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FAQ Subject: I want to smoke a pheasant breast
Dear Kind Sir/Madam,
I was hoping you could help me with a little recipe glitch. I want to smoke a boneless, salt water brined, pheasant breast to impart smokey flavor, then sear it in a skillet to make the skin crispy. I am trying to rig a stove-top smoker (soaked wood chips that are smoldering in a foil lined wok over the burner of my home stove) to cold smoke the breast, then sear to crisp the skin and finish cooking through. I tried this yesterday and I cooked the breasts all the way through, actually they were very dry. I got the chips to start smoldering over high heat, put the breasts on a rack and set the rack in the wok, covered tightly, reduced the heat to medium and let it smoke for 10 minutes. Removed from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Clearly a hot smoke, which I want to avoid. Is it possible to cold smoke in the stove or oven? Help!
Director, SAVEUR Kitchen
Hello Director J,
They do give you some challenges, don't they?
From the beginning, brining poultry was a mistake when published in Gourmet years ago and perpetuated by the misinformed who believe that brining adds moisture. In fact brining replaces natural moisture with salt and tends to toughen the meat as far as it penetrates. The breast of any poultry species has little interspersed fat, game birds have even less, and therefore the meat tends to dry out quickly if cooked beyond 160°. Brining exacerbates this condition. Brining is of no value unless the purpose is to cure the meat for preservation or when hot smoking fish.
Next, as you have discovered, delivering smoke at less than 90° F. requires adequate distance between the source and the target for the temperature to decline. Wood begins to smolder around 500° F and delivers in excess of 1100° upon combustion. The fire pit for my cold smoker is located 15 feet from the smoker and in warm weather, I sometimes pack ice around it around the connecting pipe.) However, cold smoking is only necessary when the product is not intended to be cooked.
If I were trying to achieve a smoky flavor and a crisp skin on a boneless pheasant breast, and had to do it without benefit of my grill, I would do the following:
1. Forget the brining, but salt and pepper the breast just before putting it into the oven.
2. Wrap dry wood chips or sawdust in heavy-duty aluminum foil, seal it and pierce the package with several small holes. An ice pick works well. I would recommend hickory or oak chips in less than 1/2" size cubes or sawdust.
3. Baste the breast with other-than-extra-virgin olive oil, peanut oil, or butter (I personally would use fresh lard) and place it on a rack over a shallow pan.
4. Put the wood chip package with firm contact on the floor of the oven, and heat the oven to 450-500°. Relax and wait. Once it begins to smolder/smoke, reduce the temperature setting to 350° and pop the bird into the oven in the upper 1/3. The temperature in the oven will drop from opening the door and the wood will continue to smoke for a short time.
5. Do not overcook. The boneless pheasant breast should reach 155° in about 20 -25 minutes. (If you have a thermometer with a remote probe, this is the time to use it.) When does, remove at once and allow it to sit for 5-7 minutes until the juices set. The skin should be crisp and the meat moist and tender with a light smoke flavor. (If I were cooking this for myself, I would take it out at 150°.)
Good luck and have fun,