The game season is now in full swing. Probably my first exposure to game was in the form of pheasant, because that was the main thing shot at the in-laws in Perthshire. I've probably written before that the principal reason folk are leery of game is that they're not sure what to do with it. I certainly have made plenty of mistakes over the years, primarily with pheasant itself.

The traditional British way, of course, is to roast everything. It is no surprise, therefore to see encouragement to flood the plate with gravy, bread sauce and the like? Why? Because pheasant is a very dry meat. For me, roasting ain't the way to go. For years, pot roasting was my go to method. There were a few problems. Firstly I had no idea how long it took to cook a whole bird, Secondly, a pheasant leg isn't the most pleasant thing to eat, largely because of the multitude of sharp, plastic like tendons. Chefs of my acquaintance muttered heresies to me - cut out the breast and throw the rest away. I really hate waste. Then I had my Damascene moment. Don't buy a whole bird, just packs of breasts. Doh! Cooking on the bone often solves problems of dryness, but not worth it here.

But you have been warned. Even a whole breast will not take long.  By all means cook it whole, but these days I cut mine into two pieces, three if they are large. As with many meat stews, my technique is to sear the meat, remove, start the veg, add whatever liquid, return the meat until it's cooked, remove again, then reduce the liquid to the desired consistency. If you give pheasant pieces much more than 3 - 5 minutes overall, depending on size obviously, they will dry out no matter how good the accompanying sauce.

I improvised both of these sauces the other weekend, though the second one is just a variation on a chausseur. One good sized pheasant breast is enough for one average size portion.

Pheasant with Onion, Celery, Apple and Cream (serves 4)

4 pheasant breasts, cut into 2 or 3 pieces cross ways; 1 onion, chopped; 1 stick of celery, quite finely chopped (don't forget to string it first); 1 medium red eating apple such as Braeburn, Gala or Jazz, peeled, cored and cut into small dice; butter and oil for frying; 200 - 300ml dry cider; 100 - 200 ml double cream; salt and pepper.

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Season the pheasant breasts with salt and pepper, lightly brown on both sides in a mixture of butter and oil, then set aside. In the same pan, gently fry the onion and celery for 2 - 3 minutes. Season with a little s & p.Add the apple and cook for a further couple of minutes. (This dish works well if your veg still has a little bite at the end.) Pour in the cider and bring to the boil. (If you want to be flash, you could add a splash of Calvados first and flambé it before adding the cider.

Reduce the liquid by a half to two thirds, depending on how runny you want your sauce. Return the pheasant to the pan, Add as much cream as you want, bring back to the boil and bubble for a minute or two until the pheasant pieces are cooked. Check the seasoning and serve at once.

Pheasant with Onion and Mushrooms (serves 4)

4 pheasant breasts; 1 onion finely chopped; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 300g mushrooms, peeled and chopped; butter and oil for frying; squeeze of tomato purée; 200 - 300ml chicken stock; 75ml dry white wine or vermouth; bay leaf (optional); sprinkling of dried thyme (optional); salt and pepper.

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Season the pheasant breasts with salt and pepper, lightly brown on both sides in a little oil, then set aside. In the same pan, cook the onion and garlic gently until soft. Add a generous knob of butter to the pan, increase the heat and cook the mushrooms. Mushrooms need salt - add a little at this stage. Stir in a good squeeze of tomato purée and stir together well. Add the wine/vermouth and cook until it has almost evaporated. Add the stock, bay leaf and thyme and reduce by about half. Return the pheasant to the pan, and continue on the heat until the pheasant is cooked through. If your sauce is still too runny, remove the pheasant pieces, keep warm and reduce the sauce to the desired consistency.

5 Comments

  1. Pat M on 8th December 2020 at 10:16 pm

    Oh dear Tom. As a long time pheasant cook – the wife of a shot – cook pheasant just like chicken but for a shorter time. Roast or braise whole braise or cook the breasts – just adapt your favourite chicken recipes. Or just make delicious broth. You are over thinking it!!

    • Tom Johnston on 9th December 2020 at 6:33 am

      Dear Pat, Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. I bow to your greater experience. Having said that I used to be in a family which did a lot of shooting of shooting, and have eaten and cooked a fair number of pheasants in my time. It’s only in recent years that I’ve eaten game cooked by some top chefs. Now I do agree with many that a lot of the stuff served up on Masterchef and the like is borderline raw, but I do believe that an awful lot of game here, especially pheasant, is over cooked. As a matter of interest, if roasting, how long would you cook an average sized pheasant for?

      • Pat on 9th December 2020 at 5:18 pm

        I have a Neff oven which does not cook up to temp so about 50mins at 180c wrapped in a few streaky bacon rashers

        • Tom Johnston on 10th December 2020 at 10:28 am

          Thank you for that. In fairness, I haven’t roasted a pheasant for a long while, though I suspect there is a reason for that. I’ll give this a go.

        • Tom Johnston on 11th December 2020 at 4:51 pm

          I suspect we are as far apart as the Brexit negotiations. I get most of my game from Castle Game at Trinlaymire Farm. Neil, the co proprietor is an expert cook. I asked him for a roasting time. He would brown the bird all over, then roast for 15 minutes. I won’t tell you his comments when I mentioned 50. It’s wonderful how the good Lord made all of us just that little bit different?

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