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Pheasant Meatball Pasta with Chardonnay Spinach Cream Sauce Recipe

This exquisite pheasant dish is sure to roll you over with delight.

Pheasant Meatball Pasta with Chardonnay Spinach Cream Sauce Recipe

This luscious pheasant recipe is not hard to make; the painful part is the temptation not to wait. (Jack Hennessy photo)

My father-in-law, Bruce, learned to shoot his dad’s fixed full choke Ithaca semi-auto shotgun in high school. He is comfortable with it, has shot it straight for decades, and rarely misses. He also doesn’t hesitate to shoulder the gun whenever, and wherever, a rooster flushes. On the Kansas 2020 upland opener, the birds were running fierce, so when my dog put the first rooster up 10 yards ahead of us, Bruce promptly turned that first rooster into swiss cheese.

What do you do with “adequately shot” birds? You either dice or grind, in my opinion. From there, you have a few options for ground pheasant: burger, sausage, or meatballs in this case. As a general rule of thumb regarding any form of wild game sausage, I incorporate 40 percent pork. For bratwursts, I might use pork fat, but for meatballs I like the balance of both fat and meat cuts from a pork butt.

I prefer a hearty crust on my meatballs, so this means being careful not to crowd the pan when searing. Overcrowding the pan, in regard to the cooking of any meat, will release excess steam that will soften the exterior of meat when cooking. For these meatballs, I recommend rolling them into 1-ounce balls. In a large cast-iron skillet you likely don’t want to cook more than six at a time, leaving at least half the skillet open.

The hardest part about this recipe is likely waiting long enough for the cream sauce to reduce. This will easily take an hour, but it’s definitely worth the wait. The sauce will bubble versus boil when close to done and when you dip in a spoon and hold it upside-down, sauce will slowly drip versus quickly run off.

This sauce also pairs great with fish such as salmon or steelhead or any white-flesh bird. In regard to wine selection to create the sauce, I always suggest purchasing a wine you will also enjoy drinking (you’re only using two cups from the bottle to cook). Despite what some chefs might suggest, wine choice does matter—choose wisely.

Grinding up pheasant meat
This choice cuisine is the perfect remedy for your "adequately" shot ring-necks. (Jack Hennessy photo)

Serves: 3
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

Ingredients for Meatballs & Pasta:

  • 10 ounces ground pheasant
  • 6 ounces ground pork butt
  • 1 tablespoon dry oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 16 ounces spaghetti
  • Freshly minced Italian parsley for garnish (optional)
  • Olive oil, mixed use

Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 2 cups Chardonnay wine
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • ¼ cup shallots, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach


  1. Add spices (oregano, paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic) to the raw pheasant prior to grinding. Tip: put your stainless steel grinder parts in the freezer (including fine grinding plate) for a half hour prior to grinding.
  2. Put meat through the fine grinding plate then mix and form into 1-ounce meatballs. Set aside in the fridge until ready to cook.
  3. In a medium saucepan heated on medium-low, add 1 tablespoon of salted butter and 1/4 cup finely minced shallots. Lightly dust with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir finely minced shallots for a few minutes until they start to soften and brown then add 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic. Stir for a few minutes longer then add 2 cups of Chardonnay wine. Raise heat to medium.
  5. Allow wine to reduce to half then add 1-pint heavy whipping cream. Sauce will, overall, need to reduce for approximately an hour, until 1/3 of the original amount remains. Stir often.
  6. As sauce reduces, after 20 minutes, add 1 cup fresh baby spinach (make sure it’s rinsed and free of grit). Continue to stir often.
  7. As sauce reduces, pre-heat oven to 400.
  8. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is approximately 450 degrees, add a thin layer of olive oil then meatballs five or six at a time (so not to crowd the pan) and sear all sides. This will take three phases. Once all sides are seared, set aside on a plate.
  9. When all sides of all meatballs are seared, add to oven, and cook for 10-20 minutes until the internal temp reads 160 (check with a meat thermometer or cut open to make sure they are done).
  10. In a large pot, boil pasta until al dente then drain water. Lightly oil and salt pasta after water is drained.
  11. When sauce is reduced to 1/3 and the cream sauce is slightly yellow and thick (after approximately an hour), add spaghetti to a plate, followed by 5 or 6 meatballs, then top with sauce and freshly minced Italian parsley as garnish.

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