The following extract along with the John Spencer`s lovely illustration come my book
(1998), see Books. If you’d like to make
Potted Pheasant turn to Cook Now, I’ll
be posting it up shortly.
Pheasant poached. Pheasant is fairly common in England in
summer when the cock invades the cottage gardens to sneak the peas. You catch him quietly, with a paper bag and
Smear the paper cone inside with treacle or gum, put a few
raisins at the bottom, and prop the bag up amongst the peas. When he sticks his head in he cannot see
where to go, so he stands still till you fetch him.’
England by Dorothy Hartley, 1954.
The pheasant, as any country dweller will tell, is an
extraordinarily stupid bird. It may look
exquisitely beautiful and taste delicious, but its wits are dim. This dullness only increases its charm for
both shooter and poacher. Once startled
by the beaters, it rises up and flies in an erratic manner that tests the skill
of any shot. Poachers, on the other
hand, appreciate its capacity to be dazzled by torchlight, as it is too
confused to resist their deft hands.
Pheasants were originally introduced into Britain by the
Romans, who fattened them in pens, along with their hens, ducks and geese. Curiously, they then disappear from our
records until the middle of the eleventh century. However, once reinstated on the royal menus,
they made up for lost time by being bred in increasingly large quantities. By the eighteenth century ever more beautiful
breeds were introduced from the Far East, much to the plague of tenant farmers
and local gardeners. Unlike other types
of game, pheasants were reared by landowners and small country families
alike. Gamekeepers bred them for the huge
shooting parties that first became popular in the nineteenth century, while
local families kept them as poultry.
Perhaps because of this, the pheasant has avoided the exclusivity of
grouse and the over-familiarity of rabbit and has remained popular right up
until today. It has not, however, escaped from its awesome reputation
of being tough, a problem that many a person has had to wrestle with, including
the bon vivant Dr Grant in Mansfield Park as described by his unsympathetic sister-in-law
Mary Crawford: ‘Dr Grant is ill,’ said she, with mock solemnity. ‘He has been ill ever since; he did not eat
any of the pheasant to day. He fancied it tough – sent away his plate – and has
been suffering ever since.’ (Jane
Austen, 1814.) The solution lies in careful
hanging and even more astute cooking. No
cook should risk his or her guest’s good will when it comes to a chewy bird;
better by far to tenderize it by chopping and potting.
Pheasants combine the best of most game birds – they come in
a reasonable size with a sensible price yet taste delicious. They have a delicate gamey flavour that works
equally well plainly roasted or served in a richly flavoured ragout. What is
more, they are equally good served hot or cold.
Who could ask for more?
The pheasant season stretches from 1 October to 1 February
(or 31 January in Northern Ireland).
Pheasant is considered at its best in November and December, as it
becomes increasingly tough towards the end of its season. Old birds need to be slowly simmered, gently
pot-roasted or finely chopped. Hen
pheasants are usually slightly plumper and more juicy than the larger cock
birds. One pheasant will serve 2 people
generously. A brace of pheasants
consists of a hen and cock bird.
All pheasants should be hung by their heads uneviscerated
for up to 10-14 days if the weather is cold, dry and crisp. This will tenderize their flesh, intensify
their flavour and make them easier to pluck.
Unhung pheasant is supposed to taste like chicken. However, if the weather is warm, a mere 5
days will suffice. Care is needed, as if
you hang your bird for too long it will literally go off. It is supposed to be ready for eating when you
can easily pull out one of its tail feathers.
If you are presented with a freshly shot pheasant, you can either hang
it in a cool airy outhouse, out of reach of enterprising cats and foxes, or you
can rush round to your local butcher.
Many will not only hang your bird for you, for a small fee they will
pluck, gut and prepare it as well.
Having had the pleasure of the latter, I can thoroughly recommend
persuading someone else to pluck and gut it – it is not a task for the
If you are buying from a supermarket you have no means of
gauging a pheasant’s age, so you have to trust to the skill of their
buyers. Otherwise, you are best advised
to inspect your bird while still in its feathers. A young hen pheasant will be a lighter colour
than an older bird. Next check its wings
– when young, both sexes have soft downy feathers on the underside and rounded
(as opposed to pointed) flight feathers.
Finally, if you are buying a cock bird, look to see if it has short,
rounded spurs, as these lengthen and sharpen with age.
* Traditionally roast
pheasant is accompanied by a clear gravy, and can also be served with bread
sauce, fried breadcrumbs and/or an apple, crab apple, rowan, redcurrant or red
gooseberry jelly. Fresh watercress, game
chips, Brussels sprouts, chicory, celery, celeriac and cabbage are also popular
* Stewed pheasant
taste particularly good with bacon, button onions, wine and mushrooms or
apples, cider and cream. Sweet herbs
such as thyme, bay, rosemary, parsley and tarragon also complement pheasant, as
do juniper berries, mace, cayenne pepper, lemon and orange zest.
* British recipe
books cannot agree on the most effective way to roast a young pheasant. Some advocate stuffing, others insist the
opposite; some recommend liberal basting, others a careful wrapping in streaky
bacon, while a few maintain that pheasants need no such attention as they are
fatty enough. There are no hard and fast
rules so it is best to play it safe.
Always make sure that your bird is regularly basted, whether it be with
the pan juices or a baacon jacket. If
you feel like making it go further or you just enjoy it, add stuffing,
otherwise omit it and lessen the cooking time by 15 minutes.