Devilled meats became very popular in Victorian England – possibly to disguise poor quality food. The process involves marinating the meat with hot spices before cooking and typically includes cayenne pepper, English mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Devilled kidneys were a very common breakfast, still served today, though they’ve since been elevated to the supper menu.
Devilling can be traced back to the Romans, who served spiced boiled eggs as a starter (recorded in Apicius). The more modern deviled egg, where the boiled yolk is mashed and mixed with spices, before being reunited in the hollow of the white, dates back to an anonymous Andalusian recipe book from 13th Century – pound boiled egg yolks with cilantro, onion juice, and pepper, then beat them with murri (a sauce made of fermented barley or fish), oil and salt. Today we might be more inclined to mash the yolk with mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, paprika or Tabasco, but the principle remains the same.
Deviled pheasant legs used to be very common at a shooting party lunches and I’ve had them a few times at Christmas barbecue breakfasts, but in order to make large numbers of legs, one needs a lot of birds – you don’t find pheasant legs in the butcher’s shop. So instead, I’ve devilled a whole pheasant for supper. Incidentally, if you do cook devilled legs, make sure you remove the sinews first. This is best done while the pheasant still has feet. Snap the foot at the joint and put it into a purposely designed hook on the wall or door jamb and pull very hard. The sinews and foot will come away together. Otherwise, chicken legs are the next best thing and they don’t have the annoying sinews!
First of all, spatchcock the pheasant (see pictures here for spatchcocking) – press down hard on the bird (breast facing down), to flatten it a bit – you should hear a crack. Cut out the back bone with sturdy scissors. Dislocate the leg and wing joints. Turn it breast up and cut a few slits in the flesh with a sharp knife. If cooking on a barbecue, soak some skewers in cold water for 30 minutes and crisscross them through the bird to keep it flat. When cooking in an oven tray skewers aren’t really necessary.
Devilled Pheasant recipe (serves 2 people):
1 pheasant, backbone removed and flattened as per spatchcocking
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon curry powder
1⁄2 teaspoon Colman’s mustard powder
1 dessertspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 dessertspoon Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 dessertspoon soy sauce
A little pheasant (or chicken) stock (added before going into the oven)
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl
before stirring in the liquids to make a marinade.
Rub the mixture into the peasant, on both sides. Leave for a couple of hours so the devil can take hold. The longer you leave it the more flavour there will be in the bird – obviously it should be in the fridge if left for a long time or overnight. I don’t know what Jesus would say, but the Devil smells like Christmas!
Pour in a little pheasant or chicken stock and cook for 30 minutes in the oven at 200º C – 220º C, until golden brown.
Allow the bird to rest in loose foil, while you make a gravy with the juices and a little more stock. Mix in a splash of Lea & Perrins and Soy Sauce to taste. For a little more heat add a couple of drops of Tabasco Sauce.
The devilled pheasant should be beautifully succulent and tender – it will leave a pleasant fiery tingle in your mouth. Serve with basmati rice, aloo gobi or roasted cauliflower and a glass of Diablo tinto from the Maule Valley in Chile.