On my birthday, I usually get some variety of game, so it only makes sense that on our nation's birthday, this also holds true. And, since it is July, it's going to be grilled.
To mark Independence Day, my counterpart grilled up another pheasant. There are some preparations you need to make for grilling a game bird that are not necessary with a domesticated bird like your typical chicken. First, you'll need to understand that pheasants are only partially domesticated. Even the ones at the grocery store most likely were not raised on a farm but were allowed to fly freely in an open space. They don't go through a factory for cleaning and packaging like our mass-produced chickens and turkeys. They are most likely plucked and packaged by hand. This, combined with their more muscular physique, means that the first step to preparing your pheasant is to ensure that there are no little down feathers or quills on the carcass. You'll need to remove any plucking residue by hand.
And here's one of the rare occasions when you can use your MAP torch in the kitchen as this is a good way to finish the job. Remember you are not trying to sear the bird. You're just trying to burn off any little hairs that might remain.
To ensure even cooking on the grill, you'll want to split it down the middle, or even quarter it. We decided to quarter our bird.
Once it's split, you can season it with a little spice rub. For today's freedom pheasant, my counterpart combined mostly bitter flavors with a little heat, which tend to go well with the irony flavor of this game bird. This is a good spice mix for pheasant and other birds:
Chinese five spice
Red Tandoori spice
One of the problems with doing a spice rub is the presence of moisture from the cleaned bird. My counterpart resolves this by using a couple of large, shallow bowls. He placing his quarters in the first bowl for the rub. As he rubs each piece, he places it into the second bowl. Most of the moisture stays in int he first bowl, and the spices end up more evenly distributed.
For grilling meat, we are partial to the charcoal grill. It generates a nice smoke that is easily controlled for both heat and flavor. We didn't do anything fancy with any of the various types of natural wood we have been known to add to the grill. We simply started up the charcoal in our chimney starter, poured it into the grill, and let the flames die down until we had a nice smoldering heat.
Here's a nice thing you can do when grilling: place several lengthy sprigs of fresh rosemary on the grill and put your bird skin side up on the rosemary. Cover it and let it cook slowly, checking on it every so often to flip it. Ours cooked for about 90 minutes over low heat, which was long enough to cook it through without drying it out.
Once it's off the grill, you can glaze it with a sauce before serving. Glazing the bird after it is off the grill rather than while it's cooking prevents the sauce from scorching, especially if you're using a sweet sauce. And, today we definitely went sweet.
While the grilled pheasant was resting, my counterpart make a quick herbed caramel sauce using some of the same flavors from the spice rub. He sauteed fresh basil, sage, and thyme in a good amount of butter. He then added allspice and red Tandoori spice. Once the butter was completely melted, he added a splash of white wine, a couple of drops of habanero sauce, and a generous pour of King syrup. He let it boil for a few minutes before removing it from the stove and pouring it over our pheasant.
Paired with herbed potatoes, this was a spicy sweet sticky greasy mess of a perfect summer grill dinner. I live the robust and gamy flavor of pheasant. The stronger taste and firmer texture make it a superior alternative to chicken. While the price differential means it will never replace its domesticated cousin. But for something a little special from the grill, it's a very good choice.