How to Cook Pheasants (with Recipes)
Pheasants are game birds which can only legally be hunted at certain times of year, the season varying depending upon your location. Although this limits when fresh pheasant is available, techniques such as deep freezing and vacuum packing have made pheasant available to be purchased and enjoyed at any time of year, especially from online suppliers via mail order. The two pheasants featured on this page were shot in Scotland in October 2011, during the British pheasant shooting season, which runs from the beginning of October to the end of January.
While pheasants are normally plucked, cleaned and roasted whole, the decision was made with these two birds to skin and butcher them instead, allowing a variety of different dishes to be prepared. Those dishes and recipes are included below, along with some useful information links for those who prefer their pheasants roasted in the traditional fashion.
How to Prepare Pheasants for Cooking
Pheasants can be cleaned and eaten immediately after they are shot but in order for the gamey flavour to develop, the birds firstly have to be hung. They can be hung for anything from three days to three weeks, depending principally on the temperature but also how gamey you wish your pheasants to taste. The colder the temperature, the longer they can safely be hung. These two birds were hung in a cool outhouse for ten days after they were shot before being cleaned.
When these pheasants had been skinned and cleaned, the leg and thigh portions were firstly removed and set aside. The fillets from each side of the breast were likewise removed. This leaves a fair amount of meat still on the main carcass but the recipe which was going to be prepared with the carcass required this meat to be left in place.
The net result of this cleaning process was two meaty carcasses, four leg and thigh portions and four decent sized breast fillets. The leg portions and the breast fillets were frozen, as depending upon how many are going to be dining, that could be a lot more pheasant than is required.
All the recipes featured on this page are designed for - and quoted in the quantities required to serve - two people.
Important: Always be careful when eating pheasant and other game birds, whether cooked at home or in a restaurant, of pieces of lead shot remaining in the meat. No matter how careful you are when cleaning a pheasant, the chance of a little bit of lead shot or two remaining hidden in the depths of the flesh always remains.
How to Make Game Stock
Game stock can be made from virtually any type of wild game and subsequently used for a wide variety of purposes. It can be used in stews, game pies, or as in this instance, soup.
Start by putting your oven on to preheat to 350F/180C. Wash any excess blood of the pheasant carcasses, pat them dry with kitchen paper and rub them with olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lay them on a roasting tray and put them in to the oven for twenty minutes. Remove, cover and allow to cool enough that they can be handled.
By hand, pull all of the remaining meat off the pheasant carcasses and place it in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until required. If you wish, the carcasses can be returned to the oven for further roasting at this stage but that option wasn't taken in this instance.
Sit the carcasses in a large stock pot. Peel and quarter one onion and wash and roughly chop two medium carrots and two sticks of celery. Add the veg to the stock pot, along with six pints of cold water, a teaspoon of dried thyme and half a teaspoon each of sea salt and whole black peppercorns. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer for around two to two and a half hours until the water level has been reduced by half. Turn off the heat, cover and allow to cool.
Use a large slotted spoon to remove the pheasant carcasses and vegetables from the stock, all of which can now be discarded. Line a sieve with three sheets of kitchen paper and sieve the stock through this in to a large bowl.
Your perfect game stock (around two pints) is now ready for using as you desire.
Roast Pheasant and Root Vegetable Soup
There are a great many people who prefer their soups hale and hearty, rather than comprised principally of liquid. This is entirely understandable and appreciated but when making game soups, the soup should be more about the flavours imparted by the game, rather than an excess of other added ingredients. For this reason, this roast pheasant soup is best served as a starter to a main meal, rather than as any form of meal in its own right.
2 pints of fresh game stock
Pheasant meat removed from roasted carcasses
Stem of one leek
2 medium carrots
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
Sea salt and black pepper
Pour the stock in to a soup or stock pot and place it on a high heat. Wash the leak, top, tail and scrape the carrots. Slice the vegetables in to quarter inch thick discs and add them to the stock. When the stock reaches a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for twenty minutes.
