Skye Gyngell: Fair game

If you're daunted by the prospect of cooking game, pheasant is the bird to start with, says Skye Gyngell: its wintery flavours lend themselves to all kinds of simple, yet delicious, dishes. Photographs by Lisa Barber
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Now is the season for game. Mallards, partridge, teal and widgeon are all delicious at this time of year. But, if you are new to game and feeling reticent about trying it, pheasant is a really good place to start as it's so gentle and sweet-tasting.

It's a small bird - one is just enough for two people. It is fantastic with good, strong ingredients. I love its flavour - it's not too overpowering and it has a warmth and winteryness about it that works well still warm and torn into salads along with Bayonne ham, toasted hazelnuts and fennel. Later in the season, pinwheels of blood oranges can be added to give it a citrussy sweetness. Bread sauce is also a perfect accompaniment to simply roasted pheasant. It's also really good served with many raw, finely sliced, smoked meats.

Mallard is also especially beautiful at the moment. We serve it here at Petersham with barolo and slow-cooked white beans. If you're looking for a game bird that's a little richer, grouse, widgeon or teal are delicious cooked with wine. They all need to be served with something gentle and warm such as toast, bread sauce or potatoes to counteract their depth.

Ask your local butcher to source pheasant for you as it is unlikely that you will find any in the supermarket. We get ours, as with all our game, from Albert the grouse man who hand-plucks them for us. In a couple of the recipes here, I have drizzled traditional balsamic vinegar on to the meat while it is still warm. This is absolutely delicious and works to deepen and sweeten the bird's flesh. s

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. To get in touch with Albert the grouse man, tel: 07986 542 728

Pheasant poached with carrot, celery and sauce gribiche

This is a lovely, warming, gentle-tasting dish. The classic sauce that accompanies it gives it just the softest punch.

Serves 2

1 whole pheasant
10 peppercorns
2 sticks celery ( for the stock)
2 carrots, roughly chopped (for the stock)
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
1 small bunch of parsley
A few sprigs of thyme
1litre/13/4 pints water
6 small carrots, peeled but left whole
6 stalks celery (the tender white stalks only) peeled and sliced into 5cm/2in shards

For the sauce gribiche

1 shallot, peeled
2 organic, free-range eggs, boiled until firm
1tbsp Dijon mustard
10 capers, well rinsed and roughly chopped
4 cornichons
1tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
1 small bunch of chervil, leaves only
1 bunch of tarragon, leaves only
A little sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Wash and pat dry the pheasant, making sure the cavity is clean and bloodless. Put it in a large pot, and add the peppercorns, stock celery and carrots, onion and herbs.

Pour in the water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to a low simmer; you don't want the water to boil - slow cooking is required. Poach gently for about 30 minutes until the pheasant is cooked. Remove it from the pan and set aside in a warm place. Strain and reserve the liquid it was cooked in, but discard the vegetables.

Place the uncooked celery and carrots in another pan. Pour over the pheasant stock and bring to a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are just tender.

Meanwhile, make the gribiche. Put the chopped shallots in a bowl. Peel the eggs and grate finely. Add to the shallots, along with the mustard, capers, cornichons and (omega) vinegar. Chop all the herbs and add them to the bowl. Pour in the olive oil and mix everything together, taste for seasoning.

Turn the bird upside down, and using poultry scissors chop through the middle of it, straight down the backbone. Open it out and remove both of the legs, leaving the breast and wing tip intact. Add this to the vegetables and stock and poach gently for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until it's warmed through. To serve, place the breast and a wing tip in each bowl, add the vegetables and broth and then spoon over the sauce gribiche. For this recipe we didn't use the pheasant legs but you could simply roast them in the oven with a little salt.

Roast pheasant on toast with chestnuts and sage oil

I love infused oils but not the shop-bought variety; they never seem to taste particularly fresh nor truly of the ingredient. We infuse oils with different flavours a lot at Petersham. Sage oil is one of my favourites at this time of year. It has distinctly wintery base-note flavours that work really well with the sweetness both of the chestnuts and the pheasant. Although informal, this dish is quite delicious, perfect for a dinner party with family and close friends.

Serves 4

1 pheasant
30g/1oz unsalted butter
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of sage
1tbsp traditional balsamic vinegar
12 chestnuts

For the sage oil

60ml/2fl oz gentle-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
5 sprigs of sage
For the toast
4 slices bread
10ml/1/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Put the pheasant in a baking tray and season inside and out. Place the sage and the butter inside the cavity and roast for 30-35 minutes.

While the bird is roasting, prepare the chestnuts and the sage oil. It is always best not to make too much of any infused oil as they oxidise so quickly that they are only really good on the day they are made.

Place the oil and sage in a small saucepan on the lowest heat possible and heat just to blood temperature. You don't want to cook the sage at all; you should be quite happy to leave your finger in there without it feeling uncomfortably hot. Remove and set aside.

