Pheasant meatloaf, wrapped in prosciutto, is not only a crowd pleaser: it’s also a good choice for both health and sustainability reasons.
We should eat more game
Good for the environment, good for us and good for the animal welfare: game is the best choice when it comes to meat.
Instead of bland, waterlogged chicken of suspicious provenience, we should choose game birds: partridge, guinea fowl and pheasant. Game is the ultimate free-range meat, even in the case of maintained pheasant breeding – you will never see them in battery cages.
Hunting is regulated, with pheasant shooting season running from October to January. It protects the breeding season and keeps the bird numbers in check, so they don’t ruin crops.
Pheasant is also naturally leaner than chicken, with lower fat content and more protein, minerals and vitamin B. Outside of the shooting season it is widely available frozen from butchers and online meat suppliers so you can stock up the freezer all year round.
How to cook pheasant
Admittedly, roast pheasant tends to be drier than a chicken roast. That can be easily fixed by brining the bird before roasting in a simple salty solution. Allegedly hens are tenderer than male birds but telling the gender of a trussed-up, oven-ready bird on a cardboard tray is kind of hard.
Instead of roasting, you can cook it slow and low into a delicious casserole, with the meat falling off the bone.
And if you want to buy boneless pheasant breast, it will make a gorgeous mini-roast as long as you don’t overcook it. Game isn’t like chicken - pheasant or partridge breast should be juicy and ever so slightly pink.
Pheasant makes the best meatloaf
There’s another pheasant approach which will hugely please the whole family, even those who turn their noses at game saying it’s tough or smells weird. That’s to take all the meat off the bone and mince it for the most delicious meatloaf.
Pheasant is especially good for it when you have a sizeable bird that looks like it might be tough when roasted.
Cutting meat off the carcass is not that difficult, especially that you don’t need to worry about keeping the meat in neat chunks – you can hack it any old way as it will all be ground anyway.
And if it sounds really daunting, ask your butcher to debone it for you.
Make sure you keep the carcass, too. It will make the loveliest chicken (pheasant) soup with noodles or a flavoursome stock.
How to make pheasant meatloaf
The pheasant meat for mincing must include the skin and any bits of fat attached to it. Otherwise, the meatloaf will be too crumbly and too dry.
You can mince it in an old-fashioned mincer or in a food processor. Either way, add the onion to be pureed with the meat, thus avoiding the hassle of chopping it separately and perhaps even sweating in butter, as some recipes suggest. My view, it’s completely pointless: the onion will cook in the meatloaf anyway, and the finer it’s minced, the better.
I like traditional seasoning with pheasant: juniper berries and a little nutmeg. But you can experiment with a spicier mix if you like, or with a classic Italian meatloaf seasoning of tomato and garlic.
Counterintuitively, breadcrumbs help the loaf come together while copious amounts of Parmesan and some cream cheese help it stay together when baking.
Wrapping the meatloaf in prosciutto is optional but makes it aesthetically pleasing. You can bake it in a classic loaf tin or any ovenproof dish of similar capacity.
It should bake for just under an hour and then rest a while, so it’s easier to slice. The best thing is that one bird cooked this way will happily feed four, while the same one roasted would probably only satisfy two people and leave a lot of meat on the bone wasted.
Pheasant meatloaf is also fabulous cold, sliced thickly into sandwiches with a lick of mayo and a leaf of lettuce.
More game recipes
Like pheasant, also guinea fowl is a much better choice of meat than chicken. Pan-fried guinea fowl breast with wild mushrooms is a glorious autumnal dish.
Venison loin is an expensive cut but as tasty, if not tastier than beef fillet. Roasted and served with chocolate sauce, it will impress for sure.
Smaller and tendered than pheasant, partridge needs only wrapping in bacon or pancetta to make a delicious roast.