January 19th, 2013
Pheasant were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans and were definitely well established by the time of the Normans. It should be relatively easy to buy pheasant from a decent butcher during the shooting season, October 1st to February 1st and from December onwards they should be the size of a small chicken. I recommend hanging pheasant (intact), in a cool dry place, for at least 3 days and up to 10 days to improve the flavour. Once plucked and gutted a pheasant should be refrigerated and eaten within a couple of days. A good sized pheasant will feed 2 people (even greedy ones like me).
I’ve eaten quite a few pheasant this season and fancied a change in preparation. Having the end of some Cropwell Bishop stilton in the fridge (leftover from Christmas), I thought roast pheasant in stilton sauce would make a nice change.
1/2 pint of milk
20g plain flour
100 – 150g chopped Cropwell Bishop (or other stilton)
6 black peppercorns
a sprinkle of mace (or a blade of mace)
1 bay leaf
a slice of onion
a piece of garlic (peeled)
a carrot peeling
Before doing anything else, put the milk in a saucepan with the peppercorns, mace, bay leaf, slice of onion, garlic and a carrot peeling. gently heat the saucepan until you see the milk start to bubble, then switch it off and leave it for an hour to infuse. Do not let it boil! This enthuses or imparts flavour and makes for a better cheese sauce.
Later while the pheasant is cooking, strain the milk and remove the flavourings.
Heat the butter gently in a saucepan and when it’s melted, stir in the flour. It’s very important when making a roux to keep stirring all the time or the ingredients will burn and the sauce will be ruined.
When the flour has been mixed well and there are no lumps, slowly stir in the milk, a little at a time.
When you have a smooth and slightly thick white sauce, add the lumps of stilton a little at a time, until they have completely dissolved. I had intended to add a little mustard powder to the sauce, but it tasted so good I didn’t bother.
a whole pheasant, plucked and drawn
a few sprigs of thyme
6 pieces of garlic (peeled)
a knob of butter (or goose fat)
4 slices of streaky bacon
salt and pepper
a glass of red wine
a splash of red wine vinegar
Heat the oven to 200º C. Oil or grease a baking dish, put the thyme, garlic, butter and seasoning inside the pheasant, sprinkle salt and pepper on top and wrap the breast and legs with the bacon. Put the wine and vinegar into the tray. Cook for about an hour, basting occasionally – the pheasant is done when the bacon looks crispy. Pheasant does not need to be well done and can be served pink. Wrap the pheasant in foil and allow to rest for up to 30 minutes before serving.
N.B. pheasant are lean birds so the bacon provides fat to keep the bird moist while cooking and adds some extra flavour. Do deglaze the baking dish and save the juices for another dish or sauce.
Serve the pheasant with seasonal vegetables – boiled potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc. Chop the bacon and stir it into the vegetables. The cheese sauce can be made ahead of serving the pheasant and can be warmed when the vegetables are nearly ready. Pour a generous helping of sauce over the pheasant and vegetables.
It has occurred to me, while writing this, that an alternative and more sophisticated dish could be made with the same ingredients – remove and chop the cooked pheasant meat and bacon. Put the meat into a casserole and cover with stilton sauce (and optionally breadcrumbs). Grill until the cheese bubbles and browns slightly. Double the quantity of stilton sauce would probably be required. This could be made in advance for a dinner party and grilled when necessary.
I enjoyed the pheasant and stilton sauce with a glass or two of Blason de Bourgogne Mâcon-Villages.