This is basically a German mac-n-cheese with some pheasant bits tossed in. It’s easy, homey, and kids will love it. You can serve this in a big casserole, or, for a dinner party, in individual ramekins. It reheats well, so you might want to make a big batch on the weekend and eat it for weeknight meals.
Obviously, any boneless light meat works here, not just pheasant breast. Chunks of wild turkey breast or rabbit are especially good here.
Feel free to substitute flours here. With game, I like using old wheats like emmer, einkorn, or spelt. Rye, barley, or whole-wheat flour are also fun.
Serves 4 to 6
¾ pound boneless meat, such as pheasant breast
4 cups onions (about 2 large), sliced root to tip
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 to 4 teaspoons honey
2 cups flour
A few gratings of nutmeg, about ¼ teaspoon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk
A healthy pinch of salt
5 ounces Gruyère or Swiss cheese, shredded
¼ cup chopped chives or parsley
Preheat the oven to 400°F, and grease a casserole dish or ramekins.
To poach the breasts, bring 2 liters of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to the boil. Remove from heat and slide the breasts into the water, allowing them to sit for about 5 minutes, or until just cooked. Remove and rest for 10 minutes at room temperature, then place in the fridge until ready to serve.
While you’re poaching the meat, caramelize the onions. Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they begin to brown on the edges. Then turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Toward the end of this time, stir in the thyme and honey. When the onions are pretty and brown, turn off the heat and set aside.
You can make the spätzle while the onions are cooking. Mix all the spätzle ingredients together into a batter that should be a bit thicker than pancake batter. Bring to a boil a large pot of water and salt it well.
To make the spätzle, use a spätzle hopper—easy to get on Amazon.com for less than $10—or use a colander with wide holes. Add the batter to the hopper or the colander, hold it over the simmering water, and drip the batter into the water (if you’re using a colander, a rubber spatula will help move the batter through the holes). You’ll be making lots of little dumplings. Let them boil on the surface for a minute or two, then scoop the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a baking sheet to cool. Coat them with a little butter or oil to keep them from sticking together.
Make the dish by layering some spätzle, then pheasant meat, then caramelized onions, then a bit of the chopped herbs, then cheese into the casserole dish or ramekins. Shoot for at least two layers—three is better—and be sure that shredded cheese is on top.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese melts and begins to brown.
This is an excerpt from Pheasant, Quail & Cottontail with permission of H&H Books and author Hank Shaw.