How to Cook Gamebirds with Salsa Macha

This simple sauce will bring big (and delicious) flavors to gamebirds

A plate of chukar dish over vegetables.
This simple sauce brings new life to gamebird dishes.Christopher Testani/Photographs ,Roscoe Bestill/Food and Prop Styling

Salsa macha is a thick, dark, nutty, oily, garlicky, chile-laced concoction that adds serious depth of flavor and intrigue to everything it graces. For instance, Chicago-area chef Paul Kahan, who shared his recipe with us, slathers it onto roasted chicken, which he pairs with quick-pickled zucchini for a sweet-hot summertime dish. We’ve taken that idea afield, and into autumn, by introducing salsa macha to the more flavorful meat of chukars and pickling some bright-­orange, paper-thin slices of butternut squash. It’s a proper reward for all the ­scrambling and climbing that a chukar hunt entails. But this is an all-purpose dish for gamebirds: Quail, pheasant, and wild turkey will work equally well.

Ingredients | Serves 4

  • 4 chukars or partridges, plucked and cleaned
  • 2 oz. dried chiles (ancho, arbol, guajillo, pasilla, or chipotle)
  • 1⁄3 cup pecan pieces
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp., plus 1 cup, apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pound butternut squash (about half a squash), peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced as thinly as possible into half-moons
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2⁄3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Several cooked gamebirds of chukar over vegetables.
You can place the chukars on a bed of celery stalks and squash trimmings to prevent the birds from sitting in their own juices.Christopher Testani/Photographs ,Roscoe Bestill/Food and Prop Styling

Cooking Directions

  1. Make the salsa: Remove the stems and most of the seeds from the chiles, and roughly chop. In a medium pan set over medium-low heat, combine the pecans, oil, and garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the chiles and sesame seeds, cook for another minute, and then remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt and blend the mixture until just chopped. (A little chunky is good.) Stir before serving. (Leftovers will keep for a month or two in the refrigerator.)
  2. Pickle the squash: Combine the squash, red onion, and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large bowl. Add ice water to cover and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. While the squash is soaking, combine the remaining cup of vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric, and black peppercorns in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Drain the squash, discarding any ice, and return to the bowl. Pour the boiling pickling liquid over the squash and let sit for at least 1 hour.
  3. Roast the chukars: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the chukars from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. Salt and pepper the birds. Place them onto the rack of a roasting pan, or set them atop carrots, celery stalks, squash trimmings, or rolled-up cigars of aluminum foil on a sheet pan—anything to keep them from contacting the bottom of the pan. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until an instant thermometer reads 150 degrees. Allow the birds to rest, loosely tented with foil, for about 5 minutes.
  4. To serve, use tongs or a slotted spoon to plate the pickled squash. Place a chukar atop or ­beside the squash, and pass the salsa macha at the table.
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