In my days as a pheasant farmer, I was interested to see how energetically the pheasants savaged the fennel in my garden. Game birds are, of course, potty about aniseed and this recipe is my revenge.
Pheasant and Fennel recipe (serves 2- 3 people):
1 large pheasant (jointed)
4 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 large fennel bulb (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
3 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns
2 dessertspoons plain flour
1/2 pint pheasant stock
1/4 pint crème fraîche
a glass of dry white wine
a splash of white wine vinegar
a slug of brandy
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Allow your pheasant to come to room temperature (if it’s been in the fridge) – cut the breasts off the bone and remove the legs and wings, leaving the skin on. Do cut off any additional meat from the rear and save the carcass for stock.
Chop the bacon up and fry it first, with a little extra virgin olive oil, in a cast iron casserole.
Remove the bacon from the pan, season the flour with a teaspoon of ground herbs and dust the pheasant before browning it in the bacon infused oil. Once browned (not cooked) all over, take the pheasant out and cook the onion until it goes translucent. The bacon can go back in, but hold back the equivalent of one rasher, for garnish, at the end.
Remove the fennel branches (save the little green fronds for later), cut off the bottom where the root was attached and any dry outer layers. Chop the fennel into little cubes and add it to the onions with the garlic. You may like a glass of Pastis, to go with the smell of aniseed coming from the fennel (a common ingredient in the drink, along with liquorice and star anise).
Fry for a few minutes until the vegetables have taken some colour and softened a little.
Sprinkle on the leftover flour and remaining ground herbs then stir to make a roux.
Pour in the brandy, dry white wine and stock, stirring to make a rich sauce.
Let the liquid bubble away for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol. Blend in a generous squirt of anchovy paste and taste the sauce to see if it needs further seasoning – mine wanted a little splash of white wine vinegar, another squirt of anchovy paste and some cracked black pepper.
Return the pheasant to the casserole, put the lid on and remove to a pre heated oven at 150ºC, turn the pheasant after 30 minutes. At one hour, remove from the oven and put the pheasant pieces onto a warm plate.
Mix in 1/4 pint crème fraîche, Van Gogh style before checking the seasoning. When satisfied, submerge the pheasant in the sauce.
I enjoyed a couple of glasses of the remaining dry white wine, Montpierre, Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc, with my supper.