Last week I had the good fortune of being given two pheasants, just hunted from southern Ontario’s wilderness. The last time I enjoyed pheasant was over 10 years ago and the pheasant was farm-raised, not wild. Farm-raised game birds, boar, venison will be easier to cook than animals from the wild as the animal’s age is monitored (younger animals are more tender) and farm-raised animals aren’t as active as wild game. Wild game are more active = more muscle =less fat= tougher meat.
This past week I also had the pleasure to chat pheasant with Lisa of Pheasant Hill Farms of Owen Sound, Ontario. What I learned about wild pheasant from Lisa is this:
- Hanging wild caught birds (much like beef, lamb, goat) can help soften the meat, add flavour
- Hang the bird for 2-3 days in a cool, dry spot (like your garage) in an environment about 15C
- Leave the feathers and viscera in tact when hanging – oils from the feathers will add flavour to the meat
- Brining the bird will add moisture to the meat
- Braising is ideal for wild game birds like pheasant
- If roasting, sear and finish in a high heat oven to a medium doneness
With this knowledge in mind, farm-raised game birds will be easier to cook with but if you’re fortunate enough to receive wild game from a hunter, accept the honour, challenge of cooking a wild caught bird such as pheasant.
Pheasant is all dark meat, rather lean with a yellow skin when you remove the feathers. On the advice of my mother, we dunked the birds in scalding water to open the birds’ pores and therefore making the task of plucking the pheasant easier. I was given two pheasants and I halved them, brined them, marinated them, seared them and finished them in the oven. While the pheasants roasted in the oven I made a pan sauce with shallots, lots of mushrooms, stock, bay leaves, fresh thyme and heavy cream to thicken the sauce.
Inspiration for this dish comes from the many Greek men who hunt back in Greece, here in Canada and the US, my dearly missed Theio (uncle) Pavlo who loved to hunt, the George Politis Game & Fish cookbook.
A bed of garlic mashed potatoes, a topping of mushroom cream sauce, serve with 2009 Kir Yanni Ramnista 100% Xinomavro.
Roast Pheasant With Mushroom Cream Sauce
2 whole pheasant (wild caught, aged) or farm-raised
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
3/4 cup sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
6 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, bruised
2 bunches of fresh thyme
zest of 2 lemons
1 medium onion, minced with a box grater
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely diced
3 cups slices mushrooms
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
4-5 sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
- Cut your pheasant in half, lengthwise and place in plastic container large enough to hold all halves. Fill with enough water to just cover the meat then remove the pheasant. Now add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved then return the pheasant halves into the brine, cover and place in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, remove the pheasant from the brine and set aside. Discard the brine and now make your marinade by adding the olive oil, wine, bay, thyme, rosemary, onion, lemon zest in a deep baking dish and mix well. Now add the pheasant into the marinade and rub all over the meat. Cover and place in the fridge for 4 hours. Return to room temperature before cooking.
- Pre-heat your oven to 400F and wipe excess marinade off the pheasant and season with salt and pepper. Place a large heavy skillet on your stovetop over medium-high heat and add a couple of turns of olive oil. Sear both sides of the pheasant then place on a baking tray(skin side up) .
- Place your pheasant in the oven and roast for 2o minutes or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145F. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and keep warm (on top of the stove).
- While the pheasant is roasting in the oven, add some more olive oil in the pan along with the diced onions and sweat for five minutes. now add the mushrooms and stir-in (add more oil if needed). Season with salt, pepper and add the flour and stir for another minute.
- Add the bay, thyme, wine and stock and bring up to a boil then reduce to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. When the sauce has thicknened to the point of coating a wooden spoon, your sauce is done. Add heavy cream to taste, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove thyme sprigs and bay and serve on top of your pheasant with some garlic mashed potatoes.
* Pheasant Facts: Pheasant came to Europe (and eventually US/Canada) from Asia. In particular, it was introduced to Greece by Roman traders and eventually spread throughout the wilds of Europe.
** Today, pheasant is farm-raised all over North America and sold in 1 lb. (young), 2 – 2 1/2 lbs. (adults) and 3-4 lbs. (mature). Mature birds should be braised, not roasted.
***Hank Shaw of Hunter. Angler. Gardener. Cook has some detailed info on hunting pheasant, hanging and of course, cooking.
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