instead of skinned or do it yourself. I promise, it is not hard and it is a privilege to learn and teach the art of cleaning your game to our next generation to make sure you are getting the most from your hunts. Slow down and take your time. What’s the hurry, anyway?
Quail are delicate and delicious and with a little love can become quite a romantic fine dining experience. I love to prepare my quail with an Italian sweet sausage stuffing, browned in a skillet with sage butter and then finished off by roasting in the oven.
When your bounty is prepared and you are ready to sit down and give thanks for your beautiful quail dinner you can now go ahead and use your fingers to pick it up. It is perfectly acceptable here in the south to use your fingers when eating quail. But don’t forget to eat slowly and make sure you don’t bite into a pellet!