September 1. Game on. And it all starts with dove hunting, an activity Texans take to with such madcap zeal that a writer for Life.com, commenting on photos of a 1961 whitewing hunt in the Valley, called it “one part death wish and three parts rollicking, 20-gauge fun.” Camouflage-clad compatriots gather at the edge of a sunflower patch, perched on overturned buckets, for an all-too-brief season of communion with the outdoors and reunion with one another, shooting the breeze and maybe even a few birds. Not for nothing are you liable to hear a dove hunter crack, “Let’s miss two more and go home.”
If you feel a little sorry for the unsuspecting bird of peace—you know, the bird that alerted Noah he could soon disembark the ark and led the Argonauts safely through the Clashing Rocks—remember that the dove is great in number and short of lifespan; if you don’t get it, nature will. But you can at least honor its illustrious place in history with a preparation other than the usual poppers. They are certainly delicious (see “Home Plates,” April 2011), but why not utilize the whole bird the way this recipe does, courtesy of my go-to game guru, Jesse Griffiths? Then if anyone asks you what dove tastes like, you won’t answer the way most of my colleagues did when I took an informal poll: “Bacon!”
Hot Fried Birds (serves 4)
12 whole doves, plucked and gutted (I have been assured, though cannot confirm, that plucking a dove is not difficult)
1 cup buttermilk
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
oil or lard, for frying
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons hot sauce
4 thinly sliced jalapeños
1/4 cup fresh herb leaves, such as parsley or marjoram
Halve the birds by cutting down one side of the breastbone and through the ribs with a sharp, heavy knife. Repeat on the opposite side, effectively removing the breastbone. Soak the halves in buttermilk for 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
Remove the birds from the buttermilk, season well with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour. Shake off the excess flour and refrigerate them for at least half an hour.
Heat 4 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a fryer or large pot.
Melt the butter, then combine it with the honey, garlic, and hot sauce in a large bowl.
Fry the birds in batches until golden brown and crisp, 3 or 4 minutes. Drain well on paper towels.
Toss the fried birds with the melted-butter mixture, add the jalapeños and herbs, and transfer to a plate. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, by Jesse Griffiths. Welcome Books. © 2012 Jesse Griffiths.