Wild Rice and Pheasant Chowder or “Wild Autumn Stew” & My Current Spinach Salad

“Wild Autumn Stew”

By Melissa

You know when they name a dish after themselves that they like it…..Maybe the fact that Autumn joined Alan in the field this fall for the first time with her dog Skully, made her more determined to enjoy pheasant. (She has been eating it for years without knowing it…)Even though this soup is full of wild rice, vegetables and a mysterious broth, both my kids love it. They may eat the pheasant chunks with a fork and the broth with a spoon, but, they are proud and excited about the meal. You should try to incorporate wild rice into your children’s diets; it has twice as much iron and protein than rice (wild rice is technically a seed).

I have been making this soup for years. This is basically a wild rice and chicken soup in a very light and creamy broth, it is like a chowder. I have used pheasant here, however, it would be just as delicious with leftover home-cooked or store-bought chicken. Hang on to this recipe to use up leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Because this soup comes together very quickly once you have the vegetables prepped and the rice cooked,  a leisurely afternoon of chopping is all it takes for this delicious weeknight supper. Amp up the spices, serve this with a salad and good bread and it is beautiful enough for a weekend dinner party for adults.

This happens to be my favorite way to make a dent in the 20-30 pounds of pheasant my husband brings home each fall. Cooking pheasant is a challenge; it is a very dry meat, it has lots of weird sinewy stuff lining the breast meat and by the time it comes to me, it is usually shot up with feathers clinging to it. Not every wife’s cup of tea. Unlike chicken and turkey where you have some skin and bones to help buffer the dryness during the cooking process, with pheasant, it is important to find recipes where you either cook it wet, like poaching or in a curry or flash sear it and finish it in the oven; it is not a chicken breast. But, enough about pheasant. Let’s talk soup.

The single most important step in my cooking life was about 13 years ago when I signed up for a four-part, four-day cooking class at the Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater, MN. Mastering homemade soups was one of the four classes. Thanks to this series, I became a soup maker and an improviser rather than a recipe follower. This is one example of a traditional soup that I have made my own; lighter, loaded with vegetables and full of pheasant.

Serves 6-8

Special Equipment: fine wire strainer to rinse the rice, heavy bottomed soup pot, rice cooker (optional)

Do-Ahead Strategies: You can get all of the vegetables and pheasant prepped several hours in advance. Store the pheasant in the fridge. You could also cook the rice, fluff and let cool on a wide plate. Once the soup is prepared, it is best consumed within a day or two because the half-and-half in the soup can separate if heated too high or too many times. This is not a freezer soup.

Ingredients:

½ cup wild rice (I prefer “Extra-Fancy” because the grains are longer and more consistent. You should always opt for “hand-harvested” wild rice sourced from the Upper Midwest, rather than from California)

½ cup brown rice (you could use all wild rice, however, rice helps temper the strong taste of wild rice)

3 cups water

1 bay leaf

2 T butter

(All of the vegetables listed below need to be cut the smallest dice you can manage, about 3/4 the size of a pencil eraser. If you are only serving this to adults, the size is not so critical)

1 small onion, the size of a tennis ball, about 1 cup

2 cloves garlic

1 large or two small leeks, about 1 ½ cups (rinse them well)

1 cup buttom mushrooms (optional)

2 carrots, about 1 ½ cups

2 stalks celery

(If you are making this for adults and you love fennel, you could add about 1 cup of fennel with the celery and carrots, I would then leave out the mushrooms)

2 T white flour

1 cup white wine (optional-only open a bottle if you plan to drink it with dinner, it is not critical)

1 cup half-and half, whole milk or cream

1 Litre (32 oz) plus 2 cups chicken stock (use low sodium), the amount may vary (I use Pacific or Kitchen Basics brands or homemade)

¼ t. sweet paprika

A whisper of nutmeg and cayenne pepper (you may want to omit these at first and see if the kids like the soup without it)

Add freshly grated black or white pepper at the table, any hint of pepper is a meal-wrecker at our house

2 ½-3 cups **cooked pheasant or chicken or turkey, shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces

**see below for poaching instructions

Directions:

The Rice:

1. Rinse the rice very well to rinse off dirt and starch. Cook the rice with the bay leaf and salt on the stove-top or in a rice cooker. The brown and wild rice can be cooked together.

