By Tyler Viars
Pheasant Confit Barbecue Tacos
This recipe combines two of my favorite cooking techniques: confit and barbecue.
Confit stems from a French verb “confire,” or “to preserve.” Most often with meat, this involves cooking it slowly in pure fat. In my case, duck fat.
The preservation method prevents harmful bacterial growth and allows the finished product to store in a cool room for weeks or a refrigerator for months. In my presence, however, it barely lasts a day.
This technique results in fall-off-the-bone, juicy, rich pheasant perfect by itself. That being said, I like to take it a step further by warming corn tortillas in some reserved duck fat while smothering the meat in homemade barbecue sauce and finishing it with a “dollop” of my momma’s famous coleslaw.
It already stands as one of my most beloved dishes and I promise it is soon to be one of yours. Get in the kitchen, turn on the music and pour a drink. It is time to bring another dish from the forest to fork. Let’s get cookin’.
Serves: 6 people, 12 tacos or 2 Tylers
Adapted from “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking & Curing”
2 whole pheasants or roughly 5 pounds
4 tablespoons kosher salt
5 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves broken into pieces
4 cups rendered duck fat (lard or oil works as well)
Season the pheasants liberally with salt and place in a non-reactive container. Using a spice grinder or the bottom of a heavy skillet, crush the cloves and peppercorns. Along with bay leaves and garlic, sprinkle the crushed mixture evenly over the pheasant. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and place it on the bottom level of the fridge to cure overnight or up to 48 hours.
Rinse the birds under cold water and wipe off the seasonings. Dry them with a paper towel.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and place the pheasants into a heavy-bottom, 6-quart stock pot or large Dutch oven. Completely submerge the pheasants in the fat and place them on a burner over medium-high heat. Allow the oil to simmer and place the pheasants, uncovered, in the oven and cook for roughly 8 hours, or until the meat pulls easily from the bone.
Let the meat rest in the fat for an hour or cool enough to remove and shred. Shred the meat from the bone and store in an air-tight container until ready to use.
As for the bones, be sure and save them for pheasant stock. Waste nothing!
CRITICAL NOTE. Strain and reserve the fat for future use.
BBQ Sauce Ingredients:
The sauce is a play on a Kansas City sauce, but because I have spent many years in the South, I added a southern twist with the sorghum.
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup favorite steak sauce (Hint: Unless homemade, you cannot beat the one that comes before B-2)
1/3 cup sorghum (dark molasses works as well)
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. of your favorite hot sauce (I like it spicy so start with less and taste)
1 tsp. hickory liquid smoke (optional)
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chipotle chili powder (regular chili powder works but chipotle adds a nice smokiness)
1 tsp. toasted cumin (optional, but it is my favorite spice)
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
2 tsps. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. canola oil (duck or bacon fat adds awesome flavor but reduces shelf life)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
BBQ Sauce Directions:
Heat a large, 3-quart sauce pan over medium heat. Once heated, add the oil and the onion. Season it with the salt and pepper and cook until the onion softens or roughly 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Now add the remaining dry spices and stir while cooking for an additional two minutes. This allows the spices to open their flavor.
Finally, add the wet ingredients and simmer over medium heat, with the lid off for about 15 minutes. The sauce should become thick and a take on a beautiful sunset orange color.
Taste and adjust seasonings, heat, or sweetness until your desired flavor is reached.
Straining the sauce is optional if you do not like the chunks. Personally, I am a bit lazy and like the “rustic” texture.
The sauce is best after sitting in the refrigerator overnight, but is still awesome immediately.
12 corn tortillas
2 Tbsps. reserved fat from confit
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce plus more to finish
Fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
Heat two large 10- or 12-inch skillets over medium-high heat. In one skillet, once heated, add 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat and the pulled pheasant. Keep a close eye, but allow the bird to build a nice crust and get warmed through. It should take no more than 3 minutes or so.
Add the 1/2 cup barbecue sauce to the skillet and toss to coat the pheasant. Once the sauce is heated through, remove from the burner and let rest.
Meanwhile, in the other skillet, add the reserved fat and add the tortillas. The goal is to keep the tortillas pliable but warmed through. This takes 15 to 20 seconds per side. Remove from the heat and place on paper towels to drain.
