Pheasants were probably brought to Britain by the Romans. The common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) has been superseded in British estates by captive breeding and hybridisation between subspecies from all over the world to improve flying and holding qualities. The bird on your plate in Britain is probably a cross of Polish, French, Danish, American and Japanese.
Almost every weekend during the shooting season, which runs from 1 October to 1 February, we eat pheasant. Purists out there might be shocked that we don’t leave ours to hang because we find the taste then becomes just too gamey. So birds brought back from a Saturday shoot are invariably eaten the next day.
Very often I simply roast the birds, having smeared them in butter and wrapped them in bacon but pheasant, especially the older birds towards the end of the season, can be rather dry, so yesterday I chose to braise the birds, using a recipe by one of my favourite cooks, Diana Henry. It’s in her book “Food from Plenty”. (I cooked a brace but the recipe is for one bird.)
- 65g butter
- 1 oven-ready pheasant
- 6 shallots, peeled and sliced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 stick celery, diced
- 100g bacon lardons, or chopped streaky bacon
- 1 small Savoy cabbage, shredded
- 200ml chicken stock
- 6 juniper berries, crushed
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
This is what you do:
- Heat conventional oven to 190ºc
- On the simmering plate, melt 25g of the butter in a heavy-bottomed flameproof casserole and brown the pheasant all over and set it aside. You can also do this on the floor of the roasting oven.
- Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the pan, along with the shallots, carrot, celery and bacon. Cook until golden; can do this fairly quickly on the simmering plate or the floor of the roasting oven or more slowly in the simmering oven.
- Add the cabbage, juniper and remaining butter. Season and turn the cabbage to get it coated in butter.
- Add the chicken stock and 3 thyme springs and bring to the boil
- Return the pheasant to the casserole, cover and place in the roasting oven for 40 minutes, removing the lid for the last 15 minutes.
- Or, if you have plenty of time, you can just leave this to cook in the simmering oven for an hour or two, uncovering it and browning it in the roasting oven for the last 15 minutes.
Cheat’s tip: if you don’t have any shallots use frozen, already peeled and chopped ones, available from Waitrose and probably other supermarkets too. I always keep a packet in the freezer.