Editor’s Note: Amy Thielen is a chef, a TV cook, and a two-time James Beard Award-winning writer. She will be a featured presenter on the Wild Game Cooking Stage presented by Gander Mountain at Pheasants Forever's National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic Feb. 17-19 in Minneapolis.
I won’t lie: this is a fair bit of work for a two-bite appetizer.
But some recipes just speak to you. By that I mean that some of them seem to talk back and dare you to make them. Take these Pheasant Rumaki. They’re the Russian nesting doll of appetizers: pheasant sausage wrapped around a toasted walnut, stuffed in a date, wrapped in bacon. Four layers, and every one of them packs on another level of delicious. I had a hunch these morsels would look pretty, but it turns out that their flavor is haunting enough to turn my occasional practice of boning out small-boned game birds into a habit.
Now, if the bird on your board has been plucked and still has its skin, I’d say this isn’t your recipe. Plucking takes a lot of time; make something that takes advantage of that crispy skin. But if it’s skinned, you want to just take a sharp, thin knife and cut off the meat, concentrating on the breasts, thighs and drumsticks. Pull out the thin tendons around the ankles - they look like flat toothpicks - and then scrape off as much as you can. Forget the wings; you won’t get much. (Throw them, along with the carcass, into a pot to make a quick stock: add a couple cloves of garlic, some peppercorns, and a bay leaf, cover with water and simmer for 40 minutes.)
Feed your pheasant into a grinder - I use the grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer - and follow it up with four slices of bacon. Alone, the pheasant is a little too lean, and the smoky bite from the bacon doesn’t hurt, either.
By my calculation, a single pheasant weighing an average of 1.75 pounds will yield over two dozen Pheasant Rumaki, but in truth, it was hard to count them: as quickly as I pulled them from the oven they disappeared, leaving behind a bunch of crusty, brown spots where the date juice caramelized in the bacon fat. And alongside them, a stack of used toothpicks.
Like all appetizer snacks that contain toothpicks, you’ll want to stash a few for cook’s reserve, and serve them with plenty of paper napkins and your favorite bottle of hot sauce.
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 1 1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon (4 ounces for grinding, the rest for wrapping)
- One whole pheasant (1 3/4 pound), skinned and deboned
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 teaspoon teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 24-30 plump Medjool dates
Preheat an oven to 325º F. Put the walnuts in a small baking dish and toast for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Turn the oven up to 400º F.
Cut the bacon into 6-inch strips, using about 2/3 of each slice. Measure out 4 ounces of the remaining bacon for use in the sausage. (If anything's left after that, use it for breakfast.)
Grind the pheasant through a medium-sized die, and then feed in the bacon. Add the egg, salt, pepper, thyme, ginger, and parsley, and mix thoroughly until combined.
Remove the pits from the dates and split them. Fill one side with some of the pheasant sausage mixture, top with a toasted walnut half, and then cover with another layer of sausage mixture, making a round walnut-sized lump. Cover with the date half, and then wrap the entire package in a strip of bacon, securing it closed with a toothpick.
Space out the rumaki on heavy baking sheets or in large cast-iron pans and roast until the underside is browned--after about 10 minutes. Flip the rumaki and roast until the otehr side is browned and the pheasant stuffing is cooked through, another 10 minutes, or 20 minutes in total. Serve immediately, with hot sauce and napkins.
Photo by Aaron Spangler
Amy Thielen is the author of the James Beard award-winning book, The New Midwestern Table, and the memoir, Give a Girl A Knife (coming out May, 2017), and was the host of “Heartland Table” on Food Network. She speaks and writes about home cooking for radio and magazines, including Saveur, where she’s a contributing editor Connect with her on the web at www.amythielen.com and @amyrosethielen on Instagram and Twitter.