Sunday, March 28, 2010

Edisto Island Mustard Fried Marsh Hens

Before going into the recipe, I need to explain a couple of things first, I am reprinting this from one of my all time favorite cook books, and a winner of a Tabasco Community Cookbook Award in 1998.
Recipe credit: Parker Tuten, via -'Pon Top Edisto-,
Copyright 1997 by Trinity Episcopal Church, Edisto Island, SC
The title comes from the local way of saying "up on top of Edisto Island" - Pon Top Edisto, such as "you should go to The Old Post Office Restaurant 'pon top Edisto causin' the food is so dam' good, however if its Friday night call ahead because Phillip the chef packs 'em in on weekends and seats are scarce." 
If you have never been to Edisto Island, SC; well you are missin' out is all I got to say.
The food, the climate, the huntin', the fishin', the beach, the river, the ocean, the marsh, the intra-coastal waterway...well, you get the picture, its a really nice place, and one of my favorite memories is whenever driving onto the island you pass a house along the road of no great note, except that the tree swing in the ancient live oak full of Spanish moss in the front yard is actually a full size mattress on a metal frame which the homeowner can frequently be seen taking naps in the coastal breeze. It is that kind of island and I escaped there many an afternoon in my youth and I miss it sorely. The Edisto River is the worlds longest black water river and I have canoed from its headwaters to the Atlantic and enjoyed every sun filled minute of it.
Also, for those not in the know, a marsh hen is a Clapper Rail, a slow flying bird of no great reknown other than being tasty and in abundance. This bird, when startled, flies a foot above the marsh grass in a straight line, almost asking to be shot out of the sky, if a foot off the grass can truly be denoted 'sky'. It can be replaced in this recipe by a Cornish rock hen available from Tyson in most supermarket freezer sections, but then you lose the romance and much of the flavor.
I grew up in the same county as the island, which are both just south of Charleston, SC, my place of birth and my mother's hometown and have a deep and abiding love for it, if you can't tell.
One last note, for those not in "the know", South Carolinian's like to put a mustard/vinegar sauce on any meat and eat it with our fingers or on a bun. The local BBQ favorite is shredded pork, slathered in mustard BBQ sauce on a bun. The sauce is much more than actual mustard, so do not put mustard on a steak and pronounce you are eating SC BBQ. The three BBQ fairies will visit you in the night and make you mend your ways. 'Nuff said, Anyway, on with the show, here is the recipe, Enjoy!

Step 1: Start with 1 box of #8 shot, .410 gauge, 1 small boy, 1 old man, 1 jon boat, 1 push pole and one October 7 foot tide. Wash thoroughly after return trip home. Soak birds overnight in salted water. Store in refrigerator.

Step 2: Drain the birds the next day. Pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with garlic salt, seasoned salt and coarse ground black pepper.

Step 3: Mix equal amounts of instant mashed potato flakes and self rising flour. Set aside.

Step 4: Mix 2 parts prepared mustard and 1 part burgundy wine. Dip birds in wine-mustard mixture, shake in dry mixture.

Step 5: Fry until golden brown.

Yield: 2 birds per person

A couple of field notes: Fry in a cast iron pan. Marsh hens aren't large, so using anything larger than a .410 gauge shotgun will result in a 'poof' of feathers and no meal. My personal preference for this recipe is to substitute burgundy wine vinegar for the actual wine, I like the richer flavor. The high tide is needed to traverse the marshland via boat, and the prescribed thorough washing is necessary if'n any part of your body so much as hints that it has touched the marsh pluff mud, which while putting out what locals all agree is a rich sea smell that makes you want to go stand on a dune and soak up the ocean breeze, once it is on you or your clothes all of your friends and family will agree you need a serious bath and they may attempt to burn your clothes while you are scrubbing. Advise them to avoid this temptation as they will likely get some of the pluff mud on them in the process of throwing away or burning your possessions and they will be treated the same by others and eventually you spiral into a situation where finally everyone runs naked from a burning home. I've seen it happen, it isn't pretty. Maybe the Cornish hens in the freezer section don't taste so bad after all.....

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