STEVE KNIGHT/ email@example.com
YANTIS – Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against a dove breast stuffed with jalapeno, wrapped with bacon and tossed on the grill, especially if the fire is from mesquite wood.
Just a guess, but I would bet 90 percent of the dove cooked in Texas are cooked that way because it is fast and tasty. Even if the dove is overcooked the bacon and pepper are still pretty tasty.
“When I first came to East Texas was used in everything was wrapped in bacon and I try to steer away from that, but it is a good way to do dove, bacon wrapped with cream cheese and jalapeno,” said Hidden Lakes Hunting Resorts chef Cruz Minjarez.
However, as connoisseur of dark meat Minjarez is a fan of any game meat like dove and duck because it has more flavor. Actually he believes cooks are missing a lot not utilizing wild game in more meals and in different ways
“It is very under-looked, in my opinion, these days. A lot of people don’t eat wild game any more and that is one thing we are trying to promote here being a hunting lodge,” said Minjarez, who has cooked in restaurants in Texas as well as a lodge in Alaska before coming to East Texas.
Minjarez, who often does multi-course meals featuring wild game for the public on weekends at the resort, said he likes the flavor of dark meat, although that can make it difficult to work with when cooking.
“Dove is a very dark meat. It dries out really fast. That is one of the cons of it. So what you have to do is cook it fairly fast. There is a lot of prep involved. You have to marinate it to pull the gamey taste out of it. It is a tender, flavorful piece of meat as long as you don’t overcook it,” he explained.
To help solve that problem Minjarez has come up with a simple, but effective marinade made of a 50/50 mix of milk and brandy.
“The advantage is that the milk keeps it moist and the brandy helps pull a lot of the gaminess out, and you can soak it in that marinade for at least 7 to 11 hours. Of course the longer you do it the more it pulls the gaminess out. I find it is a good way to start your dove out. You can cook it anyway after that,” said Minjarez, added that the marinade also works for ducks.
The chef said dove can be prepared as an appetizer like the bacon-wrapped favorites or prepared in other ways either as appetizers or a main course. He recently displayed that versatility by cooking some fried, which could be for either the appetizer or a main meat, and using a smothered dove recipe.
Preparing the fried quail depends on how the bird was cleaned in the field. If it was plucked, like few hunters do any more, it can be cooked without being drenched in flour. If it is breasted it should be dipped in an egg and milk bath before going into the flour.
“If you just have the breast and don’t keep the skin adding a coating of flour helps seal in those juices so it doesn’t dry out,” Minjarez explained.
He starts by added about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and a little paprika to the flour. He holds back on the spicy cayenne so it does not overwhelm the taste.
He then covers each bird with flour, then into a milk and egg wash with a little Tabasco, back through the flour and into grease heated to 350. Home cooks may have to start with the temp a little higher because when the birds are added they will pull the temperature down. There is a fine line between too hot and not hot enough.
“It can be too hot where the outside cooks before the inside will. You will have a seemingly cook bird where the outside is crispy, but the inside is raw,” Minjarez said.
Keeping the birds separated while they cook, the chef said it should only take a couple of minutes in a deep fryer. He prefers leaving the birds a little pink on the inside so they remain juicy.
If frying on the stove he recommends using a cast iron skillet using a medium low heat.
Once the birds are done sprinkle them with a little salt, let sit a couple of minutes and they are ready to eat.
“I have done it with waffles and a bacon gravy, a little play on chicken and waffles,” Minjarez said of ways to serve the fried birds.
His bacon gravy is basically cream gravy made with a rue starting with bacon fat. As it thickens he adds bacon crumbles back into the gravy and adds a little maple syrup for the sweet taste.
Smothered dove takes about 45 minutes to cook, but is not overly difficult.
Minjarez begins by sautéing chopped onions and garlic in a white wine sauce. Using about a cup of wine he will put it on high heat to reduce the liquid. Once that is reduced he adds the cream.
“I don’t recommend seasoning that right off the bat because it is cream and if you season it now it could curdle on you. So I recommend seasoning at the end,” Minjarez said.
In a second pan he heats a small amount of oil then drops in dove that have been lightly floured, cooking them just enough to create a slight crust. To his flour he adds celery salt, garlic power, salt and pepper, but said any combination can be used.
Once done the dove are placed in the cream breast side down and allowed to cook about 25 minutes before being flipped to bone side down to finish. At that time he adds a little Worchester sauce.
As the cream thickens he reduces the flame to a medium low heat to allow it to finish while simmering.
Minjarez does not cover the pan with a lid. Instead he cuts a round piece of parchment paper that will fit into the pan and cover most of the birds and cream. This acts as a lid, holding a little bit of steam in place but prevents the dish from boiling and getting tough.
When he thinks the birds are about done he will pull one and slice it to check for tenderness and to see if done.
At the very end he seasons simply with salt and pepper.
He serves them over mashed potatoes with the cream smothering the birds and providing a gravy.
It may seem like a lot of effort for a small dove breast, but then again think about what went in to bring it home.