Luke Clayton: Campfire quail and dressing, the ultimate challenge!
Outdoors columnist discusses recipes for cooking game bird meat
Through the years, I have often prepared a Dutch Kettle quail recipe that I learned from my friend, the late outdoors writer Bob Hood. This recipe is simple and we often prepared it for lunch after morning quail hunts. The ingredients are pretty basic: quail, butter, salt, pepper and a couple rows of Ritz crackers crushed into cracker meal. About 45 minutes in a hot Dutch Kettle over campfire coals is all it takes to make a fast, tasty meal in the field. The cracker meal tastes a bit like dressing but not the kind of dressing we are accustomed to during the holidays. There’s no celery, onion or sage in the mix.
This past week, I visited my two sisters that live side by side in their cozy little cabins near a popular lake. I told them to hold off preparing lunch, I had a plan. I am sure they were ‘worried’ that I might be thinking wild pork, which one of them has an aversion to. Actually she never tried wild pork and never will, at least not intentionally, I might try to trick her sometime with some chicken fried pork loin but I’d have to tell her it was venison backstrap!
I jumped out of my truck, got a pile of B & B Charcoal briquettes going and broke out my #10 Dutch Kettle. I had three Cornish hens in the cooler and shortly they were in the kettle with the other ingredients. The meal of baked chicken and this ‘dressing’ of sorts was well received and I think both the sisters will be preparing this dish in their kitchen ovens soon. But cooking in the house and cooking outside over coals and fire are two completely different endeavors.
Later in the week, back at home, I mentioned to my wife that I was contemplating preparing quail and dressing outside at my cooking pit situated in front of my cabin. I was referencing the traditional variety of dressing made with veggies and cornbread and served with cranberry sauce. She thought I was crazy and began to quiz me as to how I would make the cornbread, sauté the veggies, etc. outside in my cast iron utensils.
“Why would you want to cook this complicated dish outside when we have a perfectly good oven:” she quizzed. “Won’t the wood smoke give it a ‘off’ flavor?” I assured her that I was up to the task and pulled some quail out of the freezer to defrost!
Baking corn bread is of course the first step in making dressing; cooking the quail and sautéing the onions and celery the second. I used some packaged corn bread mix and in my Dutch Kettle pulled off to the side of the fire and soon had the cornbread baking. In a cast iron skillet with a stick of butter, I added celery, onions and about half a box of liquid chicken stock and a can of cream of chicken soup after the veggies were tender. I seasoned with sage, salt and pepper. The quail had been simmering in another cast iron pot. I deboned the meat from the quail and added it to the veggies. My big skillet now contained everything necessary for dressing except for the cornbread. Only three cast iron utensils were necessary which make adjusting the heat from the coals easy. When the cornbread was done, I used a fork and ‘broke’ it up into small pieces, then poured the skillet full of ingredients into the cornbread. I tasted the dressing and added a bit more black pepper and sage. It was a bit dry so I added a little more liquid chicken stock.
A fresh supply of charcoal briquettes below and on top of the Dutch Kettle and the dressing was allowed to bake an additional 40 minutes. I was concerned about the possibility of scorching the bottom of the dressing so I gave it a quick check after twenty minutes to make sure the heat was just right. Cooking with coals has some inherent challenges that include air temperature, wind and moisture. My campfire quail and dressing turned out to be very tasty and I proved to myself just about anything can be cooked over coals that can be prepared in the kitchen. I’m sure this will become a staple at fall hunting camps.
Night hog hunting tip
Most of us that hunt hogs know that after a bit of hunting pressure wild porkers often go almost entirely nocturnal, bedding up during the day and feeding at night. I absolutely love hunting hogs around corn feeders but watching a corn feeder at night for approaching hogs can be a bit boring and tiring, regardless if one is using some sort of night vision or a traditional red or green lens light. For several years, I have used a product made by Hogman Outdoors www.hogmanoutdoors.com called the Game Alert. The sole purpose of the Game Alert is to let the hunter know when game is around the feeder. A red light on the unit is pointed toward the hunter and when game is close, the light comes on. This eliminates the need to continually use a light or night vision to watch the area around the feeder, making for a much more relaxing ‘sit’ while waiting on the hogs to show. When the light comes on, it’s time to get the rifle or bow into shooting position and make the shot. It’s pretty exciting to see that red light turn on, especially after spending a good bit of time in pitch darkness waiting on the hogs to show up.
Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org.