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Alternatives to the Same Old Thanksgiving Bird

This year, trade in the standard-issue entree for a bird with a bit more flavor. Here's where to find the best quail, pheasant, wood pigeon, duck and goose.
The Wall Street Journal - November 8, 2013


By: Matthew Kronsberg

"LET'S FACE IT, turkey really isn't all that interesting," said Hank Shaw, author of the new cookbook "Duck, Duck Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, Both Wild and Domesticated" (Ten Speed Press). "I mean, I like turkey OK." Pause. "It's fine. But gamebirds are much more interesting. They taste more of themselves," said Mr. Shaw.

That taste can vary widely. Some gamebirds, like quail and squab, can be mild enough to be palatable even to fans of skinless, boneless chicken breast. At the other end of the spectrum, the diminutive wild Scottish wood pigeon has an intensely gamy flavor; you can say its meat comes in two colors, dark and darker. Though not technically gamebirds, domestic geese are another species with a good deal of character. Fed almost exclusively on grass, they can have mineral undertones similar to those of grass-fed beef.

Farmer Joe Morette of Henniker, N.H., stumbled upon his idea for making his Thanksgiving turkeys taste better. He says giving them beer instead of water was the result of a happy accident, and it makes them fatter, more flavorful and juicier.

The greater flavor of these birds does tend to come at a cost. A whole goose will likely set you back at least $100; duck breast runs $12-$15 a pound. When it comes to cooking, the higher prices these birds command can put as much pressure on you as if you'd put in the time and effort to hunt them yourself, Mr. Shaw suggested: "It gives you that same sense of 'don't mess it up!' "

Even if Thanksgiving tradition means Butterball to you, there are still plenty of opportunities to get your game (or goose) on. Below, a few of the more delectable options.

Quail

With a level of gaminess not far from that of dark-meat chicken, quail is a great entry point to eating and cooking gamebirds. Diamond H Ranch, in the Texas hill country, raises Bandera quail, aka Cortunix, an Asian variety that holds its moisture better than the more common Bobwhite. The semi-boneless birds have had all but the leg and wing bones removed, which makes them ideal for stuffing. If there is one risk with quail, it's that they can dry out quickly during cooking because they are small — just 4.5–6 ounces each. This is often mitigated, deliciously, with a wrapping of bacon. $15 for four large uncooked semi-boneless quail, brokenarrowranch.com

Link to full article: Alternatives to the Same Old Thanksgiving Bird