When Eric’s friend Jim asked if we’d be interested in eating any pheasant he might bag while hunting this fall, I was immediately transported home-to a place called Elkhorn, Wisconsin. When you hear of a town called “Elkhorn,” you might assume that the cows greatly outnumber people. And…you would be pretty much right.
It probably won’t surprise you that the community I hail from hunted, fished, and trapped, and…fun fact, yours truly was a licensed trapper in the great state of Wisconsin at age 9.
Let’s take a moment to consider how amazing that is. Not only does trapping require one to handle dead animals, but most trapping takes place before sunrise…two scenarios I now avoid with great fervor.
While I am now officially a City Mouse, my roots are rural, which is why when the offered pheasant came home to our freezer, I happily started researching what to do with it.
To his credit, his intuitive pheasant cooking skills led to something quite delicious…but I needed some more specific guidance than “not so much a recipe as a thing I did.” When my typical recipe-idea avenues like Pinterest and Food Gawker came up sadly short of pheasant recipes, Google led me to some outdoorsmen-led forums on bacon-wrapped game poppers like this one: the Gun Dog Forum.
With slighly less finesse than, say, Epicurious, I was still able to find some “bleep good” ideas from these forums, and I could virtually hear the voices behind these forum entries…voices that sound like every fishing show host. ever.
So, with all these tips under my belt, I knew what to do with my pheasant, though not exactly how to “tenderize the heck out of” them. I was a little too squeamish to cut the pheasant off the bone, which Eric graciously did instead. I then marinated the pheasant overnight in a marinade similar to this one, to give it just a touch of sweetness.
Thorougly marinated, I made little boats out of halved and seeded jalapenos, then filled the boats with cream cheese, a piece of pheasant, and a water chestnut cut in half. I wrapped the concoction in bacon, topped it with a brown-sugar-butter sauce like this and roasted the poppers for about 30 minutes.
After my lip stopped burning from their thoughtless brush with my jalapeno-seed hands, I totally and completely enjoyed these. These poppers are all about balance. You’ve got some major kick from roasted jalapenos, completely balanced by the cream cheese. The marinated pheasant adds a touch of sweetness, a perfect match for salty bacon. The water chestnut gives what would be a squishy texture just the right amount of crunch. These poppers hold together so well, glued together by the caramelized brown sugar and butter, making them the perfect holiday party appetizer. Pheasantless or pheasant-averse? Use chicken instead.
We absolutely loved these and felt totally convinced of the Internet’s need for a complete recipe for pheasant poppers, for foodies and pheasant foragers alike.
(recipe by me...inspired by my father-in-law and multiple online forums)
(yields 20 poppers, easily halved or doubled)
These tasty bacon-wrapped appetizers are made up of jalapenos topped with cream cheese, marinated pheasant, and water chestnuts, topped with a brown-sugar-butter sauce. You can also substitute chicken for the pheasant.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. honey
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
2 pheasant breasts, meat cut off the bone and sliced into 1" x 1/2" pieces
10 jalapenos, halved lengthwise, seeded and deveined
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 small can water chestnuts, rinsed and drained, then cut in half
10 pieces of bacon, cut in half
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. soy sauce
Marinate the Pheasant:
Whisk together all marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl until thoroughly combined. Place cut pheasant pieces in marinade. Cover and marinate all day or overnight.
Assemble the poppers:
Cook bacon strips in a pan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until bacon JUST begins to brown on the edges. Remove from pan while it is still pliable and let drain on a paper-towel lined plate.
Lay the jalapeno halves, cut side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Fill each half with cream cheese.
Place 1 to 2 pieces (whatever fits easily) of pheasant on the cream cheese.
Top the pheasant with water chestnuts.
Lay a half strip of bacon on a plate. Place jalapeno mixtures, WATER CHESTNUTS DOWN, on the bacon. Bring the ends of the bacon up to connect over the jalapeno and use a toothpick to secure. Place bacon-wrapped poppers, toothpick-side down, back on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Top each popper with a pinch or two of the brown sugar.
Melt the butter and mix in the garlic salt and soy sauce.
Pour the melted butter mixture over the poppers.
Preheat oven to 400* and bake poppers for 30-35 minutes or until bacon is crisp and pheasant "feels" firm and done.*
Serve immediately (warn your guests about the toothpicks or remove them yourself first).
*Each time I've made these, the parchment paper is covered in a disturbing shade of black between the poppers - I think this is part burned cream cheese, mixed with butter...it's black and scary but trust me, your poppers are not ruined.