By Luke Clayton, Outdoors Editor
In the course of my 27-year career as an outdoors writer, I’ve written thousand of works about dove hunting. But, I often overlook one of the most important of Texas traditions that centers around the dove hunt: food! Ask any veteran Texas dove hunter about “opening day” and it’s a good bet that food will be involved.
There are basically two schools of dove hunters, those that choose to fire up the grill for a mid day meal and those that prefer to wait till the cool of the evening to do their cooking. Grilled dove is often the centerpiece of the meal but savvy dove hunters know that a plan B is important. Doves are “flighty” birds and a rainstorm can move a heavy concentration of birds on a moments notice.
I learned a great way to grill doves while hunting white wings down in Mexico at Ranch Caracol, which was an awesome dove hunting destination before things got so bad down on the border. The cook at the lodge would begin by dusting dove breasts with garlic salt and pepper and pinning a sliver of jalapeno and strip to bacon to the fillet with a toothpick. This is a pretty basic method of grilling dove but he would baste the dove breasts with syrup as it grilled. This put a tasty glaze on the finished product and added a lot of flavor. I now use syrup on all my bacon wraps, regardless whether I’m cooking dove, quail, waterfowl or venison.
But what if you don’t shoot enough dove on your hunt to fill everyone up? That is where Plan B comes into play. Regardless where I am hunting, I’ve learned to have a plan B! But Plan A always includes at least a few grilled dove breasts; it’s tradition. Camp fajitas make a quick meal that is quick and easy to prepare and feeds a lot of people. Fajitas can be prepped at home so that all that’s necessary to do at camp is place the meat and veggies in a wok or big skillet and cook. Begin the night before by cutting your fajita meat into small pieces. I have made fajitas from everything from venison to mallard breast. The trick is to allow the meat to marinade overnight. I use Fiesta brand Fajita seasoning. It is low salt and I use a lot of it on my fajitas. It’s the perfect blend of spices that give the meat a great deal of flavor without too much salt.
I also chip up a couple of jalapenos with the marinating meat and squeeze the juice from a couple of limes into the bag. When it’s time to cook, I use a wok made from a plow disk, if you’ve been reading this column very long, chances are good you recall me talking about it. But, any big, heavy skillet will work just fine. I begin my fajita cooking by dicing up a couple slices of bacon and adding a bit of olive oil. It will take more oil than you think to keep the fajitas from sticking. Once the bacon is crispy, add the raw fajita meat and stir occasionally in order for the meat to cook evenly.
When the meat has heated thoroughly, toss in a sliced onion or two and a couple of bell peppers. I think the yellow or red bell peppers add flavor but on many occasion, I’ve used green peppers. If Hatch chiles are in season, which they are during dove season, I often substitute them for bell peppers, but be careful if you have kids, they might not like the added heat of the chiles.
A couple minutes before the veggies are done, I line the upper perimeter of the wok with flour tortillas and allow them to warm. I’ve discovered Hatch Green Chile salsa and it’s become my favorite topping for fajitas. Of course, you can add guacamole, sour cream or anything else you enjoy.
Another great addition to dove camp dinner is Mexican soup. This is easy to make and I prepare it the day before and place it in the cooler in a big plastic container with tight fitting lid, it’s also easy to make. I’ve had some people quiz me about having soup as an addition to a dove camp meal, but they always seem to enjoy it.
There are many variations to what I call “Mexican” soup, but I begin with a Dutch Kettle and four or five pork chops or other cuts of pork, usually from the wild! Place the pork into the pot with a big onion and four or five roughly chopped Hatch Chiles, allow to simmer until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Debone and add the meat back to the pot and add a big can of tomatoes, five or six stalks of roughly chunked celery, several scraped and sliced carrots, a tablespoon or so of finely diced fresh garlic and a couple tablespoons of ground Cumin. Sometimes I’ll add a little chile powder but not much. The green chilies will add a great deal of flavor. This soup can be cooked with hominy or cubed potatoes, your choice. With the heat on low and a lid on the Dutch Kettle, the veggies will be well done in about 45 minutes. The juice from a couple of limes put the finishing touches on my Mexican Soup. Serve with hot buttered corn tortillas. Bring along some heavy-duty, throw-away bowls and plastic forks. Soup might not be considered a traditional dove camp meal but we’ve discovered that it goes well with grilled dove breast!
Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas on weekends or anytime online at www.catfishradio.com. Check out Luke’s new book, Kill to Grill, The ultimate guide to hog hunting, on the website.