Sometimes I am ashamed to shoot these beautiful birds, but I was raised on hunting. My father took me hunting since I was 3 years old and it has become an important part of my life.
Words like these probably have been uttered by countless other serious hunters. For Mario Quattrucci, executive chef at Orlando-Orsini, who was born in Rome and worked in restaurants since he was 13, game hunting and cooking have been passionately interlocked. He often spends two or three days a week at game clubs near Chino hunting his limit of pheasant, quail and duck when in season.
"A hunter learns respect for nature. We only hunt what we will eat," Quattrucci said. "I become angry when I hear of hunters who shoot only for sport, then leave their game on the ground." (Laws against game-wasting do exist but are hard to police, he explained.)
Quattrucci uses a cherished .410-gauge field Barretta presented to him by the national Italian Olympic shooting team during the Summer Games last August.
Superb Game Cook
Quattrucci's mother was a superb game cook, transforming the husband and son's game into fascinating dishes, such as spiedini (snipe wrapped in bacon, threaded on skewers with laurel and crusty bread slices, then grilled), or pagnotta (quail wrapped in bread dough with rosemary and garlic).
Wild game taken while hunting can be prepared at restaurants provided it is not sold, so it has become a custom during pheasant and duck season for Quattrucci to prepare the wild game at Orlando-Orsini and call a few friends "for a nice dinner."
At one such dinner in which every course contained game, Quattrucci served an appetizer of pheasant and duck pate on bite-size rounds of toast, called Crostini di Cacciagione (Hunter's Toast), followed by consomme with pheasant and herbs. A radicchio and arugula salad was topped with strips of pheasant, and a hunter's-style sauce made with pheasant and duck was served over tagliatelle (fine flat noodles). The sauce (ragu) may be used for any game, such as boar, venison, deer or rabbit. A common practice to tenderize and reduce gaminess is to marinate the game in red wine with aromatic vegetables and herbs for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Added at Last Moment
In another dish, breasts of pheasant were sauteed, and cream was added to the pan drippings along with brown sauce. Any wild berries (or even store-variety blueberries) can be added at the last moment to cook one minute for a flavor and color fillip. The last simple dish was an authentic cacciatore (hunter's-style stew), which, by implication, is easy.
"You must realize that a hunter in the forest will not have many ingredients at hand. He may have some wine or wine that has turned into vinegar, perhaps some garlic in a knapsack, and pick up some wild rosemary along the way. He will prepare his game in the simplest manner possible," Quattrucci said.
With cacciatore, a dish that originated with hunters, pieces of duck breast and legs are sauteed, then vinegar and wine are added, along with herbs and seasonings. There is a reduction of the vinegar or wine to create a glazed sauce. Quattrucci often substitutes Champagne. "It is always Italian Champagne--dry spumanti."
Dressed at Game Club
Wild game generally is dressed at the game club but sometimes is cleaned at home by plunging the game into boiling water to soften it enough to pull feathers, as was done to chickens before the advent of supermarket packaging.
We give a menu with recipes used by Quattrucci. However, any game may be used. Commercially sold duck and pheasant are widely available fresh or frozen in many specialty markets.
QUATTRUCCI'S GAME MENU
Hunter's Toast (Crostini di Cacciagione)
Pheasant Consomme (Consomme di Fagiano)
Pheasant Salad With Radicchio (Insalata di Fagiano alla Trevisana)
Tagliatelle With Duck and Pheasant (Tagliatelle al Ragu D'Anatra e Fagiano)
Breast of Pheasant With Cream Sauce (Petti di Fagiano Cremolati)
Hunter's Stew (Anatre alla Cacciatora)
(Crostini di Cacciagione)
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh sage
3 bay leaves
6 juniper berries
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Few basil leaves
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 ounce chicken livers
2 whole boneless wild duck breasts, chopped
1 whole boneless breast of wild pheasant, chopped
1 anchovy fillet, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1 ounce brandy
3 ounces gin
2 French rolls, cut up
Bread rolls, sliced 1/4-inch thick, toasted
Combine rosemary, sage, bay leaves, juniper berries, garlic, parsley, basil, onion, chicken livers, duck and pheasant breasts, anchovy and capers. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet. Add herb mixture. Saute until duck and pheasant are golden brown. Add brandy and gin. Cook until liquid evaporates.