There is an Italian tradition of eating lentils on new years eve for good luck. Since I am a self proclaimed Italian, It’s a tradition I try to do when I remember. Typically I like the lentils in the form of a soup or stew with meat in it. Although I do remember a particularly popular dish we used to make at the ill-fated Il Vesco Vino in St. Paul with linguine, lentils, olive oil, parmigiano and hot chili that was delicious.
This year I had the pleasure of planning a dinner for my grandparents and their friends. Often these little dinners give my grandpa an excuse to have me prepare some of the pheasants he has shot during hunting season. Sometimes I will simply sear the skin-on breasts a nice medium-medium well, which is nice, but finding creative ways to use the legs are fun too, since they shouldn’t go to waste. Sadly though, plenty of hunters just breast out the birds and throw them away, with the legs still attached.
Their legs require a little bit of cooking time, but you get rewarded by the meat, which is a bit richer than the breast. Unlike the meat from the leg of a chicken or duck though, pheasant leg meat really can’t be trimmed off and cooked, you have to cook the legs until they are very soft and tender, then you remove the legs from the liquid and carefully pluck out all of the bones from the drumstick. After all of the meat is removed from the bones, you just throw it back into whatever you were making. Soup is a great outlet for the meat from the legs.
Soups and other slow cooked dishes are also great places to use up those dried mushrooms you’ve been hoarding all year, since they require a bit of time to properly release their flavor. Of all the mushrooms I pick and enjoy, boletes are probably my go to for adding flavor to a simple soup like this. Boletes have an earthy nuttiness to them that I just can’t get enough of. You can definitely add a strongly flavored dried bolete like porcini from the grocery stores, but if you gather your own, no doubt you may have a few varieties that you like. This year I ended up picking more slippery jacks and random varieties of boletes than I did porcini,
Differing Strengths In Flavors Of Dried Boletes
Now if you were to make a soup like this out of two differently flavored mushrooms, like slippery jacks and porcini, you would notice the soup made with porcini tastes much stronger. Many varieties of slippery jacks I have tried simply don’t give off as much flavor as other well known boletes when dried, but that isn’t to say that they aren’t worth while. Chicken fat boletes in particular are very, very aromatic. I really recommend using dried slippery jacks in a mix with other boletes, like leccinums which are mild fresh, but very potent when dried.
Using various boletes to make great cooking mixes is no secret, and I have often seen grocery stores now carrying packets of mixed wild mushrooms that are either combinations of less expensive boletes, or a mix and match bags including things like dried chanterelles, boletes, lobsters, and morels. The little packets of mushrooms are a rip off for what they charge at the grocery store, but are a great way to harness the flavor of true wild mushrooms with no effort.
Pheasant-Lentil Soup, With Dried Boletes
Makes 5 quarts: Enough to serve ten people, scale as needed
Prep Time: About 5 hours to roast bones and make homemade pheasant stock. 1 hour to rehydrate mushrooms, chop vegetables, and butcher birds. 15 minutes to de-bone pheasant legs after braising.
Cook Time: 2 hours
- 5 quarts pheasant stock (recipe follows)
- Twelve whole pheasant legs (Drumstick+thigh)
- 2 cups each diced carrot, onion, and celery
- 1 lb dried green lentils-(if you have specialty stores near you, look for lentils du puy, they are the tastiest and have the best texture. They are very, very dark green. Resist the urge to use colorful red lentils, they turn to mush in soup.)
- 1 oz mixed dried boletes, rehydrated in cold water-(I used equal parts of dried slippery jacks, leccinums, boletus rex-veris (Spring Porcini) and boletus subglabripes, it turned out awesome. Be mindful when using morels or boletus edulis in mixes, their flavor can sometimes overpower other mushrooms, which isn’t necessarily bad.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A couple tablespoons of cooking oil, such as grapeseed or canola
- Rehydrate the mushrooms at least thirty minutes before cooking in cold water. When the mushrooms have softened, agitate them by swishing them around in the water for a bit, (I like to shake them in a mason jar to really remove any grit) then take out the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, or small tongs, strain the mushroom liquid through a fine strainer to remove any grit, then add it back to the mushrooms.
- Saute the carrots, onion and celery in the oil for 5 minutes until they soften a bit, then add the pheasant stock and legs, then bring to a boil. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 1.5 hours, or until the pheasant legs are very tender and the drumstick bone moves easily, but doesn’t fall apart totally.
- Allow the pheasant legs to cool, then remove all the meat from the bones, starting first by removing the pin bones from the drumstick portion of the leg so that none get mixed in with the meat by accident.
- Add the meat back to the soup, then add the lentils and continue cooking for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, but not mushy. Season the soup to taste with kosher salt and pepper, then serve.
Homemade Pheasant Stock
This is a basic method for how I make stock at home to use for soup. To squeeze the most flavor out of the aromatics (carrot, onion, celery) the peels and trim from the vegetables are infused into basic stock.
Yield 5 qts
Prep Time: 20 minutes to peel vegetables, 45 minutes to roast carcasses
Cook Time: About 3 hours
- 6 pheasant carcasses
- 6 qts water
- peelings and trim from dicing a 1 lb bag of carrots
- Root ends and skin leftover from dicing 1.5 lbs sweet yellow onions
- Trim yielded from a couple stalks of celery (I usually cut a couple inches off of the top and bottom of the whole celery bunch, then reserves the leaves for chopping and cooking like an herb. Celery leaf’s flavor is very similar to lovage, a forgotten and interesting herb, it is a bit more subtle though.)
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, whole, in their skin
- 1 cup red wine, dry
- Roast the pheasant carcasses at 350 for about 45 minutes until they are nicely golden brown and caramelized.
- Place the roasted pheasant carcasses and all other ingredients in a large stockpot and heat until boiling, then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and continue cooking for about 3 hours, until the stock taste rich and pheasanty.
- Strain the stock to remove the bones, vegetable trim, and other ingredients and reserve for making soup or creating sauces or gravies. The pheasant stock can be frozen for later use easily, remember if you are freezing liquids to leave 1/2 inch of headspace for expansion of the liquid though, otherwise the stock can make the container explode when it freezes.