Know Your Game Birds

Jack Unruh

The sale of indigenous wild game birds is forbidden in the United States. If you shoot it (or a friend does), you can eat it. Otherwise, you've got two choices: Pen- or farm-raised duck, quail, and pheasant, among other birds, provide at least an echo of the wild bird experience. Better yet, certain kinds of wild birds, marked with an asterisk below, are imported here from Europe.

*DOVE: The most commonly hunted and eaten species are the white-winged and mourning dove. (The pigeon is in the same family.) Dove meat is tender, very lean, and dark. Best braised, baked, or grilled. Dressed weight: about 3 ounces.

*GROUSE: There are numerous species; red grouse is so appreciated in Scotland that the first day of hunting season there each August is known as "the Glorious 12th". Grouse is best quickly roasted, barded with fat to keep it juicy. Dressed weight: 12-14 ounces.

*PARTRIDGE: There are several main varieties of this bird,which is related to the pheasant. (The ruffed grouse is sometimes mistakenly called partridge.) Simple cooking methods—roasting or grilling—are best for these light-fleshed, mildly flavored birds. Dressed weight: 8-12 ounces.

*PHEASANT: One of the prettiest of game birds, widely domesticated in the U.S. Younger birds are best for roasting or sauteing. Older birds are better braised or used in terrines or game pies. Dressed weight: 2-3 pounds.

*QUAIL: New World quail, such as bobwhite and gambel's, are hunted, but the domesticated is as good. Quail's tender meat can be braised, fried, sauteed, or roasted. Dressed weight: 4-5 ounces.

*WILD DUCK: Mallards and pintails are the most common varieties hunted in the U.S. Wild duck's lean, dark meat requires careful cooking. Roasting is the usual method, but braising and grilling are good alternatives. Dressed weight: 1 1⁄2-2 1⁄2 pounds.

*WOOD PIGEON: Found in the European wild, these meaty, highly flavored birds can be roasted rare, or their breasts can be panfried and served with a hearty savory sauce. Older birds can be made into soup or a classic pigeon pie. Dressed weight: about 8 ounces.

*WOODCOCK: This dark-fleshed relative of the snipe is often considered the tastiest of game birds—but hunting it is now banned in some European countries. Traditionally roasted without cleaning, with the "trails" to be spread on toast and the head split open to eat the tasty brains. Dressed weight: 4-5 ounces.