A versatile game bird which heralds the arrival of autumn
Image: Regula Ysewijn
‘’When someone says pheasant, the first thing that comes to mind is autumn,” says Tony Rodd, Borough Market demonstration chef and co-owner of Copper and Ink restaurant. The pheasant shooting season runs from 1st October to 1st February, and “the resulting glut of meat is economical, free range, and highly flavoursome,” adds chef Tim Maddams. “It’s top-quality protein”—and offers the cook plenty of options. According to Tony, you can roast, pan fry or confit it—with really tasty results. “It is such a wonderful season for produce and pheasant pairs wonderfully with so many of the flavours we look forward to at this time of year,” he says, “root vegetables like celeriac, winter cabbages and parsnips, blackberries, as well as the nuts that are coming into season.”
It pays to get your pheasant from a good source, such as Wyndham House Poultry, Shellseekers Fish and Game, or Furness Fish Markets. “You really want your pheasant to have been hung for about three days when you buy it,” Tony continues. “Not only does this improve the flavour, it also firms the meat up a bit, giving a nicer texture.” Be sure to make the most of the tender young birds that come through at the start of the season, adds Tim: “Once we hit November and December, I’d advise against cock birds if you are wanting a roast and stick to hens. Come January, roasting pheasant is out of the question altogether.”
Being naturally very lean, a fear many people have is drying the meat out, but Tony has some simple advice: “It is as easy as dealing with any other poultry—treat it as you would a chicken—but don’t get distracted. As it is a smaller bird, there’s a smaller margin for error when it comes to cooking times.” Pheasant is best cooked slightly pink—just make sure to stop cooking as soon as the juices run clear.
For many, this is the season when the countryside is at its best and to celebrate it in all its bounty, Tony suggests pan roasted pheasant with confit leg, celeriac purée, roasted cobnuts and sorrel. First, take off and place the legs in a 90:10 mix of salt to sugar along with some flavourings such as fennel seeds, orange zest and thyme, then leave in the fridge for three hours to cure. Then, wash off the cure, cover the legs in flavourless oil (not olive oil) and cook in the oven for two hours at 140C. To finish them off, heat some oil in a pan on a medium-high heat and add the confit legs. When the skin has got nice and crispy, remove from the heat and serve immediately or keep warm in the oven.
A celebration of autumn
To make the purée, sweat diced celeriac in some butter, allowing it to go a bit golden. Once soft, add some double cream, simmer for about 20 minutes, then drain the celeriac but keep the liquid. Blend the veg, slowly adding the saved liquid until you have a beautifully smooth purée. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Roast the cobnuts at 180C for about five minutes to bring out the nutty taste, then toss them in some rock salt and put aside.
Put some butter into the pan the confit was sautéed in, place in the pheasant crown and once the butter is frothing, spoon over to baste. At this point you can add herbs such as rosemary, thyme and some cloves of garlic. Once the skin is nice and golden, transfer to the oven at 180C for about six minutes. Pop the sorrel in the same pan for about 20 seconds. To serve, spread some of the purée on the plate and place the legs on top. Remove the breast meat from the crown and place on the plate, scatter some of the roasted cobnuts and then some sorrel on top. “This is a really lovely dish to welcome in the pheasant season,” Tony says with a smile. “There are several steps but each one is simple—and the result is a wonderful celebration of the arrival of autumn.”