Recipe: Smoked Upland Bird Soup

Of all types of wild game, it seems especially common for folks to struggle with cooking small, game birds: pheasants, grouse, prairie chickens, etc. These little birds are often forced to scratch out a meager living in the forest and on the prairie, so naturally they're built to be lean flying machines. The less fat that's on an animal, the more difficult it is to cook—a good rule of thumb, regardless of the species. Game birds are notorious for getting a "dry" reputation, so it's imperative to pay close attention to the methods employed to cook them. Brining and smoking is a great option for retaining moisture in birds, and naturally, bathing them in a hearty soup will also help the cause. I shot my first limit of prairie chickens late last fall, and they were laid to rest in this off-the-cuff creation (the recipe will also work great with grouse and pheasants).

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of wild bird breasts (bone-in)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 small carton heavy cream
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 box (32 ounces) poultry broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup diced smoked bacon
  • 2 cups pearl onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 beer
  • 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Croutons
  • Fresh parsley
bird recipe
The author (right), his hunting buddy, and a tailgate full of prairie chickens.Josh Dahlke

Directions: Before heading to the smoker, you'll want to brine your lean wild bird meat so it doesn't dry out. In this case, I used a brine kit from Hi Mountain Seasonings. You can make a DIY basic brine by dissolving the salt and sugar into boiling water; let it cool (add ice to speed cooling) and then finally add the bird breasts—fully submerged. Set in your fridge overnight or approximately 8-10 hours. Patience is critical here, as the brine needs time to work on the meat via osmosis. Once the breasts have brined, smoke them to an internal temperature of approximately 165 degrees F. During the last 15 minutes of smoking breasts, add bacon slices to the smoker. Remove breasts and bacon from smoker, let cool. De-bone the breasts and dice along with the bacon.

In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, egg whites, poultry broth, fresh ground pepper, pearl onions, minced garlic, celery, beer, and grated parmesan cheese. Add a solid pinch of salt and mix contents evenly. Add diced bird meat and bacon, mix contents again. Add the soup to a Dutch oven and smoke at 400 degrees until the internal temperature of the soup reaches 160-180 degrees. Stir the soup once or twice during the smoking process.

Fill a bowl with a hearty serving of smoked bird soup. Garnish with croutons and fresh parsley. Go shoot more birds.