We're midway through the feasting season. We've passed the Turkey Threshold--Thanksgiving. And now it's bird-eating time.
The idea of serving fowl at a feast goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages. A boar's head was well and good, but the 13th Century could not imagine a real party without something that came wrapped in feathers. Certain birds were reserved for the nobility alone, and perhaps just as well--there was a fashion for eating heron and crane, whose passing no one laments. (Nor do many people today long to eat peacock, which was both a privilege and an ordeal reserved for royalty.)
Birds still add variety to our largely mammal-based diet. There's turkey and chicken, of course, and specially raised kinds of chicken such as capon and Poussin. For years duck and quail have been fashionable in the sharpest eating circles.
But where's the rich, dark meat of the goose? The gamey savor of the pheasant and that particularly Christmassy bird the partridge? Who speaks for the squab?
We do. Read on.
Celestino Drago of Celestino Ristorante prepares this dish during the holiday season when figs and game fowl are plentiful. Most small game birds may be prepared in this manner.
CELESTINO'S PARTRIDGE WITH FIGS
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon water
4 large black Mission figs
3 tablespoons butter
Rinse partridges and pat dry. Reserve neck bones and livers for sauce. Season birds to taste inside and out with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet. Cook partridges until browned on all sides. Place in baking pan and roast at 400 degrees 20 minutes, turning to cook evenly.
Combine honey and water. Brush partridges with honey mixture and continue baking 20 minutes longer or until partridges are tender.
Slice figs. Dice 2 tablespoons butter. Place figs in another baking pan. Top with butter bits and sprinkle with salt. Place under broiler and broil until figs are browned around edges. Set aside.
When ready to serve, saute radicchio leaves in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Line 4 plates with radicchio and spoon Wine Sauce around plate. Place 1 partridge over radicchio on each plate. Garnish with broiled fig slices. Makes 4 servings.
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
Reserved bones and livers from 4 partridges
1 (750-ml) bottle Barbaresco wine
2 bay leaves
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallots until tender. Add bones and livers and saute. Add wine and bay leaves and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Strain. Discard bones and reserve liver.
Blend 1 cup wine mixture with liver in blender until smooth. Add to remaining wine mixture and heat through. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter and swirl until melted to nap sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
A prized dish of the ancient Persian cuisine makes use of pomegranates--which are always available during the holiday season.
2 (2-pound) whole pheasants
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup pomegranate juice, grenadine syrup or pomegranate molasses
2 cups ground walnuts (about 10 ounces)
1 tablespoon sugar
Rinse pheasants thoroughly and pat dry. Remove any excess fat. Cut in quarters or truss and leave whole. Melt butter in large skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute until tender. Add pheasant pieces (or if using whole, cook 1 at time). Cook birds about 10 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Remove from skillet.
Add broth and lemon juice to skillet. Stir in pomegranate juice, ground walnuts and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return pheasants to skillet and bring broth to boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer over low heat 1 hour or until pheasants are tender.
Place pheasants on platter and spoon sauce over. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and walnut halves. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Grenadine syrup or pomegranate molasses may be purchased at Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Toribio Prado, owner of Cha Cha Cha, serves this turkey dish with rice and black beans (Moors and Christians), and fried plantains.
CHA CHA CHA TURKEY MOJITO WITH PAPAYA AND OREGANO
1/2 free-range turkey breast
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground mixed red, green and black peppercorns
3 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup chicken or turkey stock
Turkey drippings, optional
6 ounces green papaya, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 ounces ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and cubed
Rub turkey breast with 1 tablespoon garlic, 2 teaspoons oregano and ground peppercorns. Place in baking dish and roast at 350 degrees until meat thermometer registers 170 degrees, about 1 hour.