THE game season in winter always excites me, and year after year, I still get a rush as our kitchen buzzes, while the chefs all work hard to remove the feathers, and butcher and prepare a whole range of seasonal game birds.
They arrive at our door, still warm, and we prepare them straight from nature. It’s a part of being a chef that I find so important – learning how to butcher the birds and cook them as fresh as can be.
I have been serving very special game on my menu at The Kitchin for a few years now. The variety gives guests a chance to explore the rich array of game birds we have access to here in Scotland. Pheasant is a lean and gamey meat. The shooting season for this bird starts a little later than for the other game birds we cook, so when it does arrive at our door, it’s a welcome addition to my menus. The season starts in the beginning of October and continues until the end of January, so now is a good time to give it a try. We get our birds from our trusted suppliers at Burnside Farm Foods or Braehead Foods. You can order pheasant from most quality butchers – a good butcher should hang pheasant for at least six or seven days.
It’s a bird that takes a bit of care to get right, but if you prepare it as it should be, the result will be a lovely lean, tasty meat with a subtle and delicious gamey flavour. Pheasants tend to lead an active, outdoor life, so while the breasts of the meat are usually nice and tender, their legs can be a little tougher. The best way to prepare them can be to remove the legs and slowly braise them to enjoy in a stew or slow-cooked game pie. In addition, they also have very little fat on them, so make sure you keep basting while you’re roasting pheasant, or try wrapping the bird in bacon, which keeps it tender and juicy.
You need to take care not to overcook pheasant, as the result will be very dry and almost stringy, which you want to avoid. A skewer test in the thigh will tell you when it’s cooked to perfection. If the liquid that comes from the bird is clear, you’ll know it’s ready.
When it comes to pairing pheasant, seasonal root vegetables make a good match, and for me, nothing quite beats pheasant teamed with the sweet and sour flavour of seasonal British apples.
The great thing about this bird, like most game birds, is that you can use absolutely every part in your cooking, whether it’s picking all the leftover meat from the bone to make into a stew or casserole or using the bones to make a wonderful pheasant stock.
Pheasant with Chestnuts and Apple
1 whole pheasant
salt and pepper to season
sprinkling of flour
2 sticks of celery
500ml chicken or pheasant stock
1 bouquet garni
1 tbsp of grain mustard
Preheat oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Remove the breasts, thighs and legs from the pheasant and keep the carcase aside to make a stock. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Flour and lightly season the pheasant breast, thighs and legs and colour in the pan for 4-5 minutes. Remove and add the lardons, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add the vegetables to the lardons and sweat for 2-3 minutes, deglazing with the calvados. Reduce by half and then add the pheasant meat back on top. Add the chicken stock and bouquet garni. Cook in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, checking regularly and adding more stock if required. Once cooked, remove the meat and reduce the stock by a third. Add the cream and mustard and combine before adding the pheasant. Garnish with chestnuts, apple and parsley leaf and serve.
Roast Pheasant with Apple and Calvados Sauce
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped into 2cm dice
1 baby gem lettuce
100g pancetta, roughly chopped into 2cm dice
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 apple, quartered
1 tsp vegetable oil
4 cooked chestnuts
salt and pepper
Apple and calvados sauce
1 apple, peeled and chopped
4 shallots, sliced
a splash of brandy
a splash of calvados
240ml chicken stock
30ml whipping cream
salt and pepper
To roast the pheasant
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Make sure the pheasant is at room temperature before you start to cook and season it well, inside and out. Take out the wishbone to make it easier to carve. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-bottomed, ovenproof pan and sear the pheasant until it is golden brown on all sides. Add the chopped carrot, baby gem lettuce, pancetta, thyme sprigs and bay leaf.
Make sure the pheasant is breast side down and put it in the hot oven to roast for 8-10 minutes. Flip to the other side of the breast and roast for another 8-10 minutes. Then put the pheasant on its back and cook for another 6 minutes, depending on the size. A good way to check that the bird is cooked is to insert a skewer into the thigh, then remove it, looking carefully at what comes out. If the liquid is clear, the pheasant is cooked.
Remove the bird from the oven and leave to rest on a warm dish, breast upwards, for at least 10 minutes before carving. Set aside the roasted carrots, lettuce and pancetta.
To prepare the roast apple
Cut the apple into quarters, removing the core but keeping it aside for the sauce. Heat a frying pan and add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add the apple and cook until golden – this will take 4-5 minutes. Add the chestnuts and cook for a further 1-2 minutes and set aside.
To make the apple and calvados sauce
Once the pheasant has been set aside to rest, pour off the excess fat from the roasting pan and put it on the stove over a medium heat. Add the apple, the leftover apple core and shallots and sweat until softened. Deglaze the pan with a healthy splash of brandy and calvados. Reduce until the alcohol has almost boiled away, then add the chicken stock and simmer until slightly thickened. Add the cream and continue to reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Pass the sauce through a sieve and check the seasoning.
Take the legs and breast off the pheasant and serve with the roasted apple, chestnuts, vegetables and the apple and calvados sauce.
Burnside Farm Foods: www.burnsidefarmfoods.co.uk
Braehead Foods: www.braeheadfoods.co.uk