Add the pheasant meat to the soup along with the parsley. Simmer for ten more minutes, taste and season.
Serve immediately with fresh crusty bread.
Gordon Ramsay's Easy Roast Pheasant with Bread Sauce
Bacon Wrapped Pheasant Breast with Redcurrant and Cider Sauce
Pheasant is a very lean meat, which means that if we are not particularly careful how we cook it, it can be served tough and dry. That is why these pheasant breasts are wrapped in bacon prior to being cooked. The pheasant breasts were allowed to fully defrost in the bottom of the refrigerator overnight.
2 pheasant breast fillets
4 rashers (slices) of bacon
2 large potatoes
2 medium carrots
4 tbsp apple cider
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
2 tsp chopped chives
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put your oven on to preheat to 350F/180C. Peel and chop the potatoes. Add them to a large pot of cold, slightly salted water and put them on a high heat until the water boils. Similarly prepare the carrots and parsnip and add them to a separate pot of water. They will take about twenty minutes of simmering to cook, while the potatoes take a few minutes longer. Reduce the heat under both pots when the water boils.
Wash the pheasant breasts in cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season with freshly ground black pepper and wrap each breast in two rashers of bacon. Melt one ounce of the butter in a non-stick frying pan and fry the breasts over a medium heat for five minutes each side.
Transfer the pheasants to a foil lined roasting tray and pour over the juices from the frying pan. Oven bake for ten to twelve minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, check the pheasants are cooked by piercing the thickest part of the flesh with a skewer and ensuring the juices run clear. Cover with more foil and rest while you make your sauce and finish preparing the potatoes, carrots and parsnip.
Pour the cider in to a small saucepan and spoon in the redcurrant jelly. Bring to a fairly rapid simmer to firstly melt the jelly and thicken the sauce by evaporating the cider.
Drain the potatoes and return to the empty pot. Add half an ounce of butter and season with white pepper. Mash with a hand masher before adding the chives and stirring them through with a spoon. Drain the carrots and parsnip and return them to their pot. Add the last bit of butter and the nutmeg. Swirl gently to mix.
Plate the potatoes with an ice cream scoop and spoon the carrot and parsnip alongside. Lay the pheasant breast on the plate and pour a little of the sauce next to or over it, depending upon preference. Serve immediately.
Faisan au Vin (Pheasant in Wine)
Coq au Vin is an old French peasant dish, made principally from pieces of chicken, vegetables, stock and red wine. This recipe is based on the same principle, only using pheasant. Perhaps it could be deemed to be a peasant pheasant dish?
4 pheasant leg and thigh portions
2 tbsp plain (all purpose) flour
Half a large onion
1 ½ pints of fresh chicken stock
1 bottle of red wine
½ Swede turnip (rutabaga)
2 medium carrots
1 large potato
2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil for browning
Put the flour in to a large bowl and season. Add the pheasant legs and carefully turn them around in the flour with a wooden spoon until they are evenly coated. Heat the oil in a large stock pot and add the leg portions. Evenly brown over a medium heat before adding the roughly chopped onion to cook for a further couple of minutes.
Pour in the chicken stock and red wine. Increase the heat until the liquid boils, then reduce and allow to simmer for one and a half hours.
Peel and roughly chop all of the root vegetables. Add them to the pot for a final hour of cooking (two and a half in total). It may be necessary during this final stage to top the liquid up a little bit with some more stock or boiling water, depending upon how gentle a simmer you have achieved or otherwise. The roughly chopped parsley should be stirred through ten minutes before the end of the cooking time.
If you so desire, you can remove the pheasant legs immediately prior to adding the parsley and sit them on a warm plate (covered with foil) to rest. This does help make them a little bit more tender but it is not essential.
Ladle the vegetables in to serving bowls and sit two pheasant legs on top. Ladle stock over the legs. Serve immediately with fresh, crusty bread and another bottle of red wine.