The Three Other Birds You Should Be Roasting Up for the Holidays

A New York chef teaches us how to look beyond the turkey

cornish hen
Turkey is out. Time to upgrade to the roasted Cornish hen.
Sara Essex Bradley

Let’s be honest: turkey is for the birds.

Roasting one is a needlessly long and arduous occasion, there’s always too damn much of it, and the meat itself tends to be rough, tough and dry, a dish made palatable only by drenching it in a saucerful of gravy. 

So today we offer an alternative. Below, you’ll find instructions on how to try your hand at three other types of poultry this December, as directed by Chef Jesse Ford of Classic Car Club Manhattan, who we recently accompanied on a trip to the stunning 10 Mile River Preserve in Dover Plains to bag some alternative fowl. 

With the help of Beretta’s Ian Harrison and some skilled hunting pups, we set out across 10 Mile’s 3,000 acres of private hunting grounds in search of mallards, wood ducks, green wings, black ducks and pheasants. Lady Luck shined upon us that day, and we headed back to the city with a gaggle of fine, feathered bounty for our feast.

From there, Chef Ford worked his magic, ginning up three fine recipes — two his own, one from New Orleans chef Mike Brewer —  to help you enjoy your own non-turkey this holiday season.

hunt to table
Hunt to table dining. (Kyle Johnston)
Kyle Johnston

Pheasant Simmered in White Wine Sauce with Crispy Capers 

From Chef Jesse Ford, Classic Car Club Manhattan

This recipe is super simple, almost foolproof and requires only one pan. It can be used for any type of game bird.

Note that oftentimes when a game bird is field dressed, its skin will be removed. This removes a layer of fat that helps protect the tender meat during cooking. But this recipe corrects for that by dredging the meat in flour and then slow-simmering it to ensure it’s super tender and impossible to overcook. 


1 pheasant cut in 4 pieces 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
1/2 lemon, with rind, cut in thin rounds 
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio 
1 cup chicken broth 1/2 lemon, juiced 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley 
3 oz. capers. drained and patted dry. 
2 oz. extra-virgin olive oil 
All-Purpose Flour for dredging 

Pat pieces of pheasant dry and dredge in flour. Lay on a plate and allow to come to room temperature. Heat 2 oz. of olive oil in a pan and add capers. Saute until they bloom and become crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on a piece of paper towel. Wipe pan and add 4 oz. olive oil and heat, then add pheasant and saute until golden brown on each side. Remove from pan and add lemon slices. Saute lemon until aromatic. Roll butter in flour and add to pan, which will help it thicken. Then, add wine, broth, lemon juice and return pheasant. Simmer about 20 minutes until tender. Lay pheasant pieces onto a serving platter and place lemon slices on top. Pour broth over and sprinkle chopped parsley and crispy capers. 

Roasted Cornish Hen

From Chef Mike Brewer, City Pork (New Orleans)


Cornish hen, deboned
1/4 lb. kosher salt
2 oz. black pepper
1/16 oz. Bay leaves
1 oz. butter, room temp.
1/16 oz. fresh thyme leaves
1/16 oz. rubbed sage
1/16 oz. garlic, peeled
4 oz. fresh spinach
1/16 oz. crushed red pepper
1/16 oz. white sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 oz. baby Yukon gold potatoes
1/16 oz. truffle salt
1/8 oz. garlic, minced
1/16 oz. parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze

Bring 1 gallon of water, Kosher salt, black pepper and bay leaves to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place the deboned Cornish hen in the brine and refrigerate overnight. Remove from brine and pat dry. Rub the hen with butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and rubbed sage. Place hen and garlic in a vacuum bag and sous vide at 150° F for 1 hour. Remove from water and rub the skin of the hen with butter. Finish in a 425° F oven for 6-8 minutes or until skin turns golden brown. Remove and serve.

Sauté spinach in olive oil with red pepper, garlic and sugar until spinach is wilted and tender. Boil potatoes in heavily salted water until tender. Remove from the heat and chill. When potatoes are chilled, smash them with pan and fry in duck fat until crispy. Remove from fat and drain. Toss with minced garlic, parsley and truffle salt. Plate the spinach with the potatoes. Top with the hen and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar glaze.

Chukar Partridge-Stuffed Jalapeños with Beer Cheese

From Chef Jesse Ford

This recipe is inspired by Steven Rinella, a great outdoorsman, hunter, wildlife protection and public lands advocate and self-taught chef. His recipe is very good, but Ford improved upon it to make it great.

“It makes for a great holiday dinner party snack,” says Ford. “The pepper and bacon keep the chukar breast from drying out during cooking, and the beer cheese is really versatile and a great sauce for anything that needs a dip.”

The recipe can be used for any type of bird. You will just need to cut them to fit into each pepper. Serves 6.


For stuffing:

6 pieces of chukar partridge boneless breast
6 pieces of applewood smoked bacon
5 tablespoons cream cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons grated cheddar
3 jalapeños halved seeds removed, stem removed
3 teaspoons salt

For Beer Cheese:

1 cup good lager beer
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons good butter
1.5 cups shredded cheddar
1 cup whole milk 
1 tablespoon paprika 
2 teaspoons garlic powder 
2 teaspoons onion powder 
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper 
2 tablespoons salt

Mix cream cheese, shredded cheddar, garlic powder and salt together. Put a small dollop of cheese mixture into each half of the jalapeños. Place each piece of chukar breast on top of cheese, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap each stuffed pepper with a strip of bacon, trying to end each wrap with the end of bacon on the uncut side of pepper, which is the side that will face down during cooking.

Start your grill. Try to stay around 350° F. While the grill comes to temperature, put flour and butter into a sauce pan. Heat and mix together with a whisk to make a roux. Pour beer into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer, stirring roux mixture to thicken. Add shredded cheese, milk, salt and spices. Simmer until cheese sauce thickens enough to cost the back of a spoon. Add more milk if necessary and adjust seasoning.

Place stuffed peppers on grill, opened side up. Sear bacon enough on one side to keep from unwrapping. The flip over and cook both sides. Let roast on the grill until jalapeño is tender and bacon is crisp and evenly cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from grill and place on plate. Drizzle with cheese sauce or serve sauce for dipping. 


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