Finally, the fun part: Layer each tortilla with some of the pheasant, top with the coleslaw (recipe below), and some fresh chopped parsley. Hunt, cook, share, enjoy.
To get this recipe, I had to bribe my mother with a bottle of wine and wait until after she guzzled it to get her to crack. That being said, it did NOT come easily.
3 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 – 1/3 cup dill pickle juice
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup regular ranch dressing (the secret)
1/3 – 1/2 cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Mix the pickle juice and sugar with the cabbage followed by the ranch and mayonnaise. According to Momma, “The ranch dressing and the pickle juice is the real secret to the great taste.” Please note, she does not believe in measuring. It is a game of taste, taste, adjust, and taste again.
Trout Tacos with Avocado-Yogurt Crema and Perfectly Pickled Red Onions
This dish may not be Forest to Fork but rather Pole to Plate. Despite how one puts it, this fish tastes great. (My poetic side shines.)
Having lived a portion of my life in North Carolina, fishing the streams for Rainbow Trout was introduced to me and has now become a love. Eating them in the form of a taco is something I really love.
These trout tacos come with fiery fury as they are marinated in cayenne, cumin and chipotle powder. Do not fear: The fresh avocado and cool yogurt is the dynamic duo that beats the heat. Accompany that with the acidic pop of perfectly pickled red onions, and your taste buds will be dancing the taco tango.
Prep time: 30-35 mins; cook time: 10 mins; total time: 45 mins; serves 4.
Spicy Lime-Chipotle Fish Ingredients:
2 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsps. chipotle powder (or chili powder, if you prefer)
1 tsp. fresh ground toasted cumin
1 tsp. sweet paprika
¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance. I like it to hit like Holyfield!)
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. fresh Carolina Rainbow Trout filets (other favorite fish can be substituted)
Avocado-Yogurt Crema Ingredients:
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and roughly chopped
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 tsp. Mexican crema
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground toasted cumin
¼ cup water
Pickled Red Onions Ingredients:
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup distilled vinegar
¼ cup water
1 and ½ Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsps. black peppercorns
1 and ½ Tbsps. sugar
1 and ½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves smashed
2 bay leaves
12 small corn tortillas
Shredded cabbage (optional)
Pickled Red Onions Directions:
Place the sliced onions in a Mason jar. Add the remaining ingredients to a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil for roughly two minutes. Pour hot pickling liquid into the Mason jar, half an inch from the rim and with the onions submerged. Screw on the lid and reserve until ready to use. (Pickled onions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.)
Spicy Lime-Chipotle Fish Directions:
In a gallon freezer bag, combine the trout, lime juice, olive oil, chipotle powder, toasted cumin, paprika and salt. Squeeze the air from the bag and seal. Shake the bag to mix the marinade and fish. Allow to marinate for roughly 20 minutes but no longer than an hour as the acid will begin to break down the fish.
While the trout marinates, prepare the avocado-yogurt sauce. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the avocado, yogurt, lime juice, toasted cumin, cilantro, salt and water, and process until smooth and creamy. Store in a squeeze bottle or glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a large 10- to 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet, set over medium-high heat, sauté the fish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of lard, skin-side down, until golden and crispy, about 4-5 minutes. (Other white flaky fish work as well.) Flip and cook for another 15-30 seconds and remove from pan. Cover with aluminum foil until ready to assemble.
Set a 10- to 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet or griddle over medium heat, warm the tortillas until they start to bubble and are comfortably warm to the touch. This takes roughly 45 seconds to one minute per side. If working in batches, wrap the finished tortillas in a moistened and rung paper towel. Then, wrap the tortillas in foil or dish towel to stay warm.
To assemble, cut the trout into small, 2-ounce portions and place in the center of an opened tortilla. Drizzle with the avocado-yogurt and top with some pickled onions and cilantro. Catch, cook, share, enjoy!
A Wilmington native, Tyler’s cooking skills led him to be a top finalist on Fox TV’s “MasterChef” in 2014. With his platform as a chef and avid outdoorsman, his goal is to facilitate what he calls the “Forest to Fork” movement.