Bulldog Cuisine: Roast Stuffed Ptarmigan

If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen.

The basics are simple: sauté, steam, fry, bake and broil. Anyone willing to master the basics can prepare a decent, delicious, meal that anyone will enjoy.

Today I want to share with you a wonderful recipe for Roast Stuffed Ptarmigan (the “P” is silent), given to me from Kelly Upinak, a friend who lives in Alaska.

The Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta, is a medium-sized (12–14 inches) gamebird in the grouse family. It is known as Rock Ptarmigan, or colloquially Snow Chicken or Partridge in North America. Because of the remote habitat they inhabit they have only a few predators, such as Golden Eagles, yet they can be surprisingly tame and approachable.

“Surprisingly tame and approachable” is a politically correct, zoological euphemism for stupid. According to Kelly, the ptarmigan is the most idiotic bird to have appeared on earth since the Dodo. She explained that hunters can practically club them to death since it’s possible to approach them as close as a few feet before it occurs to these hapless creatures that they should flee to avoid being killed.

“Yup,” she concluded, “they’re dumb…but very tasty.”

Roast Stuffed Ptarmigan with Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Needless to say, as there aren’t many places in the lower 48 where you will encounter Ptarmigan, Cornish game hens are a perfect substitute.

Ingredients for stuffed birds

4 Ptarmigans or Cornish game hens
½ cup butter
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp dill
1 tbsp dried parsley
3 tbsp rosemary
3 tbsp thyme
2 tsp sage
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp black pepper
2 cups artichoke hearts, drained
2 cups unflavored dry bread stuffing
2 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
8 whole sage leaves
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp sour cream
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup finely diced red onions
½ cup chopped Portobello mushrooms
½ cup finely diced celery
¼ cup finely diced carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place spices in a small spice or nut grinder and whirl for 10 seconds to achieve a finer consistency. Melt butter in a small sauce pan and add spice mixture. Stir thoroughly to incorporate spices into the butter and set aside for a few minutes to allow flavor to develop. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the spiced butter.

Thoroughly wash birds with cold water; clean out any remaining entrails and, if using Cornish game hens, reserve any giblets. Dry the birds thoroughly inside and out and arrange on a small oven rack. Apply spiced butter inside and out using a pastry or similar brush. Pull skin slightly away from breast meat. Slather butter underneath skin of each breast and insert a single fresh sage leaf.

Finely dice any reserved giblets. In a small sauce pan on medium heat, melt reserved butter and add giblets, onion, celery, carrots, mushroom and garlic. Cook until onion starts to become translucent. Add chicken broth and stir thoroughly, scraping bottom of pan, until almost all of chicken stock evaporates.

Remove from heat. In a large bowl, mix the artichoke hearts, sage, sour cream and eggs. Fold in the stuffing bread and then add the vegetable mixture from the pan. Continue folding until all ingredients are well mixed.

Gently press the stuffing into the cavity of each bird – do not overstuff. Place birds back on rack and place rack over a large, shallow dripping pan. Cover with foil and place in oven at 325 degrees. Put leftover stuffing in a pie or meat loaf tin, cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes to one hour.

When done, the birds should be a nice golden brown; to be sure, insert a knife tip into thickest part of the thigh on one of the birds – the juice should run clear. Stuffing is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve with creamed spinach and a salad of split plum tomatoes, shredded fresh basil leaves and fresh mozzarella medallions tossed in extra virgin olive oil with a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve cranberry-orange sauce alongside roasted birds.

Ingredients for cranberry-orange sauce

1 tbsp butter
¼ cup dark molasses
1-½ cup fresh orange juice
1-½ cup fresh cranberries
4 tbsp orange marmalade
1 pinch of salt
2 jiggers Cointreau
2 tsp corn starch in 2 oz. water

Melt butter in saucepan and add molasses. Mix thoroughly on low heat and then add orange juice. Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer and add cranberries. Continue stirring until all of the cranberries have burst. Add marmalade and salt and continue stirring. Mix cornstarch with water and add a little at a time, stirring briskly, until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon. If sauce is too thick, reduce with a little more orange juice. Add Cointreau and continue stirring on low heat for five more minutes. Remove from heat and keep pot lidded until ready to serve.

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