All game birds are now in season, so make the most of them. People usually just roast their game fowl – which is fine of course – but there are also some great ways to get a bit more variety out of the bird, such as using the breast for one dish and the thighs for another, and the sinewy drumsticks for a broth or sauce.
Game birds can be costly, so I'm all for using every bit possible. I sometimes use the carcass to make a stock that I later mix with vodka, Worcester sauce and Tabasco – along the lines of a bullshot (beef broth) cocktail – and take along to the next shoot.
Pheasant escalope Holstein
However carefully you cook it, pheasant can get a bit dry, but I've found that brief pan-frying in dishes like this comes up a treat. You could serve this with all sorts of things from a salad to pasta tossed in tomato sauce. Save the thighs for the ragout below, and the drumsticks aren't really that edible on their own so better used in a sauce, soup or stock.
4 skinless pheasant breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten
30-40g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A good knob of butter
2 medium free-range eggs
4 anchovies, halved lengthways
½tbsp chopped parsley
2-3 pickled walnuts, quartered
Put one breast on a sheet of cling film that is at least double its size. With a meat or cutlet bat (a rolling pin or side of a cleaver will do), carefully bat each breast out into a neat 1cm-thick escalope. Season with salt and pepper then lightly coat with flour, patting any excess off with your hands, before passing the escalopes through the beaten egg and finally through the breadcrumbs.
Heat about 1cm of oil in a frying pan and cook the escalopes for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden, then add a knob of butter at the end of cooking and turn them once more. Meanwhile, lightly fry the remaining eggs and place one on each escalope, then arrange the anchovies around the yolk and transfer to warmed plates. Melt the butter in a small frying pan until foaming, add the parsley and capers and spoon over the egg and escalopes. Serve immediately as they will go a bit cardboard-like if they hang around.
Game sausage roll
This is great for picnics, or to take to a shoot or fishing trip, served with a jelly like rowan, quince or redcurrant. You could even serve it as a main course at a dinner party, with maybe some curly kale and a red wine sauce.
Butchers often sell bits and bobs of game meat for pies and things – and mixed with some pork belly they make rather a good sausage roll.
250g coarsely minced game meat
250g coarsely minced pork belly
1tbsp chopped thyme leaves
3-4tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
150-200g butter puff pastry, rolled to about 1/3 cm thick
1 small egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the game, pork, thyme and parsley together and season well. Stretch some cling film on your work surface and put the mixture in the middle, in a rough large sausage shape. Roll the cling film around it and twist the ends in opposite directions, so the meat forms an even cylinder about 6-8cm diameter.
Lay the puff pastry on the work surface, then carefully turn out the meat on the nearest end. Roll the pastry around the meat so it overlaps by a couple of centimetres, trimming the rest off. Brush the edge with egg, then seal. Pinch the ends down to seal the meat in, again trimming any excess.
Place on a baking tray, brush with the beaten egg and bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Once cooled you can take it to your picnic whole, and slice when ready to serve.
Gnocchi with pheasant ragout and nettles
Gnocchi is pretty simple and quick to make at home, certainly compared with making fresh pasta. You can buy pheasant thighs from Waitrose, or if you have whole birds, you can save up the thighs after using the breasts in recipes such as the escalopes above.
For the pheasant ragout
A few tablespoons of vegetable oil, for frying
8 to 10 pheasant thighs, boned, skinned and diced into rough 1cm pieces
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100g pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into a rough 1cm dice
1tbsp plain flour
1tbsp tomato purée
1tsp chopped thyme or oregano leaves
100ml red wine
750ml hot beef stock
230-250g can of chopped tomatoes
For the gnocchi
600-700g large floury potatoes, baked in their skins, peeled and mashed
1 large egg yolk
125g potato flour
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A handful of young nettle tops
A good knob of butter
70g freshly grated parmesan or pecorino
Heat a little vegetable oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Season the pheasant and fry in a couple of batches on a high heat for 3-4 minutes until nicely coloured, then transfer to a plate or dish.
Meanwhile, gently cook the onion, garlic and pancetta in a tablespoon of the oil for 3-4 minutes, without colouring, then stir in the flour and cook on a low heat for a minute. Stir in the tomato purée and thyme, then gradually add the red wine and hot beef stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil, add the tomatoes and pheasant, season and simmer gently for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender.
Meanwhile, make the gnocchi. Gently mix all the ingredients together and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Roll the mix into balls about the diameter of a 10-pence piece. Flatten them slightly with a fork, then roll them into rough tubular shapes and leave to rest.
Bring a large pan of boiling, salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi for 3 minutes, then carefully drain and toss in some butter. While the gnocchi is cooking, blanch the nettles in a little boiling salted water, then drain and toss in a little butter.
Serve in warmed pasta bowls or plates with the sauce spooned over the gnocchi and nettles scattered over. Serve the parmesan on top or separately.
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