Two Pheasants, Four Meals

Despite the efforts of many, including this column, the notion persists that game is just for toffs, exotic and expensive. It is neither, though most amateur cooks will have struggled from time to time to get it right. In the past, I have had particular problems with pheasant. The season closes at the end of this month. Use the time to get hold of plentiful, virtually fat free, inexpensive protein. Buy whole birds and use the breast for the main course and the legs and carcasse for the stock for the soup.

Now, what do you do with it? The classic British way is to roast it; however, as Rick Stein pointed out in a recent programme, it's difficult to ascertain the age or quality of your bird. Roasted, it can be very tough, and it's hard to get the legs and breasts both right. While leg meat is my first choice from many feathered meals, I'm really not keen on pheasant legs. They are full of sharp, plastic like tendons. If the legs are cooked right, the breasts may well be overdone, resulting in a mouthful of blotting paper. The inspiration for today's offering was two fold. Phil Vickery and Simon Boddy's excellent Game gave me the (bleedin' obvious) idea for wrapping the breasts in Parma ham, and also provided the inspiration for the stock. The soup is based on a recipe from the invaluable The Claire Macdonald Cookbook.

I've adapted both recipes. You'll easily get 4+ hearty bowls of soup from the latter recipe. From the former, two pheasant breasts is a very generous portion for one person. For daintier appetites, or spun out with a lot of veg (something which we do more and more often these days) one good sized breast portion will suffice.

Perfectly Cooked Pheasant Breasts

4 pheasant breasts; 8 slices Parma ham or equivalent; butter, olive oil, pepper.


You'll notice I mention no salt. The Vickery and Boddy recipe did, and the end result was too salty for me along with the ham. Don't forget the resting time - it makes all the difference.

Season the breasts with pepper. Lay two slices of ham on a board with a gap between them and place a pheasant breast on top. Wrap with the ham as tightly as you can. It should adhere quite well: if not, use a few cocktail sticks to secure. Repeat with the other three breasts.

Put the butter (about 30g) in a frying pan with a little drizzle of oil. Heat until the butter is starting to brown, then add the pheasant parcels. Cook on each side for 2 - 3 minutes, depending upon size. Be very careful when turning them that the ham doesn't unwrap. Put on a warmed plate and loosely cover with foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then be amazed  by the sheer perfection, and wonder how you ever got it wrong in the past.

Pheasant and Mushroom Soup

For the stock

1 tbsp veg oil; the carcasses and legs of your two pheasants; 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped; 1 medium leek, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped; 2 celery sticks, chopped (no need to peel, as you'll be discarding them); 1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled but with any fine outer skin layers removed, sliced in half horizontally; 2 bay leaves; 3 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried; half a dozen black peppercorns; half a dozen juniper berries, lightly bruised; about 1.5 litres of cold water; 2tbsp red wine vinegar; 250ml dry white wine; 1 tbsp tomato puree; 1 tsp sugar.


In a large heavy pan heat the oil. Roughly chop the pheasant carcasses. Brown them and the legs. Add the wine, vinegar, tomato puree and sugar. Bring to the boil until the liquid has almost evaporated. Add the vegetables and allow to brown slightly. Stir well to ensure the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan don't burn. Add the water and the garlic, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Skim, then add the herbs, peppercorns and juniper. Simmer for a further 20 minutes, then remove the legs and set aside. Cook at a simmer for a further hour.  Allow to cool slightly, then strain.

A small word of caution. Vickery and Boddy use 8 carcasses for their stock. You have only 2, so you may need to enhance with a chicken stock cube.

For the soup

1 large, or 2 medium onions, finely chopped; 1 medium to large potato, peeled and very finely chopped; 500g mushrooms (net weight) skinned and stalks removed, chopped fairly small; the pheasant stock you made earlier; 1 chicken stock pot or cube; the 2 pheasant legs from the above recipe; olive oil; butter; salt and pepper; 75ml brandy or Madeira (optional); 75 - 100ml double cream, (optional).


Remove the meat from the legs, cut into small pieces and set to one side. Sweat the onion for a few minutes in a butter/oil mixture. I don't usually use butter to start a soup, but mushrooms love it. Add the potato and cook for a few minutes more. Season with s & p at the outset. When the veg are soft, throw in the mushrooms. If your pan is looking a little dry, add more butter. Mushrooms need more salt than many veg. If you're not adding a stock pot or cube, add a little more at this stage: if you are, wait until later.

Add the stock and cook gently for 10 - 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then blitz until smooth. If using, add the brandy/Madeira and/or the cream at this stage. Put the leg meat in and warm through. Check the seasoning and serve. (Why do recipes so often end like this? Check the seasoning then pour down the drain? I think not.)


  1. Janet Hood on 14th January 2022 at 5:27 pm

    Have you tried mincing pheasant legs and or tough old breasts and making meat balls – usual additions breadcrumbs, streaky bacon, herbs etc and pooping in rich tomato sauce ? Yum

    • Tom Johnston on 15th January 2022 at 10:19 am

      I’m by no means sure you mean “pooping”, but I get the gist. Sounds lovely. For some reason, meatballs are a dish I virtually never make. If I have minced anything, my thoughts tend to turn towards chilli or ragu.

  2. Fiona Garwood on 14th January 2022 at 9:08 pm

    This recipe for the pheasant breasts wrapped in parma ham is reminiscent of a popular recipe my late mother used (after valiantly plucking endless pheasants). She called it Pheasant Bentley and it was similar; but used a whole pheasant and streaky bacon. Then she’d use the carcass for delicious stock! Times and recipes change!

    • Tom Johnston on 15th January 2022 at 10:17 am

      Obviously the classic way of doing. My mother-in-law first time round was an expert, but I’ve probably had more poorly done roast pheasant than good.

  3. Susan on 16th January 2022 at 12:19 pm

    Saved these Tom. Since Kit started beating, we are drowning in pheasants. And partridge, and roe deer! When freezer space was at a premium we resorted to roasting 9 pheasant and stripping and refreezing the cooked meat. We have enough cooked shredded meat now for pies, fricassees, curries etc etc. Plus enough stock to refloat the Titanic. And then there’s Robert de Niro who turns up on the door step with a supermarket plastic bag full of Bambi’s mother, usually on a Sunday morning, asking for £30 for its contents. So some venison recipes next please? We have even acquired a mincer so that we can reduce some of the haunches into meatballs etc. It’s tough living in the country. Did I mention our next door neighbour rears Wagyu beef? When are you and L coming to visit?

    • Tom Johnston on 16th January 2022 at 5:39 pm

      I have a brilliant pheasant terrine recipe, which is perfect for when you have a lot of breasts. I’ll send it to you. There are three other pheasant articles on the site. Go to Tom Cooks! and type “pheasant” into the search field. My favourite venison recipe for loin or tender leg steaks is very simple. Season the meat, brown in butter and oil, add some redcurrant jelly and port. Loin will just need a minute or two each side. Remove the meat and reduce the gravy to a nice thick consistency. For stewing venison. brown the meat and remove. Brown some onion and carrot and stir in a little tomato paste. Return the meat to the pan, add red wine an allow to boil, then add beef stock, a bay leaf and some thyme. Add also a FEW crushed juniper berries and the peel of an orange. Bring to a simmer and cook on the hob or in the oven till the meat is cooked. Remove the orange peel after 30 minutes. Once the meat is cooked, strain the liquid and reduce it to your desired thickness.

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