The Pheasant Family 

Three generations of hunters pass down a tradition of homemade pheasant soup

The tops of the thistle bushes are moving, but no dogs are visible. My dog, Miley, is somewhere in the weeds up ahead of me. I know her nose is down sniffing out the ever-elusive senior pheasant. She is on the hunt, just like me.

It's a cool fall morning with a bit of fog hanging in the air near Homedale. As I walk, I can feel the weight of the ammunition in my shooting vest pressing against my shoulders while the tail feathers from a pheasant poke me in the back. My legs are stiff from walking in muddy fields for the past few hours, but I have a hard time not smiling. My father flanks me on the left, my older brother is on the right. This hunt is a family affair.

As the weeds ahead of me stop moving, my muscles instinctively tense. The dog has probably found a bird. With a quick flurry in the brush, I hear a cackle as a rooster pheasant jumps into the air about 20 yards away. I pull up and disengage the safety on my 12-gauge pump shotgun. The bird flies directly away from me as I pull the trigger, pump and then pull again, my practiced movements feeling smooth and effortless. I stare, amazed, as the bird continues to fly away.

To my left, I hear a single gunshot and watch as the rooster falls to the ground. I turn and see my dad smiling at me. He has outshot me again. It's a tradition for him to get the bird and show me up. I am not a fan of this tradition, but in 30 years I hope to be outshooting my children, as well.

Who shoots the bird is of little consequence, though. The hunting is a means to an end. Our real goal is my mom's pheasant noodle soup. The soup is a thickly seasoned concoction that my family has been enjoying since before I can remember. It is a grandmotherly type of recipe that was passed on to my mother and then to my sister and me. Soon enough, I will teach my sons to make it--one is just now old enough to hunt.

After shooting a pheasant, I typically let it cool-age for a few days--a chill 50-55 degree location, like a garage or cellar in winter, is ideal. As long as the temperature of the bird drops quickly, the meat will not spoil. The aging gives enzymes time to break down collagen in the meat and that makes it more tender. But my father and I argue this point--he is a firm believer in immediate gutting and processing of game birds.

Before dinnertime rolls around, we skin and gut the bird. We take special care to wash the meat several times, since blood can cloud the soup broth. The next step is to slowly poach the bird until it is fall-off-the-bone tender. We then remove it from the stock and let it cool.

In a large pot, we then add the holy trinity of Western cooking: mirepoix--two parts onion, one part carrot and one part celery--then lightly saute this mix and add the pheasant broth. We then bring the mix to a simmer.

Trying not to eat too much, we'll pick apart and shred the meat of the bird. Often other game birds come out of the freezer for this soup as well, like quail and Hungarian partridges. Once shredded, the meat is added to the broth and left to simmer.

The best part of this whole concoction, aside from the pheasant, is the egg noodles. The recipe is simple: dough made of eggs, flour, salt and a little bit of cold water cut into thin, fettuccini-sized noodles. The egg noodles plump up like dumplings and the soup is finished with fresh herbs like sage and parsley. The smell and taste is that of a deep, rich chicken noodle soup but with a distinct "wildness" to it.

Nothing fills my soul like sitting around the dinner table with three generations of King boys eating a big bowl of pheasant noodle soup. I can remember eating the soup in my earliest days in Greenleaf; the smell of cut corn hanging thick in the air as my father and his rat-tailed dog showed up in an old white Ford F-150, triumphantly holding their birds.

This type of meal stems from a time when eating local was not a trendy option but a necessity. Most meat needed to be consumed within a few days of harvest because refrigeration methods were so poor.

My family's recipe calls for pheasant as the main protein but any wild bird would work. The idea is to live off what nature provides. Step out into the field behind the house and get a bird for dinner. Walk over to the creek and catch a few trout for lunch. Just a generation ago this was a everyday reality for many in rural Idaho--especially my family. They had to eat local, and local was what they hunted.

And that is exactly what my family is trying to replicate with its passed-down recipe for pheasant noodle soup. We hunt for an escape to another time when brothers didn't live hundreds of miles away, but right down the road. It was a time when having a phone in the house was a luxury and having one in your pocket was a fantasy.

As I pick up the bird from in front of my dog, I hear the sound of my father's Blackberry ringing in his pocket. Slipping the bird into the back of his vest, I can hear him getting excited. Two of his sisters will join us for dinner. We need to shoot another pheasant.

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