A March Madness party is only as good as its appetizer spread. The performance of one’s alma mater or even one’s perfect-for-the-time-being bracket is moot if the eats are subpar. But if you hunt or fish, this shouldn’t be a problem. Adding a little wild game to the mix is the perfect way to bring your pre-game snacks to another level.
Here are three very easy recipes for fur, feather, and fin appetizers: venison sliders, fried Buffalo pheasant, and bacon-wrapped smoked fish poppers. Before getting into these recipes though, one note on food safety. There is little issue with letting sliders and fried pheasant sit out for a few hours at room temp, but make sure to put any leftover fish poppers in the fridge within a half-hour of serving (then reheat, if necessary, before serving again). Fish can go bad quicker than big game or birds, so we don’t want to get anyone sick.
1) Venison sliders
- King’s Hawaiian Slider Buns (9 pack)
- 18 to 27 ounces ground venison (2 to 3 ounces per patty)
- 9 slices American cheese
- One medium yellow onion, thinly sliced into rings
- Olive oil
- Cooking oil spray
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Dill pickle chips
- Ketchup and mustard
Form the ground venison into 2- to 3-ounce patties, ideally a size that’s a little bigger than the width of a bun (the patties will shrink slightly while cooking). Thinly slice an onion into rings—1mm thick at most, ideally. Lightly salt and pepper the top side of the patties and allow them to sit out at room temperature for a half-hour before cooking.
Heat a skillet or flat top to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Spay the venison patty with cooking oil and cook on one side for 1 minute. While your patties are cooking, add onions and a bit of olive oil to a separate skillet on medium-high and grill to desired doneness. Flip the patties, add some grilled onions on top, and top with cheese. Cook for no more than 1½ minutes and remove for a medium-rare burger. Allow the patties to rest for a few minutes before adding to a toasted bun. Top with pickles and whatever other toppings you want to use, or place ketchup and mustard on the side.
2) Fried Buffalo Pheasant
- One rooster pheasant (or other game bird), cut into wings, thighs, legs, and breasts
- 1 pint of buttermilk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon each of kosher salt and ground black pepper
- Peanut oil for frying
- 2 cups Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced garlic
- 8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)
- Sliced scallions for garnish (optional)
- Ranch (or other dressing) for dipping (optional)
- Sous vide cooker. If you don’t have one, parboil the meat for 2 hours in 1 to 2 quarts of chicken stock until tender before soaking in buttermilk.
Sous vide the legs, thighs, and wings at 170 degrees for 7 to 8 hours. Remove the meat from the sous vide bag (or parboil) and dice the breasts. Then add all of the meat to a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Place the bowl in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours.
Heat several inches of peanut oil to 375 degrees in a Dutch oven, pot, or deep fryer. Mix the flour and cornstarch together, along with salt and pepper. While your oil is heating, add Frank’s Red Hot, freshly-minced garlic, and a stick of butter to a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. Stir often to melt the butter and mix the sauce.
When the oil is ready, remove the pheasant cuts from the buttermilk, dredge each in the flour and cornstarch mixture, and add to the hot oil a few pieces at a time to avoid crowding the pot. Remove once the pheasant is golden brown, and set aside in a clean mixing bowl. Once all the whole pheasant is fried, cover the pieces in buffalo sauce and toss them for an even coating.
3) Bacon-Wrapped Smoked Fish Jalapeño Poppers
- 12 large jalapeños
- 8 to 10 ounces quality hard cheese (I used Rustic Aged Red Cheddar)
- 16 to 24 ounces of any fish you have sitting in the freezer
- 1 pound bacon (not thick-cut)
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Private Selection Fig Glaze for drizzle (optional)
Cut all the jalapeños in half, remove the seeds and pulp, and smoke them at 160 degrees for 1½ hours, until slightly soft. Set the smoked pepper halves in the fridge for a half-hour before adding a strip of cheese and fish to each half. Wrap with bacon and insert a toothpick on the tag end of bacon at an angle so that the toothpick goes down the length of the pepper. Crack some fresh black pepper over your assembled poppers.
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Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Add the poppers in small batches to a large cast-iron skillet topside down (so the side with the fish touches the skillet). Sear until the bacon is slightly brown and crisp and set aside each batch until all of the poppers are cooked. Add all of the poppers back to the skillet and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the bacon and fish are cooked thoroughly and the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and drizzle fig glaze over the finished poppers.