Wow. It’s definitely been a very interesting 48 hours.
First off, I’d like to thank the multitude of people who have reached out to me with well-wishes and support. Your kindness is indicative of the people I know this great country houses.
I contacted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department today, and explained the situation. Everyone I dealt with was very understanding and polite. I respect the important work that they do for all Texans, and do not begrudge them at all for carrying out said job.
This whole mess is being chalked up as a learning moment, and I’ll ensure that going forward any wild game that comes into my possession will be done in accordance with the law. As a matter of fact I still need to cook a woodcock, and there is lots of time for me to attend a hunters safety course before the season starts. I’m pretty sure they are not native to my area, so don’t expect any “woodcock flew into my house” stories in the upcoming months.
And that–hopefully–is that.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were relaxing on the couch watching Project Runway—what?—when a loud “BAM” startled us and sent our pups into fits of barking. Initially we assumed that a stray baseball from a neighbor’s yard was the cause, but once outside we discovered this poor little guy. For whatever reason a White-winged Dove had gone kamikaze, breaking his neck in the process.
Coincidentally, dove season in Texas had started not twenty four hours earlier. Here in Texas, the dove hunting season is very popular. In 1999 alone an estimated 607,000 white-wings were harvested by hunters during the month of September. People travel long distances and pay big bucks to hunt these birds, and one had just been dropped into my hands.
A lot of people would either bury or throw away a dead animal under these circumstances.
I am not one of them.
Hank Shaw’s “Hunt,Gather,Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” was pulled from my cookbook library and flipped through until I reached the game bird section. Hank has laid out excellent instructions on feather plucking and cleaning, so with this knowledge I began to prep the dove for cooking.
At the very beginning of the process I asked my wife to time how long it took me to remove all of the plumage. It just so happens that the skin on this dove—and all doves—is rice paper thin, and can rip easily. Since I was going in half-blind, every feather was fretted over and carefully discarded. Hank is an experienced and accomplished hunter, and has done this so many times that he can pluck a bird clean in about a minute. I took an hour and forty minutes.
And here’s the dove naked. There are still a few feathers around the head, but that’s okay.
Moments later, they were all removed along with the dove’s head and feet. The most shocking thing to me was the total absence of blood. I was expecting there to be some blood since this bird was living not two hours prior, but there was none to speak of. I also disemboweled and gutted it, which took less than a minute. Now it looked like something I might have picked up at a farmer’s market or supermarket. With the evening turning into night, the dove was washed and patted dry before being placed in the fridge overnight.
The next morning I started to prepare the dove for grilling “La Mancha” style. I rubbed the dove with olive oil and salted it well. Then the cavity was stuffed with a sage and a bay leaf.
On to a medium-high grill the dove went, breast side up. Hank instructs that only six to eight minutes are needed, and to not let them char.
Next up was painting the dove with bacon grease, which is done to keep the meat from drying out—and it’s tasty. You can also see a bit of a duck I was grilling at the same time. The duck had not flown into my house, in case you were wondering.
After a few more turns, and lots of bacon grease, the dove was finished. A quick dusting of sweet smoked paprika and black pepper later, it was done.
Now, I’ve had a version of Hank’s Grilled Doves a La Mancha before. During his first book tour, different restaurants in the cities he visited made various dishes from his books. In Austin, Fino did an excellent job recreating the recipe using local Quail instead. They were so wonderful that I made them for myself and a few friends a month later.
The spice of the paprika works fantastically with the tender dove meat, making each bite an intoxicating event. You just want to keep eating, which is why about half-way though I verbalized my wishes that more doves might find their way into my backyard.
So there you go. When life throws amazingly delicious wild game at you, don’t discard it. Eat it.