I’ve often heard that dove hunting isn’t worth it because there’s not enough meat to make the work worthwhile. I’ve also heard the same of crawfish. Both opinions are wrong. Your typical mourning dove yields about 1 oz of meat. Likely a little less, but 1 oz is an easy number to work with. That’s not exactly a 54 oz porterhouse, but its nothing to sneeze at either. Dove is incredibly protein-dense and therefore a fine source of energy. Also, wrapping it in bacon and stuffing it with jalapeño and cream cheese, then cooking it slowly over an open fire makes it a fine source of delicious energy.
The recipe I used over the weekend is from an article in Texas Monthly from April 2011. I modified it slightly to suit my tastes and I suggest you do the same. Here’s the recipe from TM.
CARTER SMITH’S JALAPEÑO DOVE POPPERS
15 whole plucked dove breasts
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
15 jalapeño slices, each slice halved (fresh or canned)
2 packages regular-sliced bacon, cut in half
With a paring knife, separate breasts from breastbones to make 30 lobes. Sprinkle very lightly with garlic salt and pepper. Take a breast lobe, some cream cheese, and a jalapeño slice and wrap in bacon. Secure with a toothpick. Grill over mesquite, oak, or charcoal for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn and continue grilling until bacon is crisp. Serves 8 to 10.
I chose to follow a somewhat similar style of preparation, but used more jalapeño, seasoned the cream cheese, and cooked the poppers much longer over a lower heat. I also had far fewer doves to deal with.
CARTER SMITH’S TYLER KEE’S JALAPEÑO DOVE POPPERS
15 whole plucked dove breasts or as many as you have (15 is the daily limit for Texan hunters)
freeze dried chives (unless you have them fresh. always opt for fresh)
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese softened
15 jalapeños cut in half with seeds removed
1 packages thick-sliced bacon
First, mix your softened cream cheese with an appropriate amount of the aforementioned seasonings. My family likes garlic, so we went a bit heavy on the garlic salt and garlic powder. Start with a tablespoon of each of the spices listed above and modify to taste.
Next, wash, half, and de-seed your jalapeños. At the moment, you can find fairly robust jalapeños in your grocery store. Bigger is generally better. Most of the heat from a jalapeño comes from the seed and the white ribs you see on the insides in the photo above. Remove that, and you should only receive mild, pleasant level of heat.
Next, remove the breast meat from the ribcage. You’ll notice that the whole breasts in the picture above have the wings, feathers, and head removed. That process is fairly simple and takes less than 30 seconds for the accomplished hunter. I promise to do a piece on it after my next hunt. Once breast has been separated from the bird, find yourself a sharp knife.
In my case, I used a fresh blade in my Havalon Piranta. I can’t recommend the Havalon enough for operations like this. It slices through meat like a hot knife through butter. Removing the breast from a dove is no different than the process you’d use with a chicken. Slide your flexible blade down the length of the breast bone, and slowly peel away the meat making cuts as necessary as you go.
Be sure to remove any bloodshot meat along the way. These birds were taken using steel shot to cut down on potential for lead toxicity. Whether you use lead or steel, be sure to remove the pieces of meat that have been damaged by the shot. Once you’ve given them a thorough once-over to check for errant shot, give them a final washing, and pat the breasts dry. Assuming that you don’t have ruined meat, you should have a roughly equal amount of jalapeño halves and dove breasts. Now for the fun part.
Fill the canoe-shaped jalapeño with your spiced cream cheese, place the dove breast in the jalapeño, wrap with bacon, and secure with a toothpick. The original recipe called for salting the dove which I avoided as the cream cheese has some garlic salt, and bacon is salty on its own. The original recipe also called for using a bacon slice cut in half. You could do that, but more bacon is always better. Again, modify the recipe for your particular taste.
Once all your dove breasts are wrapped and secured, use any remaining jalapeño, bacon, and cream cheese to create non-game poppers. Place them on a plate, pan, or tray and refrigerate until your grill is ready. The original recipe called for a fairly quick cook over an open fire. I much prefer a slower cook using a two zone setup. In my case, I used a gas grill with four burners. I put the outside burners on medium and left the middle burners off.
Once your grill is warmed up (target 300 degrees Fahrenheit), place your poppers jalapeño side down, close the lid, and give them 20-30 minutes. Using a digital meat thermometer, bring the doves to 150 degrees. Once they hit that, move them to direct heat to crisp the bacon. Watch out for grease fires and keep some water on hand to squelch the burn. Keep the poppers rotating over direct flame flipping every minute or so until the bacon is crisp. Ensure that the dove meat has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees before removing from the grill to cool.
Keep in mind that the cream cheese inside is basically magma and if you bite into one fresh off the grill, you’ll scald your mouth. Crack open a cold Shiner Bock while they cool, split in half with a sharp knife and enjoy.