Pheasant Meatballs


As the pheasant season is coming to a close and a brace of large birds is down to £6 in the market, I decided to experiment. Pheasant and other game can take a lot of spice without their own flavour being lost, so I made some fiery meatballs. No doubt this would be equally delicious with rabbit or chicken.


Pheasant Meatballs recipe (serves 2 or 3 greedy people):

1 large pheasant (about 2 1/2 lb)
1/2 lb pork belly
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons of homemade breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with course sea salt and black peppercorns
1 heaped teaspoon of hot, smoked, pimenton
1 heaped teaspoon of mild, smoked, pimenton
2 pinches of crushed chilli
1 level teaspoon of ground cumin
1 level teaspoon of ground coriander seeds
1 beaten egg
2 dessertspoons of olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

pheasant meat

Skin the pheasant and remove all the meat – save the carcass for stock (freeze it if necessary).

pork belly slices

Game is generally quite lean, so it’s important to add some fatty meat, such as pork belly slices. If the belly comes with skin, cut it off and fry it until it’s crispy – it makes a tasty snack. You definitely don’t want skin in the meatballs.


Warm the cumin and coriander seeds until they start to give off a delicate aroma. Grind them up in a mortar and pestle, while still warm.


Put all the meat through a mincer.


Mix all the ingredients together with your hands.

taste test

Before doing anything else, roll up a little ball of the mixture and fry it to check the taste. I added a couple more pinches of salt and pepper after testing.

golden balls

When you are happy with the taste, roll the mixture into balls with the palms of your hands. I got about 14 meatballs. Put these in the fridge for at least half an hour before cooking – it helps them bind together. In the meantime, make some marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce recipe:


10 blanched and peeled medium tomatoes (or 2 tins)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 or 3 squirts of tomato purée
a pinch of crushed chilli (optional)
a splash of red wine vinegar
half a glass of red wine
1 teaspoon rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with course sea salt and black peppercorns
a few bruised and torn basil leaves
a splash of olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

In a large cast iron casserole, fry the onions until they go translucent, then add the garlic and chilli. Chop up the peeled tomatoes (or squash them in the pan with a potato masher) and put them into the pot with all the other ingredients. Cook gently for about 20 minutes.

meatballs cooked

Once the sauce is right (do taste it), preheat the oven to 140ºC. Drop the meatballs gently into the bubbling sauce (don’t move them around or they will break up), put the lid on and transfer them to the oven. Using the oven like this will allow for gentle cooking and no sticking (which is likely on the hob). The meatballs will take about 40 – 60 minutes to cook and should be turned over about halfway through.

sunken balls

I had my pheasant meatballs with spaghetti and parmesan, but to be honest the pasta wasn’t necessary – next time I will just serve meatballs and marinara with crusty bread. I recommend a robust Spanish red, like Carta Roja Monastrell to accompany this.

spaghetti and meatballs

I only managed to fit 10 meatballs into the sauce, so I saved the remaining four, for lunch today. They were absolutely fantastic fried and sliced, served inside a sourdough baguette with sriracha sauce.

Other pheasant posts

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23 Responses to Pheasant Meatballs

  1. jmcheney says:

    This sounds & looks wonderful. I have never tasted pheasant, but I did love squab when I was a little girl & Daddy provided it for us during the war & just after. I haven’t eaten much game in my life since then, but I have had ome delicious deer meatballs, & sausage on several occasions, prepared in a good restaurant that served them here in town. Your next day’s lunch a big treat too!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Judith – pheasant is quite close to pigeon in taste, so it would be perfect, though you’d need about 3 or 4 birds for the same amount of meat. I think they’d be very good with venison too and that meatball baguette was almost as good as my supper!

  2. Eha says:

    *smile* Just for once I wonder whether I am living in the “Lucky Country’ . . . . have two posts side-by-side in my mailbox at the moment: one asks for pheasant and the other for goat, neither of which is easily accessible here! Wonderful recipes both with a nodding acquaintance to each other . . . what a delight! And kicky you able to access the bird at a price one could use it for meatballs . . . . Shall get around my ingredient problem . . . perchance even find a pheasant at some small farmer’s market stall and come back praising! Thanks . . .

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha – rabbit or pigeon (not the town variety) would be a good substitute for pheasant. You could definitely use lamb for goat in John’s recipe – it’s a common substitute. When I get round to doing my camel recipe (not kidding) you should be OK!

      • Eha says:

        Camel, Mad? Well, if I was willing to travel 120km to the nearest Halal butcher in Sydney or even plane it to Melbourne 🙂 ! Nought on line!! But someone noticed me looking for ‘camel’ at Mr Google, ’cause I have been offered four live ones since . . . ,.true story . . .

        • Mad Dog says:

          ROFL.I thought you might be able to buy camel meat, with all those descendants of Lewis and Clark wandering around in the bush causing trouble. I have cooked it before – it’s a bit like gamey beef.

  3. This looks so good. I know I’m mostly plant based now, but the flavor of these must be so good. Pheasant is such a nice change in a meatball. The rest of the ingredients from fat to wine make me swoon. Hope you’re well!

  4. James Davies says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I bet that tasted good! It is difficult to get fresh pheasant in Abergavenny, but someone gave me a brace recently (one male, one female) and I braised them in Madeira with shallots, bacon lardons and thyme (Delia’s recipe) and it was very good indeed.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks James – Delia’s recipe sounds delicious! I may do one last pheasant recipe next week if the farmer has fennel. You would think there would be more pheasant around in Abergavenny, but I suppose it depends on how close the nearest shoot is.

  5. Ron says:

    Now that’s some pleasant looking looking pheasant balls you got there. Unlike our friend Eha, we have pheasant running every where around here. But, I never thought of using them for a meatball. Brilliant, idea. I’ve made soup, chili (chilli) and pot pie with them. I’ve sauteed them, fried them and grill them, but never into meatballs. Got to try this one. Thanks for a great idea and post.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – I hope you enjoy them. I will definitely be making pheasant meatballs again and they’d go equally well in a savoury sauce with potatoes on the side, as marinara with pasta.

  6. Fantastic idea! Like Ron, I’d never have thought to use the meat to make meatballs. Lovely recipe, I’m sure Big Man and I would have managed to polish the lot off!

  7. Conor Bofin says:

    Excellent. A hunting friend of mine dropped a brace in to me last Sunday week. I hung them until Thursday. Then I dressed them and took the meat off the bones. The bones went to make a strong stock. The meat formed the basis of a hot water pastry pheasant pie. It was delicious.

    My hunting friend assures me that he may yet get me another brace before the season completely closes here in Ireland. If he does, I will repeat the process and post the pie recipe. It was excellent and a great use of the birds.

    Your meatballs look fantastic. Great to see you doing the taste test too. An important part of the deal.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Conor! Your pie sounds fantastic – I hope you get another brace, I’d love to see the recipe with the hot crust pastry.
      The taste test is very important, I’m astonished by supermarkets selling meatballs comprised of mince only – where’s the flavour in that?

  8. Karen says:

    Both ways sound perfect for enjoying your spicy and flavorful pheasant meatballs.

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