Holiday meals

The holiday season is a great time to share some of that wild game you’ve been collecting during the fall with friends and family. Knowing we were going to have a house-full for Christmas this year, I wanted to prepare a few dishes (or at least the main components) ahead of time, and also make some items that would last all week in the frig and be handy to set out anytime the crowd was looking for some finger food to take the edge off before the next big meal. Charcuterie offers a classic way to do both so for this holiday season I dove into making sausage, smoked proteins, and even my first terrine. Fortunately, I had willing help along the way and the results were very satisfying and enjoyed by all. Before all was said and done and the last bowl was washed, we had prepared (and consumed!) smoked partridge tacos, smoked silver salmon, smoked salmon pate, a game bird terrine, Italian sausage (in the lasagna), and pork rillettes. Continuing the wild harvest theme, we also dined on braised venison in a wonderful red wine and bitter chocolate sauce and halibut cakes with garlic aoli.

The beauty of having foods like the rillettes, pate, and terrine in the frig is that they can be put to so many uses, from snacks and appetizers to incorporating them into other dishes like breakfast tacos or hot sandwiches. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Hungarian partridge breasts dusted with Simon and Garfunkle rub (from the Meathead cookbook) and ready for a short visit to the smoker.

Hungarian partridge breasts dusted with Simon and Garfunkle rub (from the Meathead cookbook) and ready for a short visit to the smoker.

I started prepping for our Christmas week meals well ahead of time by brining and smoking some birds and fish to be incorporated into different dishes later on. I smoked salmon for a pate that my daughter Becca was planning and also a half dozen hungarian partridge that I’d collected just a few days earlier. After cold smoking the partridge, I cooked them until not-quite- done via sous vide, and refrigerated the pulled meat for later use. Ultimately I seared the shredded meat in duck fat (similar to carnitas or ropa viejo) and served it in tacos with a fennel-orange slaw. Pretty awesome! This dish would have worked just as well with pheasant or even chicken thighs (but not breasts) in a pinch.

The wild bird terrine my son Peter and I made was a first for both of us and a huge hit with the hungry crowd. Terrines, essentially a cross between a pate and a meatloaf are a great choice for feeding a crowd because they can be made ahead and set out for folks to pick on throughout the day as they are typically eaten cold or room temperature. The version Peter and I made was based on a recipe from Hank Shaw and contained pheasant, ptarmigan, and chukar partridge as well as bacon, nuts and dried fruits. Preparing it definitely took some time and planning, but the result was well worth the effort!

B uilding the terrine involved grinding the filling into varying sizes and pressing it into a bacon lined loaf pan before slow-baking in a water bath.

Building the terrine involved grinding the filling into varying sizes and pressing it into a bacon lined loaf pan before slow-baking in a water bath.

The finished product! Most agreed it was best served with some coarse ground mustard and pickles, but an awful lot of it was consumed as finger food all by itself. The green pieces are pistachios.

The finished product! Most agreed it was best served with some coarse ground mustard and pickles, but an awful lot of it was consumed as finger food all by itself. The green pieces are pistachios.

Smoked salmon pate. We found the flavor really came into its own after the ingredients had a chance to meld in the refrigerator overnight.

Smoked salmon pate. We found the flavor really came into its own after the ingredients had a chance to meld in the refrigerator overnight.

The pate, as well as the halibut cakes mentioned above, was prepared using a recipe from the Saltry Restaurant in Halibut Cove, Alaska. Becca made it with silver salmon that we caught on our August fly out trip. I had smoked the salmon the week prior using the recipe for candied salmon out of the same cookbook.

I guess my message here is that although preserving proteins such as fish and meat may not be necessary in this day and age, many of the preservation techniques make for damn tasty final products. And having food on hand that tastes that good and can be brought out to sit on the table for people to pick on all afternoon is a big benefit when company comes to call. So if anyone wants more specifics for preparing any of these dishes, feel free to get in touch.