Potted pheasant

This recipe and illustration comes from my book Simply British (1998) see Books.  For more information about cooking pheasants turn to Read Now.  

An excellent way to serve older birds.  All forms of meat, game and fish have been potted in Britain for centuries.  Delicately flavoured, they could be served as part of a cold table or picnic, but were most popular as a savoury addition to the breakfast table in the nineteenth century.  Today, we tend to eat them as an appetizer or light main course with lots of hot buttered toast, although they make excellent sandwiches, especially when accompanied by crisp lettuce, cornichons or roughly chopped capers. 

Note:   If pheasant is young, it can be roasted in the ordinary way.  The flavourings can be altered to taste; for example, Mrs Rundell recommends allspice mixed with mace, white pepper and salt, while Elizabeth David suggests combining grouse or partridge with a quarter of its weight in ham, but it would taste equally good with pheasant.

 Serves a generous 4

2 oven-ready pheasants

6 sprigs thyme

1 lemon, halved

115g/4oz butter

ground mace

ground nutmeg

ground cayenne pepper

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Clarified butter

340g/12oz butter


1   Preheat the oven to fan 140C/gas 2.  Wipe the pheasants clean inside and out with a damp cloth.  Place 3 sprigs of thyme along with half the lemon and some of the butter into the cavity of each pheasant.  Mix together a large pinch of mace, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper ad rub into each bird.  Arrange them in a casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid and plaster the remiang butter all over their breasts and legs.  Cover and place in the centre of the oven. 


2  Bake for 2 hours, remembering to turn the birds on to each side every 30 minutes, liberally basting with the butter as you do so.


3   While the birds are cooking, clarify some butter.  Melt 340g/12oz of butter in a saucepan over a low heat and line a small sieve with a double layer of wet muslin or a clean, wet J-cloth.  Place this over a small bowl.  When the butter has thrown up a pale scum, gently pour the clear golden-coloured liquid through the muslin, carefully leaving the milky dregs in the saucepan.  Set aside the strained, clarified butter and discard the rest.


Once the pheasants are cool enough to handle, pull away all the meat, discarding any skin, sinews or fat.  Place in a food processor and give a few quick whizzes to chop the flesh into tiny pieces.  Season to taste with some more mace, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper and add two-thirds of the melted clarified butter.  Process once again, until the pheasant forms a rough textured paste.  Remove and pack tightly into 4 small white ramekins.  Press the meat down with the back of a spoon to eliminate any air-holes, then pour over the remaining butter, so that it forms a thin layer over the pheasant.  Chill and cover once the butter is firm.


5  This is best left a day before eating, so that the flavours will fully mautre.  Keep in the  fridge and eat within 4 days.




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 Illustration John Spencer 1998