Every year I bang on about the joys of autumn cookery, so why should this one be any different? It’s the right time of year for long slow cooking; root veg come into their own, as do apples and pears. But the thing that makes autumn stand out for me is the availability of game.
Larousse Gastronomique defines game as all wild animals and birds that are hunted, and those that were hunted and are now farmed. The French word for game is gibier, which in turn comes from the old French word gibecer, to hunt. On that basis, game is available all year round. In Scotland shooting of buck deer is permitted from April 1 – October 20; doe from October 21 to March 31. In an ideal world you will have a country contact who can supply you. The next best thing is to find a butcher who is also a game dealer. You will in all probability be pleasantly surprised by the cost of your protein as against beef or the like, but it is generally wise to wait till the season has been underway for a few weeks, when prices usually come down.
One person who has no problems with his supply of game is HRH The Prince of Wales, or the Duke of Rothesay to give him his correct title this side of the border. In November 2018 he was guest editor for one edition of Country Life. In that issue he contributed this recipe as one of his favourites. I’m grateful to Nigel and Andrew, collectively known as The Nosey Chef, who spend their time discovering the history of food and using what we find to cook original, classic dishes with verified authentic recipes. These guys are a mine of information. I commend their website to you. All their contact details are below. Thanks also, gentlemen, for permission to reproduce this photo.
I have made this dish – and very good it is too – but a couple of preliminaries. HRH bizarrely describes it as a crumble pie. No, it’s a crumble, but with a slight difference. For sweet crumbles flour is rubbed with butter and the raw mixture is sprinkled on top. Here breadcrumbs are used, and are cooked in butter first. I refused to believe the original recipe, which specifies 170g of butter to 50g of breadcrumbs, then tells you mop up the excess butter. My recipe uses about a third of the quantity of butter, which I found to be more than enough. With the cream and cheese it’s a very rich dish. Unusually, the recipe as given assumes your sauce and meat are warm when you add the topping. There is no reason why you couldn’t prepare the pheasant and the sauce the day before, but you might need to adjust the heating time.
Ingredients (serves 2 – HRH says it serves 4. That’s why he’s a wee trim thing. Allow 1 pheasant for 2 hungry people.)
For the stock
1 pheasant; 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped; 1 large carrot, ditto; 4 sticks of celery, cut into quarters; 2 bay leaves; large sprig of thyme; 6 juniper berries, lightly crushed; 4 peppercorns; splash of dry sherry; cold water.
For the sauce
40g butter; 40g plain flour; 300ml of the pheasant stock made as above; 100ml double cream; 1 tbsp each of freshly chopped parsley and thyme; salt and pepper.
For the crumble topping
60g butter; 60g white breadcrumbs; 30g freshly grated Parmesan; 2 rashers streaky bacon, preferably smoked, cooked to a crisp (NOT burnt – there is a difference) and crumbled.
Poach the pheasant. For a pie of chicken, pheasant or the like, poaching is always a good idea, as your meat shouldn’t dry out. (But beware, you can overcook, even if it’s in liquid.) And simultaneously you are making your stock. Put all the stock ingredients except the sherry in a large pan with enough water to cover the bird. HRH’s chef suggests you put a cartouche of greaseproof paper on top. (That’s a piece of paper cut to the size of your pot. It’s not a bad idea, as the top of the bird will bob above the surface and may leave a little uncooked bit. If you can’t be bothered doing that, turn the carcasse over every ten minutes or so. The things you learn hobnobbing with royalty and me.)
Bring the liquid to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, by which time the pheasant should be cooked. Leave in the water for a further 10 minutes, then remove the bird and cover with foil. Strain the poaching liquor into a clean pan and reduce to about 600ml. You will need half of that for this recipe – freeze the rest.
For the sauce, make a roux in the usual way, by melting the butter, stirring in the flour and cooking for a few minutes before adding the stock. A little at a time, but you knew that. You are looking for a fairly thick sauce. Season with s & p. Add the herbs and the cream and check your seasoning.
Strip the meat from the pheasant and shred fairly finely. Be very careful with pheasant legs. They are full of plastic like tendons which are unpleasant in the extreme. Add to the sauce, check the seasoning again (I added more s & p at this stage). Keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ Mark 4. For the crumble topping, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the crumbs until golden and crispy. Add the cheese, then finely crumble the bacon pieces and mix into the crumb mixture.
Put the pheasant and sauce into a warmed pie dish, sprinkle with the crumble and put in the oven until completely hot. This may take as little as 10 – 15 minutes. If your ingredients were cold it will need longer, but you may need to cover the top with foil to stop it from over browning.
As I said, very rich. Serve with fairly plain veg.
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