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Sharptails done right

Some game birds are so easy to prepare that a person would have to make a special effort to

ruin them in cooking. Take the blue grouse, for example. A couple bacon strips, some black pepper and paprika over the bird, breasts still attached to the bone, bake for an hour and fifteen minutes at 325 degrees and you are done. Succulent eating!

The same can be said for ruffed grouse or quail. Both species have white flesh that is delectable

if not overcooked. Some butter, mushrooms and a few strips of bacon to seal in moisture, and you have a meal fit for royalty.

Not so with the lordly sharp-tailed grouse, however. Sharptails have dark flesh, which is indicative of accomplished, longdistance fliers. Sharptails also are extremely hardy, being native to the northern plains and having survived the region’s extreme climate for thousands of years. (About fifteen years ago, northeastern Montana was covered by five feet of snow on the level, and sharptails actually moved into small towns for shelter and food. During the same winter, the exotic ring-necked pheasants died by the thousands.)

In any case, if you simply toss a couple sharptails into the oven and bake them like you would a ruffed grouse or a blue grouse, you are bound to be disappointed. (I heard one hunter call sharptails “flying livers.”) Over the years I dabbled with several sharptail recipes, including a concoction of my own, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a recipe in Dakota Country magazine some years ago that I began to enjoy sharptails on the table as well as the field.

The article was written by the late Tony Dean, but the recipe was from chef Mark Mancuso, who operated a fine restaurant in Pierre, SD called the La Minestra. Here’s the recipe:

► Marinate the sharptail breasts in soy sauce and lemon juice.

► Roll the breasts (I eat the thighs too) in flour with cracked pepper and a little salt.

► Place the breasts in a very hot pan (I like cast iron) in a few tablespoons of olive oil, searing them on both sides.

► Turn down the heat and cook the breasts to medium rare.

► Remove the breasts, deglaze the pan with brandy, cold butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and a couple dollops of Port wine.

► Reduce the above liquid by cooking it slowly, then pour it over the birds and partake! Dean wrote that Mancuso sometimes added preserves to the sauce. I have never tried that but I think a couple tablespoons of chokecherry preserves would work well.

It is imperative not to overcook the birds.

Sharptails are wild as hawks this late in the season so it might be difficult to shoot a couple at this time. But if you have some in your freezer from earlier this fall, give Mancuso’s recipe a try!

Contact Bernie Kuntz at b.kuntz@

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