March 29th, 2011
I went to Thruxton yesterday, on a recce for a video shoot coming up in May. As we neared our destination, we spotted a large hen pheasant lying in the road dead. It looked fresh and unsquashed, so I took a closer look. The pheasant had an obvious tear to the skin, from being hit by a car, it’s eyes were dark and bright, there were no signs of flies or insects on it and it didn’t smell. Since it wasn’t stiff either, it seemed like a recent car victim and safe for the pot.
As I didn’t know when the pheasant died, I decided the safest thing to do with it would be to cook it promptly and pot roast it, so that it was thoroughly cooked. It was a 3 lb bird too, so long slow cooking is good in order to tenderise the meat.
Plucking and dressing:
In the winter, when it’s cold, you can hang pheasant for a week or so – this allows the meat to tenderise naturally and the flavour to intensify. Do not pluck or dress pheasants before hanging, bacteria will get in and the meat will spoil – they should always be hung intact.
I pluck from the neck down, across the breast. Put one hand under the back, with the head towards you and pull out a few feathers at a time – don’t rush or the skin will rip. Try not to leave any feathers in the meat, they can taste bitter and most unpleasant. There’s no need to pluck the neck, the wings past the first joint or the tail. If you can, pluck the pheasant out of doors – the feathers go everywhere.
When all the body feathers have been removed, cut off the feet and wing tips with a sharp knife or secateurs. Cut in and around the neck where it meets the body and gently pull out the crop. Finally cut from the end of the breast bone, down and around the anus (think of the shape the opening looks like on a chicken from the butcher). Do this very carefully, you don’t want to break open the intestines and contaminate the meat. You should be able to gently pull out the intestines intact and in one piece. Save the heart and liver, but discard all the other off cuts. Personally I fry and eat the liver on toast, but if you don’t fancy it, you should add it to the cooking stock for flavour, along side the heart. Since this was a hen pheasant and it’s spring, there were eggs inside. One had a hard shell and would have been laid later in the day, the others were all soft, so I gently removed them without breaking them open. The pheasant should be rinsed and dried with kitchen towel before cooking.
Pot Roasted Pheasant recipe (serves 2):
1 large pheasant (plucked and dressed)
1 large onion (chopped)
3 sticks of celery (chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
1 leak (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
4 rashers of streaky bacon (chopped)
a tablespoon of tomato purée
a squirt of anchovy paste
2 teaspoons of ground herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme – ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns)
2 bay leaves
a pinch of crushed chilli
a heaped desert spoonful of plain flour
olive oil for frying
2 glasses of red wine
a splash of red wine vinegar
a quarter of a pint of homemade vegetable stock (or part of a stock cube and hot water)
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Heat some olive oil in a large metal casserole until it’s very hot and lightly brown the pheasant all over – add a little salt and pepper to season it. Once browned, remove the pheasant and replace it with the onion and a pinch of crushed chilli. When the onion has started to go translucent, brown the streaky bacon before adding the celery, carrots, leak and garlic. Give the vegetables a good stir and after a few minutes, sprinkle on the ground herbs and flour to thicken the sauce (if the flour goes a bit lumpy, don’t worry, it will dissolve while cooking). Squeeze in the purée and anchovy paste and stir in the wine and vinegar. Don’t forget the bay leaves. Taste the sauce and add a little seasoning if necessary, then bring up to simmering temperature and return the bird to the pot. Place the lid on the casserole and put it into a preheated oven at 120º C.
Cook for 1 hour and then check the seasoning/taste – I thought that my sauce was a bit rich, so I added about a quarter of a pint of vegetable stock, before turning the pheasant over and cooking for a further hour. Serve the breast meat and a leg with the sauce and mashed potato.
A word of caution, regarding roadkill, I’ve shot, hung and plucked a lot of pheasants and I know what they look and smell like. It’s starting to get quite warm at this time of year (unlike the winter shooting season), so I wouldn’t hang a pheasant now and I would cook it quite soon after finding it. If you have any doubts, err on the side of caution and don’t eat it!
Further info on Roadkill: