Pheasant is a real treat - there’s something about the distinctive flavour that suits the cold winter months; and there’s great pleasure to be taken from anticipating the season and then making the most of it while it lasts (til about mid-February).
Roasting this wild (check with your butcher exactly how wild it is!) bird makes a great value alternative to a roast free-range chicken. Not least because, of all the game birds, the taste of a pheasant most resembles a good chicken, due to their similar lifestyles and diets. Recently, I’ve rather fallen for this earthy recipe, slightly adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Pot pheasant with Chorizo and Butter Beans
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 oven-ready pheasant
- 300g cooking chorizo, skin removed and cut into 2cm chunks,
- 400ml white wine
- 500ml vegetable, chicken or light pheasant stock
- 400g tin of butter beans, drained and rinsed
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Butter and olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 140ºC. Choose a large casserole dish (big enough for both birds.) Cook onions, garlic, bay and thyme in some butter and oil to soften.
In a separate frying pan, brown seasoned pheasants all over, in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer to casserole. Fry chorizo for a few minutes then transfer to casserole too. De-glaze frying pan with some of the wine, then add this to the pheasants, with the rest of the wine, the stock and the butter beans. The liquid should come at least half way up the birds.
Bring to a simmer, cover then place in the oven for 2 hours. When ready, remove pheasants and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Then cut birds into halves or quarters onto 4 plates (or depending on your appetite!) and spoon over juicy butter beans and chorizo. Serve with crusty white bread.
Otherwise, Jane Grigson’s braised pheasant with celery is rich and delicious but fairly simple (see her ‘English Food’ cookbook). One of my favourite chefs, Darina Allen from Ballymaloe Cookery School, suggests a very easy dish of casseroled pheasant with Jerusalem artichokes (see her ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’ book).
Game pie is another favourite - try mixing three parts of pheasant meat to two parts chicken, and proceed as with a basic chicken pie recipe. And if they all seem too complicated, Nigel Slater, the king of easy cooking, says of pheasant - ‘just roast it in a deep pot with celery, onions and Vin Santo’ and it’s done.
When buying pheasant you need to think about its age and how long it’s been hung for. It’s not easy to age a bird - if bought in the feather, look at the claws. Generally, the old birds will have thick, stiff claws with long spurs. If you're buying an oven-ready bird, look at the size: younger birds are normally smaller and trimmer, and are best for roasting - they roast quickly and, covered with strips of streaky bacon and well-basted, should remain nice and juicy. (To roast, cook at 190ºC for roughly 45 mins, and serve with bread sauce or a simple gravy of a sweet wine, or madeira, added to the juices of the pan). Older birds are better suited to a long, slow cook in a casserole - try a coq au vin or chicken curry recipe.
Hanging is important to the flavour of a pheasant but there are no hard and fast rules about how long it should be hung for. Personally, I don’t like my pheasants too gamey because their delicate taste can easily be drowned out if hung for too long. But maybe I’m just not very macho! Good butchers might let you specify how long you’d like your game hung for if you have strong ideas.
Lastly, one pheasant should feed 2-3, and generally mushroom, sprouts or celery go with pheasant very well.