Next prepare the chestnuts. You can, if you like, buy good-quality, vacuum-packed, ready-peeled chestnuts, but I like to cook and peel my own. I love their fresh, pale colour and their particular sweetness. Place a pint of water on (omega) to boil. Take a small, sharp knife and make two little slits in the skin of the chestnuts. Drop into the boiling water and allow to cook slightly for 2-3 minutes, then they should peel very easily. While still warm, place in the sage oil.

For toast, I prefer an open-pored, textured white bread such as Pugliese, ciabatta or Toscano - they absorb cooking juices in absolutely the best way. Grill the bread; when golden, brush with the olive oil.

Once the pheasant is slightly cool, tear it apart with your hands. Dress with a little salt and pepper and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.

Place the pheasant on top of the toast and pour over the pan juices, then spoon over the chestnuts and the sage oil and dig in heartily.

Split and grilled pheasant with tardivo

Tardivo is a particular type of trevisse that is grown around Italy's Veneto region. My friend Claudio, the farmer and wild food expert, tells me that it is the only true trevisse. It has long, fine, bitter fronds that curl in upon themselves. When grilled, its bittersweet taste works well with the pheasant's gentle, gamey flavour.

Serves 4

1 pheasant
2 tardivo (if you can't find it, use radicchio)
25ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1tbsp traditional aged balsamic vinegar
20ml/3/4fl oz virgin olive oil (mild in taste)
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp olive oil

Split the pheasant in half lengthwise, season, and drizzle over half the olive oil. Heat the grill to its hottest setting, then place the pheasant skin-side down on the surface and cook for four minutes, then turn and cook for four minutes on the other side. Meanwhile, split the tardivo in half lengthwise, drizzle with the olive oil, season, and place on the grill, cooking it for one minute on each side. To serve, put the pheasant on a serving dish, place the tardivo over the top and sprinkle with the balsamic and remaining olive oil. Serve immediately.

Pheasant with pak choi and pickled plums

This dish is based on the idea of Chinese crispy duck, and is very quick and easy to make. At home if I'm tired, I often cook pak choi, generously sprinkle it with oyster sauce and serve it with steamed white rice; it's clean and delicious. This recipe is a good way to use up leftovers from a roast.

Serves 2

The meat from 2 pheasant breasts, roasted (see second recipe) and shredded with your hands
100ml/31/2fl oz vegetable oil
250g/8oz Chinese broccoli or pak choi or bok choy
1 medium red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
2tbsp oyster sauce
1tsp sesame oil
125g/4oz pickled plums (see below)
For the pickled plums
350g/111/2oz plums (opus or Victoria work well)
75g/3oz caster sugar
200ml/7fl oz good-quality red wine vinegar
2 cloves
3 peppercorns
1 star anise
1/3 cinnamon quill

Rinse and dry the plums. Stir together the sugar and vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan; add the cloves, cinnamon, star anise and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Pack the plums into sterilised jars and pour over the hot syrup. Cover and seal. If possible, let them sit in a cool, dark place for two months before using.

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Heat the oil until it starts to smoke, then throw in the pheasant and cook until brown and crispy. Remove and drain. Plunge the pak choi into the boiling water and cook for one minute (the water should not have time to return to the boil). Remove with tongs and sprinkle the chilli on top. Spoon over some cooking oil, pour over the sesame oil and oyster sauce. Lay the pheasant on top, scatter over the plums, and eat.

Q&A: Skye answers your culinary queries

I'm tired of porridge. Have you got a good recipe for granola? R Sylvester

Take 300g/10oz rolled oats; 125ml/4fl oz apple juice; 20ml/1fl oz vegetable oil; 80g/3oz blanched, raw almonds; 120g/4fl oz sunflower seeds; 50g/2oz pumpkin seeds; 40g/2oz dessicated coconut and 125g/4oz of either dried blueberries, sour cherries, currants or sultanas.

Start by heating the oven to 160C/325F/ Gas3 and place all the ingredients, except for the fruit, in a large bowl. Stir well. Spread evenly over a large baking tray and place in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove, allow to cool, add the fruit and store in an airtight container. It will keep for around a month.

Can you recommend a good organic home- delivery service? P Perkins

At home I use Secretts Direct (www.secretts.co.uk). The staff there are incredibly helpful and, unlike most box schemes, you can choose what you want. Otherwise you get pot luck and end up with 400 celeriac and one Brussels sprout.

What is the best way to store cheese? M Bass

Good-quality cheese needs to be looked after. Never ever keep it in cling-film or tin foil. It should be wrapped loosely, so it can breathe, in baking paper or parchment. Soft, gentle, cheeses such as brie, Vacherin and Wigmore should be kept out of the fridge and harder cheeses such as Parmesan, Gruyère and pecorino should be kept in the fridge.

I don't really like to bake with margarine. Is there an alternative? L Carter

Please don't use margarine at all. A quality unsalted butter is the only thing to use. It gives a much purer, better taste. It's probably not the healthier option, but it's definitely the more delicious one.

Please send your questions for Skye to s.gyngell@independent.co.uk

Comments