From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 2 - September 9, 1999
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

"Dang, I Shot a Sage Rooster!!"
County residents share their secrets for cooking that tough, old bird.
by Cris Paravicini

Hunters are cleaning their shotguns and whetting their appetites in preparation of the September 18 opeining of Sublette County's Sage Grouse season.

These outdoorsmen, too, are seasoning their cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens, checking out their cooking oil supply, and assembling the seasoned flour, corn flake crumbs, and batter ingredients used in frying juvenile Sage Chicken.

With the decline of the grouse population in Sublette County however, many hunters inevitably will return home with only their still-shiny, cold-barreled, scatter guns and fond memories of "getting out and seeing a lot of pretty country."

Some hunters will get lucky and locate the silent flock. They'll take aim, and when the scattered feathers settle on the sage, they'll walk away with a plump, young bird or two. Many other sharpshooters, however, won't be able to tell the difference between the fully plumed, three to four-month-old youngsters and the elder roosters and hens when they pull up on the speckled game bird.

It is at this point in the sport that the process from field to table really begins. I've seen several methods used in gutting, aging, and plucking the "catch of the day." Immediately after the kill, some hunters cut a slit in the back door of the bird and fish out the innards, by hand. Others cut the same hole and then, literally, shake the guts out in a violent whiplash action that scatters most of the bird's blood, lungs, heart, and liver on clothes and faces, with just a bit landing neatly on the ground. Still other folks hang the whole bird from a porch rafter, guts intact, either by its heels or suspended by a noose around its neck, where the bird ages and buzzes until seasoned enough to skin and stuff into the cook pot.

Indeed, there's nothing better than a meal of tender, young Sage Chicken. But, what do you do when one of the tough, old "bombers" lifts off in front of your double barrel? You can't throw it back into the willows or sagebrush, simply because you know it's going to taste like an old army boot. You gotta bite the buckshot, take it home, and make use of it, as though you'd planned it this way, all along.

One lady, when asked to reveal her recipe for sage roosters, shared her gourmet secrets, jokingly. "Just soak the ol' bird in good wine," she laughed, "then throw the bird away and drink the wine!"

Another Sublette County native, Lucy Neely, said her family doesn't eat sage chickens, nowadays, but recalled her mom, the late Ethel David, saying, "Just boil and boil and boil the old bird, then throw out the rooster and eat the noodles."

Debbie Ray slices the breast meat into quarter-inch strips, dips them in flour and a seasoning like garlic powder, then fries the meat in bacon grease for added flavor. Her husband Robert says his mom, Halley Alexander Ray, whose grandparents homesteaded on Cottonwood Creek, "makes the best" Chicken Pot `O Pie with the old roosters. "It is really, really good!"

Halley's rooster recipe: Cut meat into small chunks, flour, and brown in oil or bacon grease. Cover the meat with water, and add whatever vegetable's handy - peas, carrots, celery, spuds, onions, green beans. Cook until tender, then thicken with cornstarch or flour and pour into a pie plate with no bottom crust. Top with either rolled or dropped homemade, baking powder biscuits, and bake in a "fairly warm oven" until the biscuits are nicely browned.

Ben Pearson remembers that his Grandma Lena Pape, a homesteader on North Beaver Creek on the Rim, made wonderful creamed sage rooster. She would boil the meat off the bone, then thicken the cooked meat with flour or cornstarch into good milk gravy. He said his grandmother also, at times, would grind the raw breast meat, mix it with chopped onions, and then fry it like hamburger.

Several old timers talked about their sage chicken days before Sublette County was so named. "We looked forward to springtime when the chickens returned for the spring strut," they remembered, nostalgically. "We hadn't had fresh meat in a long time, so those old, fat sage roosters tasted real good. We'd get one right off the snow bank and boil it up for chicken and dumplings. Made one hellava good meal!"

The following Grouse recipe was found in my mom's 1955 edition of "The Hungry Sportsman's Fish and Game Cookbook," by Eddie Meier:

"Pluck and draw 2 grouse, soak 1 hour in salt water, split, rub both sides with lemon and sauté in butter until light brown. Cover with water and add 2 T. chopped onion, 3 T. chopped celery, 1 small carrot chopped, 1/2 t. salt, 1/4 t. pepper, 1/2 t. parsley flakes, and 1/2 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes.

"Make a roux of 3 T. butter and 3 T. flour; strain and add liquid in which grouse were cooked, 2 four-oz. cans of mushrooms, including liquid from 1 can; 1 t. lemon juice, 1 t. Worcestershire sauce and 1 T. minced parsley. Serve grouse halves on plates with fluffed rice, dripping mushroom gravy over meat and rice."

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