Food & Drink: I'm game, every once in a while: A young, female pheasant is the occasional luxury whose time has come again

Technically I am a country girl, but city living has softened me up. Though my family never belonged to the hunting, shooting, fishing brigade, we did brush shoulders occasionally, and sometimes a piece of game from a local shoot made its way to our kitchen (my mother was far more inclined to buy game from the covered market in Oxford or a local butcher).

As a result, pheasant, partridge et al gained an air of affordable luxury and that is still how I approach them. As only an occasional game cook, I am no great expert on the intricacies of the subject; but then I have no great desire to be landed week in week out for months on end with the proceeds of a husband's shooting trip: heaps of dead birds in need of hanging, plucking, eviscerating and so on.

Pheasant should be at its best about now. The season began on 1 October, so the first-season birds should have gained flavour and weight without becoming tough, and be ideal for roasting. By the end of January, and for the second-season birds, it is much better to casserole or pot-roast.

Once the feathers and head are off, it is not so easy to tell a pheasant's age, but if you are buying from a reputable game dealer, rely on him to provide a suitable fowl; supermarket birds are almost always young and tender. If you must check for yourself, be warned: it can be a sordid business. With a tapered matchstick, search the bird's rear end for the bursa, a small hole somewhere between the vent and the tail. In a young bird, you should be able to insert about half an inch of the matchstick into the bursa; in older, sexually mature pheasants, the bursa closes up and the matchstick will not go in. (Now you know why I prefer to accept the dealer's recommendations.)

When buying from a proper dealer, you can at least have a say in how long the bird should be hung. I like game to have at least a hint of gamey-ness; what is the point of buying a pheasant so mild in flavour that it might as well be a chicken? The other factor is its sex: hen pheasants, though smaller (serving two to three people), tend to be more juicy and tender than cock pheasants (usually enough for three to four).

Roast pheasant with oatmeal and black pudding stuffing

I love this stuffing, with its slightly knobbly texture (make sure you use oatmeal and not rolled oats) but even if you prefer some other mixture, or leave the birds unstuffed, you will find this roasting method a good one. All lean, feathered game has a tendency to dryness, so be generous with the fat, baste frequently and give adequate protection from the heat of the oven. Do not be tempted to skimp.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 2 pheasants

6 rashers streaky bacon

1 1/2 oz (45g) butter

1/2 bunch watercress (optional)

salt and pepper

Stuffing: 1 1/2 oz (45g) butter

2 leeks, white part only, chopped

4oz (110g) black pudding, skinned and diced, or crumbled

5oz (140g) medium oatmeal

2tbs chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Gravy: 3/4 pint (440ml) pheasant or chicken stock

2 1/2 oz (70ml) port

dash of lemon juice

Preparation: Make the stuffing first. Sweat leeks in butter over gentle heat in a covered pan for 5-10 mins until tender. Uncover and stir in the black pudding, oatmeal, parsley and salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until oatmeal has absorbed all the fat and leek juices. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cool slightly and stuff into the pheasant cavities. Seal openings with wooden cocktail stick.

Heat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Smear birds with the butter, season with salt and pepper, and set in roasting tin, on their sides with one leg in the air. Roast for 15 mins.

Turn birds on to other side and roast for further 15 mins. Set them breast upwards, cover breasts with bacon and roast for 20 mins or so until cooked. Remove bacon 5 mins or so before they are done, so the birds can brown. Each time you turn them, baste with the pan juices.

Transfer pheasants to warm serving dish and keep warm. Pour off any excess fat from the roasting tin, then set on the hob. Add the stock and port and bring to the boil, scraping in all the brown gunk in the bottom of the pan. Boil until reduced by half. Add squirt of lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with pheasants. Tuck small tufts of watercress around the birds just before dishing up.

Pheasant with grapes and walnuts

This pheasant casserole is pure autumn at its golden, mellow best. It really belongs to a French October, when grapes and fresh walnuts are being harvested, but so what? It is good for a daydream or two and tastes wonderful.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 1/2 oz (15g) butter

1tbs sunflower oil

3oz (85g) shallots, sliced

1 large pheasant

1tbs flour

1lb (450g) seedless white grapes

1 1/2 oz (45g) walnut pieces

1/4 pint (150ml) white wine

1/4 pint (150 ml) pheasant or chicken stock

bouquet garni

salt and pepper

Preparation: Halve half of the grapes, and skin and halve remainder (while the pheasant is cooking). Spread walnuts on baking sheet, and toast in hot oven (about 200C/400F/gas 6) for 4-7 mins, shaking occasionally, until browned. Tip into wire sieve and shake to dislodge papery skins. Reserve.

Cook shallots (without letting them brown) gently in butter and oil in casserole just large enough to take pheasant. Scoop out and reserve. Raise heat and brown pheasant briskly all over.

Take out of pan, and return onions to it, together with the halved, unskinned grapes and bouquet garni. Put pheasant back, breast downwards, and sprinkle with the flour.

Pour in white wine and stock, season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently for 40 mins (longer if it is a tough old thing) until pheasant is cooked. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm while you finish the sauce.

Sieve sauce, pressing the grapes to extract the last drops of flavour. Boil hard to reduce by about one-third, then add skinned grapes and walnuts, bring to boil and simmer for 1 min. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spoon some of grapes and walnuts around pheasant, and serve sauce separately.

Braised pheasant with red

cabbage and sausages

Braised red cabbage has become an established favourite (its origins are probably Germanic), and makes a good repository in which pheasant and meaty sausages can be cooked. A happy exchange of flavours takes place, and you end up with a hearty, filling meal.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 1 red cabbage,

shredded

1 large onion, sliced

2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly diced

2oz (55g) raisins

2oz (55g) light muscovado sugar

6 allspice berries, lightly bruised

2 blades of mace

juice of 1 orange

1/2 pint (290ml) red wine

3fl oz (85ml) water

1 1/2 tbs sherry or red wine vinegar

1lb (450g) good pork chipolatas or other sausages

1 large pheasant, cut into 6-8 pieces

1tbs sunflower oil

salt and pepper

Preparation: In an ovenproof casserole, layer cabbage, onion, apples and raisins, sprinkling with sugar and a little salt and pepper, and tucking in spices as you go. Mix orange juice, wine, vinegar and water and pour over. Cover tightly and cook at 150C/300F/ gas 2 for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. There should be enough liquid to keep it moist, but if it threatens to dry out add a little water or another slurp of wine.

Prick sausages all over and brown in the oil over a high heat. Set aside. Brown pheasant pieces over a high heat in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Reserve with the fat.

Once the cabbage has been cooking for 2 hours, bury sausages and pheasant pieces down in the mass of purple. Pour any cooking fat over the top (if you prefer, it can be left out), cover again and return casserole to oven. Cook for further 1-1 1/2 hours, until pheasant is done. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Either serve straight from the cooking pot or, for a more elegant presentation, excavate the pheasant and sausages and arrange round the edge of a serving dish with a mound of the cabbage in the centre.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own