Marcus Verberne's roast pheasant / Kashmira Gander

The head chef of London's Roast explains how to make the perfect roast pheasant

Christmas Day needn’t mark the yearly battle between the turkey and the baster, as you desperately try to keep the enormous bird moist. Instead, pheasant is a brilliant alternative: seasonal, and perfect for feasts both big and small.

Marcus Verberne, head chef at British-fare focused London restaurant Roast, admits that pheasant is a tricky bird to cook, and recommends pan-frying breasts in plenty of butter instead of tackling the bird as a whole - which can render it as try as our old friend the turkey.

Try his recipe for roast pheasant breast, accompanied by Christmas favourites creamed Brussels sprouts, smoked bacon and toasted chestnuts

Roast pheasant with creamed Brussels sprouts, smoked bacon and toasted chestnuts

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large cock pheasants

Vegetable oil for frying

6 rashers of rindless smoked streaky bacon (cut across into thin strips)

50g butter

200 ml double cream

300g Brussels sprouts (outer leaves and ends removed, and washed)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 large chestnuts

 

For the gravy

1 carrot (peeled and roughly chopped)

1 stick of celery (roughly chopped)

½ a leek (roughly chopped)

1 medium sized onion (peeled and roughly chopped)

2 Cloves garlic (skin on)

3 Tablespoons of flour

3 crushed juniper berries

1 Tablespoon of red currant jelly

250ml red wine

300ml of hot chicken stock

300ml of hot beef stock

1 Bay leaf

2 Sprigs thyme

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200c

Remove the breasts and legs from the pheasants and cut the carcass into a few pieces with a pair of sturdy scissors. Split the thighs and drumsticks at the joint and save the thighs for a later date.

Place the chopped carcass and the drumsticks with the chopped onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic into a roasting tray with a little vegetable oil to coat and roast in the oven for 30 minutes stirring on occasion.

Once the vegetables are soft and the bones nicely caramelised, remove them from the tray and transfer to a saucepan. Pour in the red wine into the roasting tray to deglaze, loosening all the flavoursome caramelized morsels.

Place the pan onto a moderate heat and add the flour. Cook the flour gently stirring regularly for 2 minutes. Add the red wine and deglazed roasting juices from the roasting dish and cook for further 2 minutes or so to evaporate any remaining alcohol. Stir well so the wine incorporates with the flour and thickens. Add the juniper berries, red currant jelly, bay leaf and thyme and gradually pour in the hot chicken and beef stocks stirring to avoid any lumps forming. Bring the gravy to the boil giving it a thorough skim with a ladle, to remove any fat that collects on the surface as it comes up. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the sauce (skimming regularly) until you have reached a desirable gravy consistency. Taste the gravy to check for seasoning and season accordingly. Strain the gravy through a fine meshed sieve and serve at the table when all else is ready.

Bring a large saucepan of well salted water to the boil. Blanch the Brussels sprouts in the water for 3-4 minutes until cooked but still a vibrant green with a slight bite. I used to detest sprouts as a kid sneaking them onto my dad’s plate while mum was in the kitchen. My mum is awesome in the kitchen but her sprouts were so overcooked, they used to collapse under their own weight on the plate. (Sorry mum, love you loads, but I couldn’t resist!)

Once the sprouts are cooked, strain them through a colander over the sink and plunge them into iced water. This will arrest the cooking and they will retain their vibrant green colour. Once the sprouts are cold, remove them from the water and slice each one into 3. Place the sliced sprouts back into the colander and set them to one side until later.

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Marcus peels chestnuts (Image: Kashmira Gander)

To peel the chestnuts, carefully using a small sharp knife, score a criss-cross into the pointed end of each chestnut. Roast the chestnuts in the oven for 15 minutes until the criss-crossed end starts to splay open revealing the golden nut inside. Allow the chestnuts to cool slightly so they can be handled, but do not let them cool completely or you will have a torrid time trying to peel them. Remove the hard casing and also the membrane between the casing and the nut. Once peeled, break each chestnut in half and place to one side until needed.

Preheat a saucepan to a moderate heat. Add a teaspoon of butter and the bacon and cook stirring regularly until the bacon is crispy. Add the cream and bring it to the boil before reducing the heat to a gentle simmer. Reduce the cream until it thickens slightly.

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Marcus serves the Brussels sprouts (Image: Kashmira Gander)

As the cream is reducing, preheat a large frying pan on a moderate to high heat. Season the pheasant breasts on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little vegetable oil to the hot pan and place the breasts skin side down to fry. Once the skin is crispy reduce the pan to a low to moderate heat and turn them over. Add the remaining butter and the chestnuts. Cook the pheasant breasts in the butter for about 5-7 minutes turning them and regularly basting them so they cook evenly. Once the chestnuts have browned slightly remove them from the pan. Remove the frying pan from the heat leaving the breasts in the butter to rest for a few minutes. 

Add the sliced Brussels sprouts to the reduced cream and bacon and heat through thoroughly. Season the sprouts with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. In a small saucepan bring the game gravy to the boil, add the toasted chestnuts and remove from the heat.

Divide the creamed sprouts and bacon between 4 plates and place a breast on top of each. Spoon the chestnuts and a little gravy over each and serve.

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