Flights of Fancy

At Primland, game bird cuisine soars to delicious heights.

(Photographs by Stacey Van Berkel)

If you’ve never put quail, pheasant, or partridge on your shopping list—or in your oven—fall is the perfect time to discover game birds. You don’t have to be a hunter to enjoy them; pheasant, quail, and duck are readily available in butcher shops and through online purveyors like Joyce Farms or D’Artagnan®.

“It’s a different process, the cooking of a game bird,” says Ryan de Rieux, executive chef of Primland Resort, a member of the Auberge Resorts Collection, in Meadows of Dan. “Chickens have a lot of subcutaneous fat,” he notes. “Game birds, especially wild ones, are leaner. They benefit from butter basting to keep them moist.”

A strip of bacon will do the job nicely, too. Just be careful not to overcook them. Classic pairings like garlic and thyme work well across all game birds. Dried fruit complements the meat, as well.

Why cook game birds? “Some people don’t venture too far from chicken,” says chef de Rieux. “But for more adventurous eaters, once you’ve mastered that perfect oven-roasted chicken, game birds are a good next step.”


Chicken Fried Quail

Soaked in buttermilk and seasoned with ranch spice (recipe below) these crispy fried quail get a kick from hot sauce.

  • 1 quart of buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons of Texas Pete Hot Sauce
  • 6 tablespoons of ranch spice
  • 12 semi-boneless quail
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of potato flour
  • 1 1/2 quarts of vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl combine buttermilk, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, and 3 tablespoons of ranch spice. Thoroughly mix together and soak quail in buttermilk for 24 hours. In a separate bowl mix flour, potato flour, and 3 tablespoons of ranch spice.

Dredge soaked quail in seasoned flour and reserve in a cooler for 3-4 hours. Sift seasoned bowl flour and reserve in the refrigerator. In a cast-iron Dutch oven or deep fryer, add vegetable oil and bring to 350 degrees. Remove dredged quail from the cooler, lightly toss in seasoned flour, and fry until golden brown (approximately 3 minutes).

Serves 6.


Mix up a batch to give game birds or chicken a hint of smoke and spice.

  • 1 1/4 cups of onion powder
  • 1 cup garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon powder
  • 6 tablespoons of dried parsley
  • 1 1/4 tablespoons of D’espelette pepper
  • 1 1/4 tablespoons of smoked paprika
  • 4 1/3 tablespoons of black pepper
  • 5 3/4 tablespoons of salt

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until evenly incorporated. Store in an airtight container.


Seedless cucumbers and onion, marinated in tangy sweetness, make the perfect accompaniment to chicken fried quail.

  • 5 pounds of Japanese cucumbers
  • 1 gram of onion
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons of salt (4%)
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups of white distilled vinegar
  • 2 1/8 cups of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon of celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric

In a 32-quart pot, soak whole cucumbers in ice water for 4 hours. Remove cucumbers from ice water and slice 1/4 inch thick using a mandolin. Slice onion in a 1/4 julienne. Combine onions with cucumbers and toss. in salt. Place in a colander and let drain for a minimum of 4 hours.

In a large pot combine apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, sugar, brown sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric and bring to a simmer. Place drained cucumber and onions in a large bowl and pour warm brine over all to cover. Allow to cool overnight.

Spicey Gamefowl Breakfast Sausage

For a change of pace at breakfast, this sausage is made with seasoned ground duck and pheasant instead of pork.

  • 4 tablespoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of sage
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
  • 2 pounds of duck breast
  • 2 pounds of pheasant breast
  • 1 pound of fat back

In a small mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Evenly dice breast meat and fat back, place in a large mixing bowl, add seasoning, and place in the freezer to chill. Place metal grinder parts in the freezer to chill. Coarsely grind meat, adding ice water evenly throughout the grinding process to achieve the desired consistency. Shape ground sausage meat into patties and cook in a frying pan over medium heat.


  • 9 tablespoons of butter
  • 1.5 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon of sliced chives
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese

Cut butter into small cubes and keep cold. Cut cold butter into dry ingredients in batches using a food processor. In large mixer with paddle gently mix in buttermilk, chives, and cheese (don’t dump all at once, add in portions). Be careful not to over mix. Line and grease full sheet tray. Once dough forms roll out into full sheet tray to the height of the tray. Cut into 2-inch squares. Brush the tops of each biscuit with buttermilk. Bake at 375 degrees full convection for 13 minutes (will be golden brown).

Makes 12 biscuits


  • 2 1/4 cups of local wild honey
  • 1 2/3 tablespoons of Versawhip (a powdered stabilizer)

Place honey in a blender and blend on low while sprinkling in Versawhip. Increase blender speed to high and blend until fully incorporated.

Pheasant Ballotine

Breast meat, pounded thin, and filled with a mushroomy meat paste, are wrapped into tasty packets. A ballotine takes a bit of extra effort, but the slices reveal the reward.

  • 1 whole white pheasant
  • 3 ounces of butter
  • 2/3 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon of curing salt
  • 1 teaspoon mushroom powder
  • 2-4 ounces of heavy cream

Remove pheasant wings at the 2nd joint and make a small circular cut just below the joint. Make a circular cut around the ankle joint. Place the pheasant onto a cutting board, breast side down, and make a cut along the length of the spine. Using fingers, gently separate the delicate skin from the bird in one piece. Once removed, stretch the skin flat on the cutting board, cut in half, and set aside, covered in plastic wrap.

Remove breasts, separating the tender portion to set aside. Remove the leg and thigh and run a knife along the thigh bone and drumstick to separate as much meat as possible from the bone. Set this aside with the tenders.

Cube the cold butter and place in a food processor along with the reserved meat, curing salt, and mushroom power. Process on high while slowly adding heavy cream until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thick, shiny paste. The amount of cream needed will vary depending on the meat’s moisture. Place meat paste in the refrigerator for a few hours to firm up.

Pound each pheasant breast thin, taking care not to tear them. Remove plastic wrap from reserved pheasant skin and stretch as flat as possible. Lay one breast on top of each piece of skin. Spread equal portions of meat paste over the center of each breast.

Roll the skin around the breast and the meat paste to create a packet. Use plastic wrap to tightly roll each pheasant packet and tie with kitchen twine. Gently steam packets for 1.5 hours at 158 degrees. When done, shock in an ice bath to stop the cooking and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Before serving, remove plastic wrap and warm the breasts in a low oven before deep-frying at 350 degrees until brown. Slice and serve.


Maple Bourbon Sour
  • 1 1/2 Woodford Reserve
  • 1/2 Lemon
  • 1/2 Lime
  • 1/2 oz maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 oz water
  • Rosemary

In a rocks glass, add Woodford Reserve and maple syrup, stir. Add ice, juice of lemon and lime, and a splash of water.

Country Dirt on City Boots
  • 1 1/2oz John J Bowman Bourbon
  • 1/2 oz Benedictine
  • 1/2 Dolin sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a martini glass or rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with picked cherries.

Meet the Chef

A 2006 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, chef Ryan de Rieux moved to southwest Virginia to work at Primland in 2013 and now serves as the resort’s Executive Chef. Prior to Primland, he worked at Chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink in Los Angeles, the Voltaggio Brothers’ Steakhouse at the MGM National Harbor, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, and La Costa resort in Carlsbad, CA. Chef de Rieux enjoys the sporting traditions of Primland and is happy to call the Meadows of Dan area home.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue.

All photographs by Stacey Van Berkel

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