Break out some pheasant breasts and raid the spice rack for this play on Hattie B’s hot chicken sandwich
Perhaps you’ve heard of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. Try it once, and you’re addicted. I visited their main location in Nashville Midtown a couple of weeks ago during a work event, when friend and coworker James Lawson insisted we dine there for lunch. I don’t travel often for work, but when I do, I am usually lucky enough to be introduced to some iconic dish. Months ago, it was a mole, which naturally, I had to come home and recreate it with something wild.
With this hot pheasant, the same as Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, two main components make this special: the double-breaded, fried (yet super-juicy) bird, followed by a dip in a cayenne-based greasy coating. All Hattie B’s spice mixes are of course secret, though I am confident I nailed the steps and flavors up until the point of the final dip. Don’t get me wrong: this particular pheasant version is incredible, but credit is due where credit is due and the Hattie B’s spice coating on their fried birds is something dreams are made of.
If I were to guess, Hattie B’s likely works with actual dehydrated hot peppers, roasting and grinding them as the coating. While very flavorful, also has a distinct texture to it that you just can’t get when working with dry rubs as I did. Honestly, it almost felt and tasted like they ground up Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and add those to the greasy coating. All this to say: I’d need more than one visit to dial in their proprietary spice mix.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken also comes in five different spice levels that vary from mild to “Shut the Cluck Up.” For this recipe, we are in the middle with “hot.” Sandwiches also include “Comeback Sauce,” which I also recreated—and got close to, I believe—for this recipe.
Dry-brining your pheasant breasts for at least 24 hours is also important with this recipe since, when salt binds to muscle fibers in the meat, it retains upwards of 50 percent more moisture when cooking.
I have also started adding cornstarch to my flour dredge, as cornstarch helps create an extra-crispy exterior, it seems, without overly greasy breading (possible with just flour) that sometimes falls apart when serving.
Finally, it’s speculated they use lard or bacon grease for the final spice-mix coating. For my recipe, I went with half duck butter and half lard. The choice is ultimately up to you: lard, bacon grease, duck fat, or a mix.
Jacky H’s Hot Pheasant SandwichJack Hennessy
- 2 skin-on or skin-off pheasant breasts dry-brined for at least 24 hours
- 1 C buttermilk
- 1/4 C Frank’s RedHot Original sauce
- 1 egg beaten
Spice mix for final coating
- 2 tbsp cayenne powder
- 1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tbsp chipotle powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground mustard
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- NOTE: Spice mix will come out more than 1/4 C. Due to ratios, only use 1/4 C of the spice mix with 1 C lard, bacon grease, or duck fat.
- 2/3 C mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 brioche buns toasted
- Coleslaw for topping
- Thick-cut bread-and-butter pickles
- Lightly dust all sides of pheasant breasts with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cover and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
- When ready to cook, pre-heat peanut oil to 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix flour dredge in one large stainless steel bowl or another large container, then dip mix in a separate container. Mix Comeback Sauce in a separate bowl and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
- To fry pheasant breasts, first, dip them in the flour dredge, shake off excess, then add to dip. Shake off excess, then return to the flour, shake off excess, and finally add to oil. So as not to overcrowd the fryer or pot, you may need to fry one breast at a time to keep oil between 350 and 375. Fry for roughly 6 minutes, until the exterior is golden brown and the interior fully cooked. Don’t fry over 375, because oil hotter than 375 can potentially crisp up the crust before the interior is finished cooking.
- While frying, in a separate pot, heat 1 cup lard (or bacon grease or duck fat or a mix) on very low with 1/4 cup of the spice mix. The goal here is to just melt the lard and thoroughly stir in the spice mix for dipping after drying.
- Toast the buns and add Comeback Sauce to the bottom. Once the pheasant is done frying, make sure the lard and spice mix is adequately mixed (stir again if necessary). Add the pheasant breast to the final mix, fully coating it, then immediately add to the bottom bun. Top with coleslaw and a handful of pickles. Add the top bun and pin a pickle into the bun with a toothpick. Lightly coat pickle with spice mix (just the dry spice mix, without lard). Let cool 5 minutes before serving.
Jack Hennessy grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and didn't start hunting until he attended graduate school in Spokane, Washington, at the age of 26. Hennessy began work in professional kitchens in high school but didn't start writing wild game recipes until he joined the Spokesman-Review in 2014. Since then, his recipes have appeared with Petersen's Hunting, Backcountry Journal, Gun Dog Magazine, among many others. He now lives with his wife, daughter, and Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley, in Wichita, Kansas.