The Soup:

(I often chop while I go. Chop in this order: onions, leeks, mushrooms, garlic, celery, and carrot. By the time you have chopped something, your pot will be ready for it.)

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Let soften.

2. Add the garlic, leeks and mushrooms, if using. Add a pinch of salt and let cook until they soften; do not let this brown.

3. Add the carrots and celery and another pinch of salt. Let these soften.

4. Pour in a glass of wine, if using, and let reduce away.

5. Add the 2 tablespoons of flour and toss this with the vegetables. Cook a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste.

6. Add ¾ of the above stock (you can always add more), the cooked rice, the cooked pheasant or chicken, the paprika (and any spices that you dare) and give a stir. Bring this to a low boil. Decide if you want more stock, keeping in mind that you have 1 cup of half-and-half going in at the end. (My kids like the meat and the “soup”, as they call it, so I have to have a generous amount of liquid in my soups.)

7. Turn the pot down to a low and add the half-and-half once the boiling or simmer has stopped. This should not come back to a boil, it may separate.

Serving Suggestions:

1. When you go to reheat this, DO NOT BRING TO A BOIL.

2. I love this soup with toasted slivered almonds and dill. If you can’t get fresh dill, fresh parsley or chives would be great too.

3.  For a one-plate meal, I like to stir in some steamed spinach or fresh arugula on top.

4. Alternatively, this soup is wonderful in the fall with a seasonal salad, like Spinach with Oranges and Black Olives (see below) or Romaine Salad with Walnut and Lime Viniagrette.

5. Finn wants this soup in his lunchbox tomorrow; I will serve it on the chunky side for him to eat with a fork.

6. You could use all wild rice, however, balancing it with brown rice makes this soup more appealing to children.

7. If this is your first time serving a soup like this to your kids, make sure to serve it with good bread or buttered toast to dip in the broth. Dunked bread has always facilitated the “trying” of new soups at our house. However, if you are talking pureed soups like cauliflower or squash, then you may need to get your hands on some grated cheese too….. floating goldfish crackers in a bowl of soup works in this house.

Spinach Salad with Oranges and Black Olives:

This is my favorite salad right now. It pairs beautifully with this soup. When I serve salads like this I always assemble the garnishes on a plate for the kids to get them interested in the idea of salad. So, for them: some oranges, black olives, toasted nuts and maybe a few carrots.

Serves 4 adults:

(Dresses about a large bag of baby spinach leaves or two bundles)

Dressing: 3T olive oil, 1 t. dijon mustard, 1 T lemon juice, some of the zest from the oranges going in the salad, 2T white Balsamic vinegar (Alessi makes one that is good and is a widely sold brand), maybe a teaspoon of honey, a pinch of salt and black pepper. Whisk together and taste. (This is a dressing where you might use some of the fancy flavored olive oils on the market. For example, I used Blood Orange Olive Oil for this dressing.)

Assemble spinach, slices of two oranges orange (peeled and sliced as artfully as you can muster), a handful of high-quality, inky black olives (with or without herbs), a few handfuls of toasted pecans. You could also add some thinly sliced fennel. If you don’t like olives, substitute with crumbled goat cheese.

*Poaching:

I do not claim to be an expert on poaching. however, I have made enough homemade chicken stocks to be able to improvise a poached pheasant for a soup, especially when it will yield a flavorful broth to the soup. Poaching is very easy and yields the moistest pheasant you can possibly make and a delicious pheasant stock to add to your soup. After you clean the pheasant and get the sinew stuff off them (I usually end up with 3 tender sized pieces per breast), lay them in a wide shallow frying pan. Fill the pan with just enough water to cover. Add a few pinches of salt, some black peppercorns (whole), a bay leaf and any or all of the following: parsley stems, the dark green part of the leeks, half an onion, a star anise. Basically, think of the water as a “tea” to cook the pheasant in. Bring this up to a low boil and reduce to a simmer until the pheasant is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.(Flip them after about 10 minutes and you see the underside cooking.) Remove the pheasant and strain the broth and reserve both.

2 comments on “Wild Rice and Pheasant Chowder or “Wild Autumn Stew” & My Current Spinach Salad

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