Edible Bozeman

Sharptail with Giant Croutons

Sharptail grouse are my family’s favorite bird to hunt and one of our favorites to serve and eat. Hunting the high prairie for sharptail typically involves traipsing big, patchy mosaics of shortgrass prairie, alfalfa fields, and shrubby ravines. Our dogs do what they are born to do, searching for birds in all the nooks and crannies.

Too often, we hear, “Sharptail is too gamey.” Most often, that is because it has been poorly dressed between the field and stovetop or it was overcooked. Our number-one cardinal rule is never overcook the meat. Duck, sharptail, and many other game animals are a dark red meat. Cooked properly, the grouse breasts should still be a dark red color.

Every cook has their own specific taste and favorite ingredients; we are no exception. We like our food on the spicy side and this recipe combines chili peppers and Chinese spice with crunchy herbs and the richness of sharptail. It is an elegant flavorful recipe, and relatively simple, barring that there is a bit of chopping.

The recipe, originally inspired by British chef Jamie Oliver, is adaptable and equally good with sharptail grouse alone, with duck alone, or a combination of duck and sharptail. It also works with pheasant. It is our favorite game bird recipe, and in the unlikely event that England’s newly crowned king popped over for dinner, this is what we would serve.


6–8 sharptail and/or duck breasts seasoned with salt and pepper (1–2 per person)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, divided
1 oblong loaf rustic bread
5–6 cloves garlic (2–3 peeled and minced and 2–3 skin on, squashed)
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary (2–3 tablespoons chopped and a few sprigs left whole)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1–2 slices of pancetta per breast
2 bunches fresh mint, chopped (1 cup)
2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped (½ cup)
2 chili peppers (such as jalapeño, Anaheim, or poblano), minced
Juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325°F. Season the breasts with the thyme, Five Spice, sea salt, black pepper, and a little olive oil. Set aside.

Slice your bread into ¼- to ½-inch rounds and lay the slices on a rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the minced garlic and the squashed cloves then sprinkle with chopped rosemary and the fennel seeds. Massage all of this into the bread with olive oil. Twist the rosemary sprigs to bruise and put them on top of the bread. Bake for about 15–20 minutes; you want to maintain a soft texture in the middle of the bread, but the crusts should be firm.

While the croutons are baking, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Lay each sharptail or duck breast in the pan on top of a piece (or 2 if the breasts are large) of pancetta. Use a bacon weight, or the like, to weigh the meat down into the pan and help crisp the pancetta. Turn the meat after 3–4 minutes and lower the heat. Cook the meat an additional 3–4 minutes; the amount of time will vary based on the size of the breast and how you like your meat. We encourage you to cook sharptail and duck rare. Remove promptly, keeping in mind that the meat will continue to cook a bit as it rests.

Mix the mint, cilantro, chilis, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons olive oil on a large cutting board or platter. Slice the meat thinly cross-grain on top of the mixture, making sure the meat juices, oil, herbs, and chilis meld together. Arrange the croutons around the meat and serve.

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