"It was still hot back in Mississippi and in Texas, where I used to live, but it was already cold up in the mountains, up in the North, in this place where I was going to start a new life. The immediate, pressing problem, I realized, was that winter was perhaps a month away. I knew nothing about winter. I had never seen it before, and I felt dizzy with fear, giddy with wonder, anticipating it.
The dogs, I could tell, were worried too, and missed Mississippi. I could tell they thought I was making a mistake."
Back for a third trip to the Texas Panhandle to chase pheasants. The birds were doing better up around Dumas, so that's where we went this year. Another good time.
First morning, it was a balmy 6 degrees Fahrenheit by nine o'clock, very cold by our standards. It eventually warmed up to the low thirties. The birds were flushing pretty wild but we found enough slow ones to fill our bag.
The next day we started in the teens, much more pleasant, and had some birds hold close right off. We ended the day hunting wastewater pits full of brush and weeds and, on some of them, the birds would boil out all at once, making picking out the roosters and getting a shot quite a challenge, sort of like a really big quail covey rise, only with the birds going in more directions and the limitation of having to pick out roosters over hens.
It's interesting hunting such an unfamiliar landscape. Almost everything in agriculture, mostly flat, enormous amounts of food on the ground right now in the form of waste grain and seemingly very little cover at all. The number of owls and hawks you see in a day is surprising, too.
If you're looking for a good hunt on wild birds in northern Texas, these guys have good land leased and run a nice hunt.
We've had a bit of weather blow through and more on the way. Colder weather lends itself to some very satisfying cooking- stews, soups, braises, long roasting and other slow techniques. In much the same way, some of the tougher cuts of meat are more fun to mess with. A chunk of backstrap is a wonderful thing. Sear it or grill over a hot fire, dressed only with a bit of salt and pepper, and you have a nice meal. Tougher cuts, though, that take some cooking, seasoning, and tenderizing, are both more challenging and, in some ways, more satisfying. Not that I'll be giving up (or giving away) backstrap anytime soon.
In any event, the last elk I put into practice a technique I'd been thinking about for a while. Instead of trimming the shank all the way out and turning it into stew meat or cutting out the big tendons and grinding it for burger, I used a saw cut a couple of the shank portions across the bone and froze them, bone, sinew and all, for braising. I never got around to cooking those during cold weather last spring and now it's the right weather to braise. That and we're about down to the odds and ends of that elk.
Pretty, aren't they?
Steve Bodio wrote about cooking elk shank a while back so, with that in mind and a glance at a couple of osso bucco and daube recipes, off we went.
I browned a half of a pig's foot in some olive oil first:
While it was browning, I tossed the shanks in a bit of seasoned flour:
Once the pork was brown, I removed it and browned the shanks on all sides. In turn, they were taken out and replace with a head's worth of garlic cloves and couple of onions.
A bit of browning for the veggies, then I deglazed the pot with a bottle of (inexpensive, not very good) wine. Once the wine began to boil I added a couple of cups of elk stock and returned the meat along with a bouquet garni of rosemary, sage, and oregano.
Covered, the whole thing was banged in a slow (250 F) oven for the next few hours. Once the meat was fork tender I took the lid off the pot and let things thicken up a bit, adjusted the seasoning, and added a precious half-cup of elk demi glace I'd made a while back. Meanwhile, rolls went into a much hotter oven.
Along with a nice red wine, mashed mixed root vegetables, and a green salad, a very good meal for a cold night.
The first few elk and deer I processed on my own, I didn't have access to a grinder and cut everything into stew meat. Getting enough sinew and silverskin out of the lower shanks took a long, long time and the waste about outweighed the meat recovered. Even once I started grinding my own burger, the shanks were more than a bit of a chore. You can't grind the big sinews in them and all that silverskin hangs up the grinder. This way, that connective tissue was cooked into submission and contributed to a rich, winey stew. I'll cheerfully trade a few hours of running the oven for hours of knife work, especially with such a nice result. Next time, a few mushrooms added wouldn't be amiss.
We've been down on the Rio a few times recently. We still don't have that many ducks down here and the hunting has been a bit slow. Good fun, though.
A and her Ruger Red Label, sunrise:
Long time friend, good cook, and occasional commenter Matt on his inaugural duck hunt:
We had a good hunt, even if not too many birds were around and our shooting wasn't quite up to par. A few birds in the bag and nice weather- nothing to complain about. Unlike the next.
Fortunately, there's no video to go with this one- me, working on my balky autoloader. Can't imagine why it was acting up. Getting set up early doesn't do much good when you have to work on your gun in the dark. Having a single shot makes you really concentrate on the bird for your one try, too.
Booker, posing with bad grace next to a banded bird. That bird traveled all of seven miles from the banding site, not many northern birds down yet. Books was busy watching the sky and wanted to go find more, not fool around with cameras and a bird in the hand:
Last, a bittern in a riverside drain (may have to click on the photo to see anything). He had the good grace to act exactly as reputed, putting his beak in the sky and mimicking a reed or stump, rather than flying off.
Not much blogging lately, a trend that's likely to continue. A house on the market, a sale, moving & consolidating and various other things have cut down on time on the 'net. Heck, you can see the dog is neglected, pushing his ball under the fence in a vain effort to coax some fun out of a day of cleaning up the yard. No complaints, though, we've been having some fun as I'll detail in the next few posts. More on the horizon, too.