Love dove poppers? Try this twist on the popular upland bird snack for your next gathering
Even though I’m not much of a basketball fan, I enjoy this time of year—filling out brackets and hoping they don’t go bust by the first weekend of the tournament. Maybe I’ll get lucky enough to earn some diaper money at the end of it. If those brackets do go bust, at least I have some quality snacks at the ready, and maybe a few tasty brews.
Most hunters go nuts over dove poppers, but the difference here is that we are using quail breasts and marinating them in almost a light teriyaki blend. We of course won’t waste the legs, as they can come along for the marinade ride and roast in the same skillet alongside the poppers.
While you can sometimes pull out dove breasts with a thumb or finger, it’s been my experience that breasting out quail meat requires a little more TLC. I use a fillet knife and follow the same steps I would for breaking down a larger bird like a pheasant.
The cheese you choose is up to you, but it should be a semi-hard to hard cheese (something like a hard cheddar) so that when it melts, it doesn’t immediately turn to liquid like American “cheese.” You might be able to get away with cream cheese if that is your go-to, but I would recommend something a little firmer and perhaps a little less plain. A Dubliner white cheddar is also a good option if you’re still in a St. Patrick’s Day mood.
Normally I am a thick-cut bacon guy, but in this instance your regular off-the-meat-shelf bacon will do. There’s no need to visit the meat counter for the thick-cut, premium stuff, since thick slices won’t wrap as snugly as the normal slices. Additionally, by using a skillet and carefully setting in the poppers after a tight bacon wrap, you shouldn’t need toothpicks to hold these together. As the bacon crisps—if wrapped tightly—it’ll keep all the contents together nicely.
Lastly, a note on the jalapeños: if you remove all seeds and pulp and soak in lime juice, that should greatly (if not completely) eliminate the heat. However, if you like a little bit of spice, that comes from the seeds, pulp, and the oil from them. Feel free to leave a few seeds behind with each half to suit your taste.
Ingredients (two servings)
4 quail, breasts and legs
4 ~2-inch thick jalapeños, halved and seeded
8-10 oz. semi-hard to hard cheese (I used a chipotle gouda)
8 slices of bacon (not thick cut)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Freshly minced cilantro for garnish (optional)
Juice from at least 6 limes, freshly squeezed
For the marinade:
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup mirin sweet cooking wine
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
- Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl.
- Breast out the quail and cut off legs and soak in marinade overnight.
- Slice the jalapeños in half lengthwise and remove seeds and pulp with a butter knife. Soak in freshly squeezed lime juice anywhere from one hour to overnight (the longer the soak, the stronger tang of lime).
- When ready to assemble poppers, cut strips of hard, high-temp cheese that are approximately ½ inch thick by ½ inch wide (basically a strip to fit inside the hollow cavity of each halved jalapeño).
- Place cheese strip in each jalapeño and top with a quail breast. Wrap bacon tightly around the poppers—you shouldn’t need a toothpick—and set along rim of an oven-safe skillet. Crack fresh black pepper over the top of the poppers.
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add quail legs from the marinade to the center of the skillet.
- Cook quail poppers and legs at 275 F for 20 minutes, then turn on the broiler to crisp the bacon and the legs. This should take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes at most.
- Remove the skillet from the oven and let poppers cool for 5 minutes prior to serving.
- Garnish with freshly minced cilantro (optional).
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.