I was inspired by a Jane Grigson recipe for Braised Pheasant with Celery, from her book English Food. This book contains traditional English recipes and in most cases details where they came from – sadly not this one. Nevertheless, I found a few variations on the theme (with an internet search), including cider, fennel, madeira and port. When I came across a recipe by Rowley Leigh which contained pimentón, I knew which direction my version was going in.
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).
Braised Pheasant with Celery and Pimentón recipe (serves 2):
1 large pheasant
1 head of celery (sliced length ways)
6 pieces garlic (bruised and peeled)
400ml game or chicken stock
a small glass of dry vermouth
a couple of good slugs of white wine vinegar (to taste)
12 inches anchovy paste (or to taste)
150ml double cream
a large knob of butter (20g)
20g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
2 dessertspoons chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Heat some olive oil in a cast iron casserole and brown the pheasant all over, sprinkle on some salt and pepper while you do so.
Turn the pheasant breast down and pour 400ml game stock (chicken stock would be a good substitute) over the top along with a small glass of extra dry vermouth. Bring this to a simmer, put the lid on and remove to a preheated oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, cut the top and bottom off a whole head of celery and slice each branch in half length ways. Peel the shallots, which is easily done if you put them in a bowl and pour boiling water on them, leaving to stand for 5 minutes. Take the pheasant out of the oven an put it on a plate for a minute, stir in the pimentón and a 3 inch squirt of anchovy paste (or a couple of chopped anchovies). Add the bay leaves, a dessertspoon of parsley, the shallots, garlic and a layer of celery. Put some celery inside the pheasant (off cuts from the top are ideal) and return it breast up to the pot. Arrange the remaining celery around the bird.
Cook in the oven for a further 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the celery and shallots to a warm serving dish along with the jointed pheasant. Cover with foil to keep the meat and vegetables warm. Taste the stock and adjust the seasoning. I added a couple of slugs of white wine vinegar, black pepper and about a 9 inch squirt of anchovy paste (this should be done a little at a time, with tasting in between) – the flavour of the stock had been diluted considerably by the water in the celery. When you are happy with the stock, strain into jug.
In a saucepan, make a roux with the butter and flour. Stir the double cream in slowly over a gentle heat. Mix in the stock and the other dessertspoon of parsley, until you have a thick sauce.
Pour the sauce around the pheasant and celery, sprinkle on some black pepper and serve with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. In spite of the hot smokey pimentón, the flavour was gamey but delicately so – the braised celery was mild and quite delicious.
I recommend drinking a glass or two of Albariño with this dish.