According to Rick, who just happens to know these things at the top of his head and makes up for the fact that I'm too lazy to do any research tonight, chukars (or partridges) are not native to America. After the successful introduction of pheasants, chukars were then brought over to the United States. These birds did well out west in states like California and Oregon, but they never took root in Nebraska. For that reason, naturally occurring chucker populations are not found in the wild here. They are only found at hunting clubs that stock them for visiting club members. With that being said, that is exactly where this chukar came from. (Shout out to Pheasant Bonanza in Tekamah! Pssstt! ... Ask for Aaron Schroder to be your guide.)
It's not often that I get a bird from the field that's plucked and kept whole, but when I do, I treat it extra special. So for something different, I thought that pairing it with curry would fit the bill. This isn't specifically Indian or Thai. I just used whatever I had on hand in my pantry, and I am quite pleased with how it turned out. If you're wondering what chukar tastes like, it's a lot like pheasant or even chicken. Its light and mild.
Being small and lean, chukar can dry out easily, but the trick is to brine it beforehand-- a technique that I highly recommend when cooking game birds. It adds extra flavor to the meat and does a great job at keeping it moist. The brining may take 4-6 hours, but it's little work. Cooking the dish will only take you 35 minutes. If you have a chance to hunt for chukar, I hope you give this a try!
Prep Time: 4-6 hours
Cooking Time: 35 minutes
- 4 whole chukars, cleaned and plucked
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 tbs. of butter, melted
- 8 cups of water
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 8 juniper berries, slightly crushed
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 5 sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons of mild, yellow curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of Hungarian Paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger
- dash of dried basil
- 1 teaspoon of dried coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
- zest of one lemon, plus 1 tsp. of juice
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup of onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon of yellow, mild curry powder
- 1 1/4 cups of unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sugar, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
1. To make the brine, combine all brine ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat it just enough that the sugar and salt dissolves. Take off heat and cool completely before adding birds.
Then submerge chukars in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours. If the brine doesn't cover birds completely, just add more water or move them around now and then. You can also place a heavy dish or bowl on top to keep the birds submerged.
Since it's only me, I only cooked for one with a quail that was beginning to freezer burn.
I found a couple pieces of shot while cleaning the birds. Then another one while I was eating it. If feeding to guests unfamiliar with game, be sure to warn them about the possibility of finding shot in their meal. It's not fun when you unknowingly bite down on one with bare teeth.
3. Bake chukars in a 425 degrees F oven for 30-35 minutes, or internal temp reads 155 degrees F. Baste with melted butter halfway through.
4. To make the sauce, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, curry powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes and zest. Stir fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
Then add coconut milk, soy sauce, 2 tsp. of sugar, 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt and 1 tsp. of lemon juice. It might be easier if you mixed these ingredients ahead of time in a small bowl. Bring to a boil and then cook until slightly thickened, 2 minutes. Add chopped cilantro and adjust seasonings. Take off heat.
5. Once chukars are cooked, allow them to rest covered in foil for about 5 minutes. Then serve with curry sauce spooned on top or on the side as a dipping sauce. It tasted great with black rice. Enjoy!