October is when hunting seasons really get going in the Carolinas, and a lot of excellent fishing is also taking place. While I’m probably a fisherman first, I enjoy picking up my bow, blackpowder gun, shotgun or rifle and chasing game. This month, I’m going to switch off of fishing and offer a hunting recipe, but it’s not for deer.
This recipe began as a different way to eat doves but has developed into a favorite way to prepare many of the dark-meat fowl of the early fall.
Hopefully, you went on a Labor Day weekend dove hunt and have some of the fruits of that hunt in your freezer. Even at an age that begins with a 6, I can still remember the first time I was allowed to go on an opening day dove hunt; it was social as well as hunting and was special.
We began the morning with some clays thrown from someone’s portable thrower. This was supposed to help re-focus the shooting eye of the older hunters and help us young bucks realize the doves were moving and we had to lead them and keep swinging through the shot to be able to hit anything. We didn’t care. The smell of gunpowder was in the air, and after way too much barbecue and chicken for lunch, we would be targeting live game.
Some of the others of us got our first taste of hunting on the poling end of a marsh hen skiff. Growing up in Southport, N.C., I was one. The first full moon of fall brought forth a treat much like dove hunting, but in the flooded marsh. The extreme high tides would push marsh hens, aka rails, into the little bits of marsh that were left dry, and we would hunt them.
Motors weren’t allowed, so boys spent an internship on the stern of a wooden skiff, poling a father, uncle or other family member from hummock to hummock through the flooded grass to flush marsh hens. The men would shoot, and then boys became retrievers. After whatever was deemed an appropriate time, the young men were given a turn on the bow with a shotgun. Once the adrenaline settled down, aspiring hunters learned that for all the frantic beat of their wings, marsh hens flew slowly and were much easier to hit than doves. Steadily, birds piled up on the deck.
In later years, early seasons were opened for Canada geese and teal, and hunters had more opportunities to bag a variety of fowl. These are all wild fowl that fly regularly, and even their breasts and wings are darker meat. This posed a problem for folks who prefer white meat, and that’s where this recipe originated, first as a way to persuade finicky eaters to try doves, but it has become a favorite way to prepare doves, marsh hens, geese and ducks.
If you give it a try, I believe you’ll like it. Hey, it includes bacon, so it has to be good.
Fall fowl tacos
This recipe came about as a way to convince someone I won’t identify to eat doves and marsh hens. Over the years, it has been expanded to include ducks and geese, and it works well with them, too. After all, it includes bacon and has taco shells. Bacon and tacos are favorite and fun foods for most people, and the incentive is usually enough to get them to try this.
Let’s start with doves; while we use open-choke shotguns and rely on the pattern to cover our wing-shooting skills and bring them down, there are always a few that zig or zag into the heart of the pattern and are pretty messed up. Those doves are still great for tacos. While cleaning them, be sure to check well for shot and bone fragments, then fillet them off the breastbone and cut them into small strips. No one but you will ever know.
Marsh hens are much the same as doves, except they have enough meat to collect the legs, usually require more effort from hunters and are easier to hit. These might be the ideal birds to chase with .410 shotguns, but still, one occasionally takes the brunt of the pattern.
Most of our early ducks are smaller ducks like teal and wood ducks. Sometimes you don’t get enough for a meal, and this helps stretch them. Some of them also find the heart of your pattern.
While I like to cook geese whole, I have many friends who breast them out and don’t use the rest. It has taken a while, but I have convinced several to take the extra few minutes to also get the legs and bring them to me. Even those who think goose thighs and legs aren’t much for table fare comment positively when they eat them in tacos.
I think part of the reason people are willing to try tacos made with dark-meat birds is somehow, tacos aren’t considered a formal meal. They are relaxed and can be fun, and that’s a better way to eat anyway. Many doctors believe relaxed and fun meals aid digestion. This could be a new health trend....
Whatever your reason for wanting an alternative way to prepare dark-meat wild fowl, this recipe should cover it. I began it for other reasons, but I prepare it most often now simply because it tastes good. Give it a try. I think you’ll like it too. Enjoy.
6 to 8 dove breasts, 2 to 4 goose legs or 1 or 2 small duck breasts — or some combination of these
4 slices of bacon
1/2 head of lettuce
1 medium to large tomato
1 bag of shredded taco or Mexican mix cheese
12 taco shells (hard of soft — personal preference)
1 jar of picante sauce (mild, medium, hot)
1 package of taco seasoning
2 tbsp white apple vinegar
Water, salt and pepper
Texas Pete Cha Sauce (optional)
Clean and de-bone dove breasts, marsh hen breasts and legs, goose legs or duck breasts. Be especially careful to remove all shotgun pellets and any bone fragments.Cut the meat into thin (approx 1/4-inch) strips. Soak the meat strips in a mixture of 11/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for at least 30 minutes.
Remove meat strips from water and pat dry. Cook the bacon and remove it from pan, leaving drippings. Leave just enough bacon drippings in pan to lightly cover bottom. Sear meat strips in pan until medium browned. Add taco seasoning and water per instructions on packet.
Simmer meat and taco seasoning as per directions on packet. Shred the lettuce. Dice the tomatoes, Crumble the bacon, stir it into the meat and reduce heat to warm setting. Warm the taco shells according to the directions on the package. Assemble tacos to personal preference with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese, topping them with picante sauce.
Texas Pete Cha Sauce can be used as an alternative to the picante sauce or in addition to it. The traditional side dishes for this are refried beans and Mexican rice. Fried plantains or bananas make an excellent dessert.