Quartered pheasant braised with juniper berries, thyme and mace and served with cooked chestnuts – it’s a wonderful, warming wintery dish.
How to cook pheasant?
Pheasant is a tough old bird. It also tends to be quite dry, however much bacon you wrap it in or however long you soak it in brine.
It is really delicious roasted, but you must take it out of the oven at just the right time, so it is still juicy and succulent but cooked through. Which is a bit luck of the drawer.
Braising is much safer. Just like with low and slow cooking of meat joints, you can‘t overcook it. Plus you have a gravy making itself, which will need only straining and perhaps reducing a little.
How to tenderise pheasant?
It may benefit from brining, as in my roasted pheasant recipe, but the simplest method is to salt it as early in advance as you possibly can. Meats that are famously tough like bavette steak, beef rump or venison will benefit tremendously from following Samin Nosrat’s advice, which is now one of my cooking mantras.
Salt the meat as soon as you bring it home, more generously than you’d think was necessary. Then keep it in the fridge, uncovered, on a plate. Obviously, some meat ages that way while other may go off if kept too long, so be sensible.
Beef and venison can last up to a week easily, pork and game a couple of days and chicken can sit salty overnight. But what a difference! Not only in tenderness but in the flavour as well – those people who salt their food only on their plates are sad creatures living in the shadows of taste and texture.
How to braise pheasant?
Braising is the best roasting method, if you aim for tender, 'pulled' meat rather than a medium or rare result. Braising in the oven makes the process even better and easier: place your dish in the oven and forget about it, only turning the meat occasionally whenever you wander into the kitchen.
The principle is very simple: brown the meat in a frying pan or an ovenproof casserole if it’s good to go on the hob too. Then add whatever aromatics you fancy, and the liquid which can range from wine or cider to plain water.
That is where the famed method of cooking ham in Coca Cola comes from: Coke is only another kind of braising liquid.
Braising takes from an hour for chicken portions to several hours or even overnight, though I should not recommend trying the latter at home. Pheasant, chopped into 4 or 6 portions, should take about an hour and a half.
Chestnuts with pheasant
It is such a good combination, earthy chestnuts as a side dish to braised pheasant. They can be heated up in a separate skillet in a little butter, but I use the dish that the pheasant was cooked in, warming them up while the pheasant rests.
And it’s a sustainable bird. We should eat less but better meat, wild or free range, and game is the best source of animal protein on all accounts.
More game recipes
Roast pheasant, brined beforehand in an aromatic, salt and sugar solution, with Brussels sprouts and garlic spinach mushrooms.
Another easy recipe for a good, popular game bird: roast partridge with bacon and pears.
My favourite game is probably roast mallard (wild duck). The crown is cooked medium-rare while the legs return to the oven for a couple of minutes to cook through.
More braising recipes
Pork shoulder braised with chillies and coriander has definite Mexican flavours. Put it in tacos!
Beef short ribs braised with plums: recipe as cooked by chef Marcus Samuelsson for President Obama when he visited the restaurant Red Rooster Harlem.
A succulent gammon joint is delightful braised in apple cider. For Sunday lunch, with plenty leftovers for ham sandwiches.