Fowl is Fare


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In hunting communities, it’s common to see such game birds as grouse, partridge, pheasant and quail on the dinner table. The State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources allows for hunting 16 game birds, with proper licensing at specific times of year. The variety— particularly on Hawai‘i Island—includes francolins, chukars, four species of pheasant, three types of quail and three kinds of doves, but unfamiliarity with most of these birds mean they rarely appear on local menus because diners gravitate to what they know, chicken and duck. Here’s a guide to the game birds you’re most likely to find on a menu.


Don’t let the name fool you, Cornish “game” hens are not hunted, but are a breed of farm-raised chickens, typically a cross between Plymouth Rock and Cornish chickens. They usually come to market at 5 or 6 weeks of age, weighing 3/4 to 2 pounds. These birds are not good egg layers, so are raised for plump, tender breast meat that is low in fat. They’re usually presented whole, stuffed and roasted, in a one-person serving. They are also wonderful broiled.

You’ll find Hong Kong-style spiced, crispy, fried Cornish hen on the menu at Little Village in Chinatown (


One of the most flavorful in the fowl family, duck is delicious and versatile. Most of us who grow up in Hawai‘i are familiar with the sight of whole roast ducks hanging in Chinatown markets, or that arrive at tables with the crispy skin removed for serving in soft bao with slivers of green of green onion, the meat served separately as another course.

Otherwise, duck breasts can be roasted or sautéed, the legs can be braised to make a confit, and their rendered fat used to add depth to fried foods.

Certain breeds are more suitable for different preparations. Lean Muscovy duck works with recipes that call for roasting or stewing. Moist and tender Pekin or Long Island duck is preferred for making Peking duck, while the gamier and lean mallard works well when wrapped in bacon to help keep the meat moist.

Duck fat fries are a favorite menu item and available everywhere from Cafe Duck Butt (593-1880) to Stripsteak Waikiki (pic- tured opposite page, top left.

Elsewhere, Stage restaurant ( offers duck breast served with a liliko‘i reduction, Big Island white honey, applewood bacon and taro-potato puree, while Vintage Cave Club ( was recently offering smoky cured duck breast wrapped around a piece of white peach, with Tokyo negi confit and red wine-raspberry foam as part of an 11-course Japonaise-French kaiseki dinner.


In fall, thoughts turn to goose as a substitute for the Thanksgiving turkey. With its thicker, richer layer of fat, it’s much more flavorful and less prone to drying out than turkey. But cooks beware—a goose contains so much fat that most recipes recommend pricking the bird’s skin to release some of the oil during cooking. Goose is especially prized for those who prefer dark meat more flavorful than that of duck. Supermarkets often stock frozen goose during the fall holiday season.


Ostrich had its moment in the spotlight in the late 1980s, when it was being billed as the new red meat because of its steak-like texture and low fat content. Because of the bird’s lean quality, ostrich is best when quickly sautéed or grilled to medium rare, fit for those who don’t mind a bloody steak. But not everyone could stomach the idea of eating the regal, giant birds from Down Under and the trend quickly passed.


Like the Cornish hen, quail are small, often served whole so well-suited for those who don’t like sharing their food. The meat is dark and juicy, comparable to chicken and turkey thighs. These birds can be can be fried, roasted or broiled with good results, but because of its low fat content, the meat can dry out if not cooked properly. Quail meat rarely appears on local menu, but quail eggs are everywhere due to their small size, which make them a perfect addition for finishing delicate dishes. At Izakaya Torae Torae (949-5959), you’ll find quail egg yolks in a seafood shooter (pictured above, left) and topping spicy ‘ahi tartare.


All we know about these birds is that we sing about their presence in pear trees at Christmas. You’re most likely to find them at the border between the United States and Canada.

Their meat is lean and dark—similar to that of pheasant, chukar, quail and francolin—and needs to be cooked rare or slow-cooked to avoid becoming tough. Coincidentally, the meat is said to be exceptionally compatible with roasted pears.


The flavor of pheasant varies with its environment. Farmed pheasant can be mild tasting, slightly stronger than chicken. Wild pheasant takes on a gamier flavor affected by diet and exercise. Working of muscles while searching for food and avoiding predators causes production of myoglobin that helps the muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. Increased myoglobin has the effect of making the meat darker with more depth of flavor. Because pheasant meat is low in fat, many recipes call for adding extra fat, such as adding butter under the skin to prevent it from drying out. Wrapping the meat in bacon or pancetta is also common.


Squab is a fancy name assigned to pigeons because most people don’t want to think of these common city creatures as food. With darker meat than chickens and a gamey flavor, they don’t offer much meat. Squab is most commonly used in the sweet-savory Moroccan meat pie b’stilla, flaky phyllo pastry with a filling of minced pigeon, eggs and sweet cin- namon spices, finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. When available at such restaurants as Casablanca in Kailua (262- 8196), b’stilla is most often made with more readily available chicken.

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