Hard to believe, but November is just around the corner—and with it comes the new issue of Field & Stream. In it you’ll find a story about my swan hunt last November. It was cool hunt that hopefully, if I did my job, will come across in the magazine story.
Like most waterfowl, swans get a bad rap as table fare, but I’m here to tell you: It’s all in how you cook them. For some reason (probably all those fairy tales I read as a kid) I automatically associate swans with old Europe. That naturally led me to cook my swan’s legs in a European fashion of a choucroute garnie—or kraut and meat.
This Alsatian dish matches sauerkraut with cured meats, generally pork chops, hocks, and sausage, but I use it here as a braise to tenderize the tough swan legs in a flavorful liquid. I also move the recipe farther east into Europe by replacing the standard sweet, white wine with some good dark beer and a heavy dose of paprika.
If you didn’t draw a swan tag this year, feel free to substitute duck or goose, or go traditional with a big pork chop or thick slice of ham. My girlfriend, T. Rebel, scored a Utah swan tag for this year so I’ll be having swan choucroute again soon.
4 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced in half
1 pair of swan legs
1 lb. kielbasa, knackwurst, or other good smoked sausage, cut into 3-inch chunks
One medium onion, halved and sliced
Ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 bottle good dark beer
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 large jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1. Season the swan legs with a pinch of salt and let rest. In a large cast-iron Dutch oven, brown the bacon over medium-high heat. Transfer the cooked bacon to a plate and add the swan legs. Brown heavily on each side, then move the legs to the plate with the bacon. Brown the sausage in hot oil. Remove to plate when browned on all sides.
2. You’ll need about 2 Tbsp. of fat in the Dutch oven, so remove or add as necessary. Lower heat to medium and dump in the sliced onion, along with a couple pinches of salt, a liberal dose of freshly-ground black pepper and the smoked paprika. Sauté, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the sliced garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and stir.
3. Pour in the beer and raise the heat to medium-high. When the liquid starts to simmer, stir to loosen the fond from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Pour in the chicken stock and add bay leaves and sauerkraut. Stir well.
4. Return all the meat back to the pot, nestling the legs and sausages into the sauerkraut.
Cover, lower heat and simmer for as long as you can stand it, at least 2 hours. Four is better.
5. Transfer the meat, kraut and boiled potatoes to a large platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.