I was bowhunting Montana prairie pronghorns the first time I shotgunned a few sharptails. It was an opportunistic affair: spot a covey, stop the truck, go after them, and score. Since then, I’ve managed to purposefully collect some sharpies, including a few in the northern reaches of my native Minnesota. Sharptails flush more like pheasants than their ruffed cousins, and usually you can get after the same covey multiple times before they abandon their core area and fly into the horizon. Bottom line: Find some birds and the next thing you should be thinking about is how to cook ’em.
Braising typically works great for any meat—especially lean wild game. For those of you who are unfamiliar, “braising” is really just a classier way of saying “slow cooking.” You start the braising process by browning your chosen meat in oil, then transfer it to a liquid bath in a covered pot where it will cook on medium heat for several hours, resulting in fork-tender, juicy flesh. The fun part is deciding what you’ll use to submerge your hard-earned organic protein. If your guests aren’t already impressed that you personally killed their dinner, this sharptail preparation is sure to turn heads. For this recipe, we take a walk on the wild side by incorporating blackberries, gin, and some other thrilling ingredients, none of which are hard to come by.
2 bone-in sharptail breasts
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons salt (use Real Salt—it’s simply the best)
1 small pack of fresh blackberries
1 can of apple/cherry juice concentrate
1/3 cup reduced gin (Tanqueray Rangpur is great)
5 sprigs rosemary
2 finely diced habanero peppers
2 sliced bell peppers (orange and yellow are fun)
1 juicy pear (I prefer a red pear)
1 cup real maple syrup
1. Mash blackberries and apple/cherry juice concentrate in a medium-sized mixing bowl until blackberries turn to a pulp. Add gin, diced habaneros, one tablespoon of salt and leaves from one sprig of rosemary.
2. Heat a medium-sized Dutch oven to medium-high temp on the stovetop. Add 1/2 cup olive oil. Lightly sprinkle sharptail breasts with salt. Add sharptail breasts and sliced bell peppers to the Dutch oven. Turn the breasts while cooking so both sides are browned evenly.
3. Submerge all contents of the Dutch oven in the prepared gin and juice bath. The sharptail breasts should be about halfway covered in liquid. If you’re short on liquid because you used too big of a Dutch oven, add some water. Slap the lid on the Dutch oven.
4. Place the Dutch oven in the middle rack of a pre-heated 300-degree oven and cook for 3-4 hours, until meat is falling off the bones.
Maple-Candied Yam Fries
This is a super-simple side item that pairs nicely with the main dish. Buy a large yam and slice it into small “matchsticks” (each approximately 1/2 inch thick). Coat the sticks lightly in olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place the sticks in a cast-iron pan and add more olive oil—enough to drown them. Fry on medium heat on the stovetop like French-fried potatoes, tossing them around the pan frequently. After about 10 minutes, your yam fries should be crispy on the outside and slightly brown. Slice the pear into similarly shaped matchsticks and set aside.
Remove meat from the bones of both braised sharptails (discard bones). Dunk the loose meat in the juices and let it sit for a few minutes, allowing it to thoroughly absorb the juices. Use a tongs to remove the meat and distribute it like a communist on your guests’ plates, making sure nobody gets an unequal share (except you, the boss). On the side of each plate, add a pile of yam fries topped with pear matchsticks; lightly drizzle the sweet yam/pear stack with maple syrup. Drop a fresh sprig of rosemary on each finished plate to bump this wild meal from 4 to 5 stars.