It is confession time.
I do not like “poppers”. Not one bit. You know the drill: cream cheese and a chunk of wild game stuffed into a hollowed-out jalapeno, wrapped in bacon, speared with a toothpick and slapped on the grill. I’ve had them with duck, goose, wild turkey, and even with venison. They are universally not my thing. Dove hunters everywhere have now closed their browser window in disgust.
Now, I am not a picky eater. Ask any of the numerous people I’ve hunted and/or dined with over the years and they’ll confirm that I’ll try almost anything and what I do eat is usually scarfed down in the blink of an eye (there is a lot psychologically to unpack there too, but that’s another time and topic). I have rarely met an appetizer that I did not acclaim. So why the hate for poppers?
I’ve thought about it, and for me, they just don’t do anything well. The bacon? Rubbery and underdone. The cream cheese? Smeared and running everywhere. The wild game? Usually the only passable part, but if you want crisp bacon, you are often going to have overcooked game meat. The jalapenos? Soggy, limp, and neutered of heat by pulling all the seeds and veins out of them. Smoking poppers is the only palatable way to eat these and even then, most of the same issues apply, but at least there’s some smoke flavour, which I am admittedly a sucker for. But still, poppers are a camp staple so how could I make this and still have it get plowed away by a cabin full of hungry goose hunters?
Inspired by a recent appearance on the Harvesting Nature podcast, I decided to make every component the best version of itself and then reassemble it as a dip.
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Worried that the goose would get overcooked, I decided to cure it into pastrami and then chop it. I exclusively use this pastrami recipe but other recipes for goose or duck pastrami are available Raw chopped jalapenos would be stirred into the mix, seeds and all, for a true spicy kick. Chopped, crispy bacon could then be sprinkled like delicious crunchy pork confetti over the top, and all this would be carried on a thick, rich base of herbed cream cheese and sour cream, with some stringy melted cheese on top.
The result? A 12” x 9” casserole filled to the brim with this bubbly wonderful mess was demolished by a dozen hungry (and perhaps thirsty) waterfowlers in under 10 minutes. So I’d say that puts our goose camp’s reliance on poppers to rest. This is a great, rich appetizer in the vein of all the best pub food, but it would go equally well at a potluck dinner with some friends that need to be introduced to wild game, or as a wild game addition to your Super Bowl party spread. Enjoy it with friends and cold beer.