Jerked Pheasant

What I like best about my current life is all the people from other countries I've met. My counterpart and I have met people from all over the world. The cultural exchange is really an amazing experience sometimes. We recently had lunch with a former colleague from the Islands who gave us a wonderful explanation of Jerk. It turns out it's easier than you think, but it's all about technique.

Jerk is typically a dry rub that is applied to meat before cooking. While many of us may be familiar with Jerk chicken, one if its first uses was to temper the muskiness of small game animals native to the Pacific Islands. It is robust and will overpower more delicate meats. For our first Jerk experience, we chose the flavorful and slightly gamy pheasant.

Despite its exotic flavor, it is easier to make than you might think. Most of the spices you need are things you probably have on hand. The primary flavors are allspice and hot peppers. My counterpart started with this as the base, along with cinnamon and salt. He also used smaller quantities of cumin, oregano, clove, and sugar. And, because he was planning on a slow smoke over the course of an afternoon, he mixed up a sweet and tangy marinade of white vinegar and corn syrup.

He bisected the pheasant along the spine and breast bone and rubbed the skin side. He then placed it skin side up on the grill over glowing charcoal and green wood to cook at a low temperature for about six hours, brushing on the marinade every so often.

The bird cooked through. The meat was tender and the skin even crisped. It hit all my favorite flavor points - salty and spicy from the rub, tangy and sweet from the marinade, fatty from the crisped skin, and a little bitter from the smoke. I ate all the skin and licked the fat off my fingers. The allspice and smoke worked well with the gaminess of the pheasant. Even with all those strong flavors, the bird retained its own unique character and was the right choice for this application.

We paired our bird with a couple of boiled potatoes that were also placed on the grill for a bit. Sauteed in olive oil with some leek and fresh herb, they came out slightly sweet in that nice vegetably way that was a good counterpoint to the Jerk. Together they made the perfect summer meal.

Jerked pheasant with herbed potato and leek