THERE are only about ten days left of the pheasant season, and pheasant is no longer only widely available to those who live in the country.
Pheasant can be bought from supermarkets the length and breadth of the UK. But it is so much better when purchased from a butcher who deals in game – and there are many of them around. Make sure the birds you buy have been hung – it makes a massive difference to the taste.
And we should make the most of pheasant, especially now, when its cost is very low. If you are new to eating pheasant, my advice is to treat it as if it were chicken. It is a lean meat, and very good in such a wide range of recipes. You can buy pheasant breasts or the whole birds. One pheasant feeds two people. If you want to straight roast it, then serve it accompanied by bread sauce, warmed potato crisps and a thin gravy. A steamed green vegetable is all that is required – oh, and lay slices of thin streaky bacon over the birds before roasting. The bacon protects the pheasant from drying out. I allow 45 minutes in a hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 for roasting two pheasant. Leave them to stand for ten minutes, loosely covered with foil, before carving.
Pheasant stir fry with spring onions, ginger and lime
8 pheasant breasts – those cut from a cock pheasant are larger than those from a hen pheasant.
4 tablespoons olive oil
3in/8cm ginger, skin cut off and the ginger diced finely
2 fat cloves of garlic, skin removed and the garlic diced finely
8oz/225g sugarsnap peas, each sliced diagonally into 3
12 spring onions, trimmed at either end of any tatty outer leaves, and the spring onions finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
finely grated rind of 2 limes, juice of 2 limes
1 level teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
First, prepare the pheasant breasts by pulling off the skin. Slice the breasts into little finger-thick strips.
Heat the olive oil in a wide sauté pan and, when very hot, add the strips of pheasant meat. Add the diced ginger and garlic, and stir fry for 2-3 minutes – the pheasant strips should turn opaque. Add the sliced sugarsnaps and spring onions to the contents of the sauté pan and continue to stir fry over a high heat, for a further 3-4 minutes.
Then add the soy sauce, sesame oil, lime rinds and juice, salt and pepper to the pan.
Stir and fry for a further 2-3 minutes.
Cut one pheasant strip in half to check that it is opaque all through.
Tip the contents of the pan into a warmed serving bowl, and serve with boiled Basmati rice.
I like this with roasted sliced courgettes, but any other green vegetable is almost as good
Pheasant and pork sausage meat sauce for pasta
4 pheasant breasts, or 1lb/450g pheasant meat cut from whole birds, any skin removed and the meat sliced into dice about a thumbnail in size
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, skinned, halved and finely diced
2 sticks of celery, trimmed by peeling the stringy bits off using a potato peeler, the celery then finely sliced
2 carrots, each trimmed at either end, peeled and sliced into fine dice
1 fat clove of garlic, skinned and diced
1lb/450g pork sausages, each slit down with a sharp knife and the skins removed
1 rounded tablespoon tomato purée stirred into
1 pint/570ml stock – I use Marigold vegetable stock powder made up with boiling water
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper,
½ teaspoon chilli flakes – optional
Heat the olive oil on a moderate heat in a wide sauté pan. Fry the diced onion, sliced celery and diced carrots, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes.
Add the diced garlic for the last couple of minutes.
Then scoop this into a warm bowl. Raise the heat beneath the pan and add the skinned pork sausages, mashing them down with your wooden spoon.
Stir as the sausage meat browns, and brown it all over.
When browned, add this to the contents of the warm bowl.
Stir fry the diced pheasant meat, just until it starts to turn opaque, then replace the vegetables and browned sausage meat into the sauté pan with the diced pheasant, mix well, add the tomato purée and stock, the Worcester sauce, the salt, black pepper and chilli if you are including it. Simmer gently, the pan uncovered, for 25-30 minutes.
Serve spooned over boiled and drained pasta of your choice – mine is always for spaghetti. Serve freshly grated Parmesan on the side.
Pheasant braised with onions, apples and celery
2 pheasants, at least one must be a cock. If all are hens you will need 3 pheasants.
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, each skinned, halved and finely sliced
6 sticks of celery, each trimmed by peeling with a potato peeler, then sliced diagonally in slices about 3in/8cm long
2 rashers smoked back bacon sliced into fine strips
4 good eating apples, each quartered, peeled and cored and sliced – the eating apples will, more or less, hold their sliced shape during cooking
1 rounded teaspoon flour
½ pint/285ml unsweetened apple juice
1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper
½ pint/285ml crème fraiche, which can be half-fat if you like
Heat the olive oil in a large pan or casserole, and brown each pheasant on all sides. As they brown, remove them to a large warmed plate.
Add the finely sliced onions and celery, and the strips of bacon to the pan, and, stirring occasionally, cook for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are soft and transparent. Add the sliced apples to the contents of the pan, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the rounded teaspoon of flour. Cook for a minute then stir in the apple juice. Season with salt and black pepper, mix well, and put the browned pheasants back into the casserole, breasts down.
Cover with a lid, and cook on a moderate heat for 45-50 minutes. Or, you can put the casserole into the oven and cook at a moderate temperature, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, for 1 hour. Whichever way you cook, stick a knife down into the thickest part of the largest bird – the juices should run clear and not at all pink-tinged. Just cook for a further 15 minutes if this is the case, before taking the casserole either off the heat or out of the oven, and cool the contents.
When warm, but cool enough to handle without scorching your fingers, lift the pheasants onto a large board and cut away the meat, discarding bones, sinews and skin.
Replace the pheasant meat in with the delicious contents of the casserole. Mix well, and reheat before serving, stirring in the crème fraiche.
This is good with very well mashed potatoes and with steamed kale or Savoy cabbage.