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Grouse Poppers & Dates Recipe

A new twist on an old favorite.

Grouse Poppers & Dates Recipe

Turn your heavily shot-up bird breasts into mouth-watering morsels with this classic, easy-to-make recipe. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

For many upland hunters, the September grouse opener marks the beginning of hunting season. For my husband and me, it is a special, highly anticipated time of year. The doldrums of summer are coming to an end, and autumn—plus all that comes with it—is about to make a comeback. Unfortunately, September in Nebraska also means having to hunt in warm weather. Temperatures can reach well into the 90s, and while this might feel uncomfortable for both hunter and dog, it also does no favors for the flavor of game meat. It’s good practice to cool down your hunted meat as soon as possible. Fortunately for upland hunters, having to gut birds in the field is not necessary. Yet spoilage can occur, and that’s often due to negligence on warm days.

While you might get away with throwing pheasants in the back of a truck and hunting all day, I’ve found that dark-meat game birds, such as sharptails and prairie chickens, don’t fare well in warm temperatures. The dark flesh can take on that dreaded, pungent flavor of “liver” quickly. To avoid this pitfall, travel with a cooler filled with ice. Use a clean trash bag as barrier between the birds and melting ice water. As soon as you can, place them in a refrigerator until you’re ready to clean them.

I typically process shot up birds immediately by breasting them out and removing the legs. For birds I plan to pluck, I age them in a refrigerator set at about 35 degrees for around three days to allow the muscles to relax and tenderize, and the skin to dry out and toughen for easier plucking.  

For this issue’s grouse recipe, I chose to make poppers—perhaps the most recognizable of all wild game dishes. Although I can’t say that poppers are my go-to method to prepare wild game, I do recognize the draw. Poppers are an easy way to turn heavily shot-up game bird breasts into tasty, crowd-pleasing morsels. Game meat also tastes stronger at bruised areas, and the bold flavors in a popper does well at tempering it.

My popper recipe might seem different to what you’re used to preparing. I skipped the jalapeno and cream cheese and traded in those flavors for dates and goat cheese. To add textural contrast, I added a crunchy cashew nut. The resulting popper is salty, sweet, and tangy. I also recommend trying this recipe with waterfowl and dove.

A few cooking notes: To avoid overcooking the grouse, choose a thinner cut of bacon. The thicker the bacon, the longer it will take to render and cook. I also allow the bacon to sit at room temperature to warm up, while keeping the grouse chilled for as long as I can before assembling the poppers.

Serves: 1-2
Prep time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 grouse breasts
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 slices of bacon (thin cut)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  •  ½ teaspoon dried crushed rosemary, or fresh equivalent
  • 10 pitted dates
  • 10 whole cashews or almonds
Grouse poppers with dates
Use thinner cut bacon and allow it to warm to room temperature to avoid overcooking your poppers. (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)


Directions:

  1. Cut grouse breasts into 10 pieces total, including the tenderloins, and slightly flatten into oblong pieces with a mallet (or something flat and heavy).
  2. In a small bowl, whisk balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and rosemary to emulsify.
  3. Add grouse pieces and marinate for 1 to 2 hours. Keep chilled until ready to use.
  4. Thirty minutes before assembling the poppers, take out bacon and cut each strip in half. Allow to rest on the counter to come to room temperature. This will help the bacon become more pliable and render faster.
  5. Preheat oven to 450° Fahrenheit or prepare grill for medium- high heat cooking.
  6. Split open each date and fill with goat cheese and one cashew or almond.
  7. To assemble the poppers, take half a piece of bacon and completely wrap it around a filled date and a piece of marinated grouse. Secure with a toothpick.
  8. Place poppers on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with foil. Bake on the middle rack of a 450° oven for about 15 minutes, or until bacon is cooked through, turning occasionally. Oven temperatures vary so keep an eye on the poppers to avoid burning, and adjust heat as needed. You can also grill the poppers accordingly.
  9. Serve immediately while hot!


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