by Jenny Wheatley (@foodforhunters | foodforhunters.com)
I rarely ever get tired of eating sushi, but when craving something different and still Japanese, a bento box lunch is what my husband and I sometimes reach for. Chicken katsu is usually the main item, and to best describe this dish, it’s like the Japanese version of German schnitzel.
Katsu means “cutlet” in Japanese. While chicken is the most commonly used protein, you can pretty much coat and fry any kind of meat in Panko breadcrumbs, including wild game and fish. It fries up quickly and stays crispy longer than most other breading and batter combinations I’ve tried.
Sharp-tailed grouse aren’t large birds, but with this flour, egg and Panko coating, one bird can be enough to feed two people. Figure in rice and sides, grouse katsu is good for those slim days out hunting. You also won’t have to worry about the flavor of the meat getting lost: sharptail meat is on the darker side and will stand up well to the breading.
Some notes on processing and cooking sharp-tailed grouse: cool down birds as soon as possible. Complaints of sharptails tasting undesirable, and many dark-meat game birds for that matter, seem to stem from processing problems. Although we “aged” the birds for three days before cleaning them, we kept them cold the entire time.
Don’t quote me, but I’ve noticed that dark-meat birds can be especially sensitive to mistreatment; when exposed to warm temperatures, that livery, pungent taste comes out readily. I never have this issue with lighter birds such as pheasant, quail, chukar or wild turkey, which retain their mild flavors even if kept in the game bag a bit too long.
After processing, vacuum seal and freeze meat you won’t eat soon– and not in a milk jug of frozen water. Not that I wasn’t grateful, but for the longest time, I was convinced that I hated wild duck because I kept trying meat that other hunters gave us. The taste of a well-treated mallard versus an ill-treated one can be night and day. I suspect the same holds true for sharptails.
In the pan, do not cook sharptails past medium; it tastes best still rosy pink in the middle. We found the taste similar to teal and dove—delightfully gamy and delicious.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
- 2 grouse breasts and 2 grouse legs (skin on or skin off)
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1½ cup of Panko breadcrumbs
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Bottled tonkatsu sauce, to taste
- Freshly chopped green onion, for garnish
- Cooked jasmine white rice
1. In a shallow bowl, beat egg until all whites are no longer visible and it begins to form small bubbles. Pour flour into another bowl. In a third bowl, combine Panko breadcrumbs with ¾ teaspoon of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste.
2. In a medium saucepan or deep skillet, heat 1½ inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature approaches 325 degrees, begin breading the grouse: First lightly coat pieces in flour, and then in the egg, and then coat with the Panko mixture.
Note: Watch the oil temperature carefully and get your ducks (or grouse) in a row before you add the meat; panko breadcrumbs can burn quickly. Use a candy/deep fryer thermometer and adjust the heat as necessary. Oil also shouldn’t be too cool; the breadcrumbs need to begin browning as soon as they hit the oil so that the grouse stays pink on the inside. The longer the meat needs to sit in the hot oil, the higher the chances that you’ll overcook the meat.
3. When oil reaches 350 degrees, fry breaded grouse until golden on both sides, flipping halfway through. Do not overcrowd the pan, and fry meat in batches if necessary. Drain and rest on a cooling rack or paper towels before serving. Serve grouse katsu with tonkatsu sauce, rice and chopped green onion.
Pictured, sharp-tailed grouse katsu is served with Japanese kinpira, a salty and sweet burdock root salad often served in bento box lunches.