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roast pheasant with sprouts and spinach mushrooms

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roast pheasant

What do you have for Christmas dinner? The turkey? The goose? Something fancy from your butcher, like a three bird roast? Or perhaps the most traditional of all – roast beef, which used to be eaten at Christmas long before turkeys ever surfaced on board of Santa Maria with Columbus in tow. Or with one William Strickland, most probably a pirate.

No matter – the bird roast Christmas tradition might well be not so ancient, evidently going back only to 16th century, and becoming common Christmas fare as late as 19th. But birds roasted inevitably evoke the spirit of Christmas, especially when paired with disputably fragrant aroma of cooking Brussels sprouts. I must admit I’m not a sprout lover but once or twice a year, cooked with bacon, like below – they’ll go down okay.

Brined roast pheasant

I like game birds though – wild duck being my favourite, followed by wood pigeon which tastes like a cross between beef and liver, and pheasant. As long as it’s not dry.

Brining does the trick. This is the first time I’ve tried brining a bird before roasting and man, does it make a difference. The next time a rooster comes my way, I’ll give it the witch trial treatment again - drowning first, before the ordeal of fire.

brining pheasant

The inspiration for the brining came from Hank the Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. Unlike me, he’d probably shot the bird himself – before cooking it…

roast pheasant with sprouts and spinach mushrooms

Servings: 2Time: about an hour, plus 4 hours brining

INGREDIENTS

  • For the brine:
  • 2 litres water
  • 100g sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • a few bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp crushed juniper berries
  • For the roasting:
  • 1 large pheasant for two people
  • a little butter
  • half a small onion
  • black pepper
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • For the sprouts:
  • 200g brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed, large ones halved
  • 3 good rashers of streaky bacon
  • 2 tbsp ground almonds
  • salt and pepper
  • a little butter
  • For the garlic spinach mushrooms:
  • 100g shiitake mushrooms
  • 100g spinach, washed and dry, roughly chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • a little butter
  • salt and pepper


METHOD

1. Bring the brine ingredients to the boil, take off the heat and cool down to room temperature. Plunge the pheasant into the brine, cover with a lid and refrigerate for about 4 hours. If you want or need to brine it longer, reduce the amount of salt.

2. Remove the bird from the brine, dry thoroughly with paper towels, rub with butter and season with pepper. Pop the onion into the cavity. You can tie the legs with string (truss it) so it cooks more evenly.

how to roast a pheasant

3. Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Place the bird on a roasting tray, prop up with another onion if it wants to fall over onto one side and roast for 15 minutes.  In the meantime bring the maple syrup to the boil in a small pan with a tablespoon of butter – make sure it doesn’t cook for too long or the syrup will caramelise. After the initial 15 minutes take the bird out and baste with the maple glaze. Reduce the heat to 180C/350F/gas 4 and roast for another 20-30 minutes, depending how well you want it cooked.

the best roast pheasant

4. Let it rest in a warm place for at least 10 minutes. Deglaze the roasting tin with a drop of water and cook down on the hob a bit for the gravy.

5. To prepare the sprouts, blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, then drain. Dice the bacon and fry it until crisp in another pan. Add the sprouts, cover with a lid and continue cooking on minimum heat for about 15 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper and toss with the ground almonds.

6. To prepare the garlic mushrooms and spinach, cook the shitakes in a little butter with the pressed garlic cloves and plenty salt and pepper. Turn up the heat and stir in the chopped spinach – keep stirring so the moisture evaporates while the spinach wilts.

7. Carving the pheasant is rather difficult so I'd advise cutting it into 6-8 portions with poultry scissors and serving on a platter; unless you'd rather go at the bird with your hands and eat with your fingers, medieval style...

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