If you are looking for a last-minute festive alternative to the traditional turkey or goose, this recipe is easy to prepare, yet never fails to impress. Pheasant is available from good quality butchers all over the country between November and February. In order to prepare for this recipe, ask your butcher to wrap the pheasant with streaky bacon and truss it for you.
Although pheasant is a game bird, young pheasant does not have a strong gamey flavour. As with a lot of fowl, slow cooking yields the best flavour -but be careful not to overcook it, as it tends to dry out. The bacon ensures the bird retains moisture during the cooking process, as it has very little fat content of its own.
Fresh chestnuts are a wonderful seasonal accompaniment to the dish.
Pot roast pheasant with chestnut stuffing, serves four
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion (finely chopped)
2 shallots (finely chopped)
100g (4oz) mushrooms (cleaned and finely chopped)
100g (4oz) goose fat 500 ml of good quality chicken stock
Quarter tablespoon dried mixed herbs
Quarter tablespoon fine sea salt
Freshly milled pepper
3 tablespoons Madeira wine
3 tablespoons cognac
6 or 7 streaky rashers
1. First, heat the oil in a pan, add the finely chopped onion and shallots and brown slowly, stirring often. Add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat stirring with a wooden spoon all the time. Season with a pinch of salt.
2. Allow the goose fat to soften and place it in a bowl. Add the mushrooms, onions and shallots, salt, mixed herbs, Madeira and cognac, and beat well with a wooden spatula until fully mixed.
3. Peel and place the chestnuts in a pot with a little chicken stock and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes (or until the chestnuts are soft, though still whole). Remove from heat and mix with the mushroom mixture. Stuff the cavity of the pheasant with the mixture.
4. Heat the oven to 150C (gas mark 2). Season the pheasant and the chest cavity, and lay streaky rashers along the top of the bird, ensuring the breasts are fully covered. Truss the bird (if not already done by your butcher) and place in a large casserole dish with a ladleful of chicken stock.
5. Cover the bird and cook in oven, allowing 40 minutes per pound. Turn and baste the bird every 15 minutes during cooking. For the last ten minutes of cooking, remove the casserole lid and turn the heat up to 200C.
6. Remove the pheasant from the oven and allow to rest for ten minutes. During this time, make a gravy by placing the casserole dish containing the juices over a medium heat and adding the remaining chicken stock. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Pass the liquid though a strainer into a clean pot and return to heat. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce has reduced by three quarters. Whisk in a knob of butter and remove from heat.