Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Pot roast pheasant

Okay, that pheasant.  Various things have got in the way but finally I can post what I did with it, as if you still care.  I’ll be brief.

Pot roast.

Like any game bird the thing you’re looking to avoid is dry meat, due to the size of the birds and their almost total absence of lubricating fat.  If you know your pheasant is young and tender you can get away with just straight roasting it, as you would a chicken or guinea fowl, although I’d always make a point of barding a pheasant, however young and tender, with streaky bacon or pancetta which I wouldn’t normally bother with for a chicken or guinea fowl – particularly done on the rotisserie.  Come to think of it, it would be an interesting experiment to do a brace of pheasants, one unbarded on the rotisserie, and one barded in a tray, just to see how much moisture rotisserie cooking really does retain… Another time.

This time I wasn’t sure quite how young and tender my roadkilled bird was going to be, even with the benefit of seeing it fully feathered.  My barely educated guess, for what it’s worth, would be that it was youngish but probably not one of this years hatchlings.  Normally, obviously, most of us would be buying our pheasants already prepped from the butcher, so we’ll have even less idea of how old they may be, or even what sex they are (hens being generally considered more tender than cocks) so I’d suggest, as a rule of thumb, that pot roasting is pretty much always the way to go.  And why not?  What’s the downside?

One of the best and most memorable pheasant dishes I ever had was a pot roast/casserole done with Guiness a few years ago by my friend Ashley, but this time I had a surplus of apples and a bottle of cider lying around so I went that way.  And added some chesnuts for even more autumnal seasonality.

I prepped the bird as you would a chicken for roasting, a rub of olive oil on the outside and a bunch of mixed herbs and garlic inside and plenty of salt and pepper both inside and out.  And I crossed the breasts with rashers of smoked pancetta – probably not essential, but better safe than sorry.  I preheated my big casserole dish to about 220 (I had the oven good and hot for baking potatoes anyway) and put just the bird in, with the lid off, for about 10-15 minutes (the same hot blast technique I use for the start of any roast).  I took the casserole out of the oven at that point, with the pheasants skin just starting to brown, and added a red onion and two apples, both peeled and sliced into thick wedges, a few peeled cloves of garlic, a handful of blanched and peeled chesnuts, and poured over a glass, or about 200ml of cider (I drank the rest).  Then I turned the oven down to around 180, and put the casserole back in, this time with the lid on.  Another 30 minutes or so and we were ready to take the bird out and set it aside to rest, while putting the casserole uncovered on the hob to reduce the cider and cooking juices into a thick, rich sauce.

While that was happening I removed the legs (they virtually fell off) and the breasts (that did at least require a knife) from the pheasant.  The flesh was beautifully tender and moist, not a hint of dryness and a really rather delicate gaminess.  It could easily have hung for a couple more than the 4 days we had, whether or not that would have improved it would be purely a matter of taste.  It undoubtedly could have been a lot gamier, I can't imagine it could possibly have been much better than it was.  And plenty of meat on it too.  Often a pheasant is touch and go for feeding two, this gave us plenty, served up just with a baked potato and a bit of salad, with meat enough left on the carcass for a ragu of pheasant and the remaining winter mushrooms to go with tagliatelle the following day - also delicious, and to boil up into a good stock, which made a soup for lunch on the third day and enough for the basis of another meal (soup, risotto etc) in the freezer.  I am glad to say that this particular pheasant's tragic road traffic accident did not happen in vain.

Wild mushroom and pheasant ragu, made with the mushrooms sauteed in the usual way with the leftover sauce and shredded meat from the pot roasted pheasant stirred through with a splash of marsala wine.

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