Dove-Taled

Dove as a dish came late to me because my father maintained that the bird that brought Noah the best tidal measurements in the history of the world deserved better than being shot at by a bunch of back-sliders wearing camo. For him, Biblical precedent reserved doves for a far more dignified fate than the inevitable end result of being cleaned, cooked and eaten, not to mention being shot in the first place.

But most of his friends, relatives and other riff-raff considered this notion nothing more than posturing on his part and saw doves more as manna from heaven, ready to be plucked from the sky and readied for the table. As a result, despite a boyhood devotion to avian evangelism, I have eaten dove prepared by some of the best cooks in Calhoun County, Mississippi, which is no small matter indeed.

A supper of smothered dove came home from hunting camps all over Dixie and–like an amicable hound–settled complacently in the kitchen. Smothered dove takes many forms, usually according to who’s cooking it and when it’s to be served. The more robust methods, involving substantial breading and a very thick gravy, is a country dinner favorite, most often served with rice and biscuits. A lighter version is generally served as a brunch or buffet item with grits if in the morning, with rice later in the day.

For a dinner dish, soak your dove breasts for one hour in buttermilk. Drain, add one egg to a cup of milk, drench breasts in this mixture and toss with flour seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Brown in oil, then move the breasts to a baking dish. Add enough flour to the remaining oil to make a light brown roux, and enough stock to make a light gravy. Salt to taste and season with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. Ladle the gravy over the birds and bake in a medium oven (around 350), covered, until the birds are tender and the gravy reduced.

For the lighter version, brown the breasts in butter and set aside. Make a slightly darker roux, and add enough stock for a somewhat thinner gravy. Season lightly; salt and pepper, a little thyme, and a slosh of good sherry. (Not cooking sherry; no.) Spoon the sauce over the birds and bake in a medium oven until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, arrange on a bed of rice, and coat with the remaining sauce.

Love a Duck

Now that it’s warm enough to wear wife beaters, those rascals in the Greater Belhaven “There Goes the Neighborhood” Association plan on holding their annual White Trash Bash, and soon the middle stretch of Poplar Boulevard will fog with the aroma of heart-hindering foods cooking over carbon footprints. This year the guys in the Dirty Rice Duck Hunting Club are grilling stuffed breast of duck. These morsels are perfect for any gathering where folks meet and greet, rant, and rave, and try to rise above their raising, which of course is any gathering you will ever attend anywhere or any time in your measly little life.

If you don’t know a duck hunter, befriend one; they always seem to have an extra fowl in the freezer. Most often they’ll tell you how to how to cook them as well; after all, they shot the damn thing. Hunters and fishermen who can cook really well – like Billy Joe Cross, bless his soul – should be designated national treasures. Heck, if Japan can give a tofu maker a house, we ought to buy Billy Joe a Cadillac.

Like most game recipes, this one involves a marinade. Some marinades, especially those involving acidic ingredients such as citrus juice or vinegar, act as a tenderizer, and are primarily reserved for use with larger game such as deer or boar. With duck breasts, the marinade is for flavor. It’s also very simple: one cup of soy sauce, one half-cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, and a dash of black pepper. Marinate split, boned breasts of duck in this mixture for three hours. Stuff each breast with sliced onion and jalapeno. Wrap each breast in bacon, secure with a toothpick, and grill or broil.

Roast Wild Boar

If you live in Mississippi, you’re likely to know a hunter, and sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself with game in your kitchen. Deer, duck, and dove are among the most typical, but the possibilities are only limited by the state legislature, and even that august body is subject to circumvention. Because feral hogs have become very much a nuisance in Mississippi, I’m given to understand that hunting them is encouraged; the only red tape involved is permit fees. (“Cross my palm with silver.”) In any given year, pig season officially stretches from October to May, but that, too, is (again, from what I understand) loosely enforced. It’s a good bet that if you show the slightest interest, you’re liable to end up with a haunch of wild hog even if you don’t remember saying you wanted one at a kegger in Pelahatchie.

Yes, I have a copy of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on DVD, and yes, I know all the words to every song Donna Summer ever recorded, and I even once had a pair of Daisy Dukes (don’t say it). But unless you wear gear to bed, I am not what you would call delicate, much less fastidious. When my buddy Raymond showed up at my door with this huge bloody haunch of meat in his hands, I gratefully accepted it and sent him on his way with a jar of pear preserves and his promise that he’d be back the next day after work to take some of the cooked meat home.

Back in my college days I studied medieval literature, and the accounts of their gargantuan feasts, where great gobbets of meats were served and consumed with vast goblets of wine made a great impression, so the sight of this shoulder of boar sent a vicarious thrill through my little want-a-Garter mind. I longed to have an open hearth with a blazing fire and a turnspit dog to cook the meat evenly. Alas and alack, I had no such fire, not even a place to build one in the yard (my snooty neighbors would look askance on me roasting meat on anything less than a designer grill anyway), so I was left with my trusty little oven (c. 1964).

First I washed the shoulder, which thankfully had been skinned but still had a generous sprinkling of stiff, short black hairs. I knew this wild meat had to be marinated, and for a long time, so I dragged a cooler out and there I placed the leg, which I’d salted ever-so-lightly, while I made the marinade. Not being one to waste wine, I chose to use a big can of pineapple juice and apple vinegar (4:1) with about a half-dozen freshly-squeezed oranges, two tablespoons pickling spices, several branches of fresh rosemary and threw in a Zatarain’s sack out of sheer habit. I let this simmer for a while on the stove, then poured it on the meat, added enough water to cover, closed the lid and sat the cooler in a corner.

After the leg had marinated for almost precisely 12 hours, I drained it, stabbed it in the meaty parts with a short, sharp knife and stuffed sliced cloves of garlic into the cuts. I then brushed it with a light oil (NOT olive oil), and dusted it with a mixture of salt and pepper (50/50). It went into the oven about 8 a.m. on a rack at 375 for about an hour, then I reduced the heat to about 225, and there it cooked for the rest of the day. I took it out around 4 to cool, and when Raymond came by around 5:30, we carved it up, Raymond taking most of it as well as the bones for his dog Terry, who is a friend of mine as well. The meat was quite good, not gamey at all, and just as tender as it could be.