A couple of years ago, I returned home to find two dead birds hanging from the knob on my front door. This was somewhat alarming and unusual as I live in the middle of London and my front door is in fact inside (I have the ground floor flat of a Victorian terrace). Once I got over the initial shock, I noticed that my neighbour had a similar brace hanging from his door. On closer inspection, I saw that these beady-eyed beauties were in fact Partridge.
Slightly bemused by the appearance of these birds, I headed into my flat trying not to knock them off the door knob. A few hours later I received a knock on my door. My neighbour.
Him: 'Hope you don't mind the birds? I haven't got anywhere else to hang them.'
Me: 'No, not at all. Gave me a bit of a shock when I walked in, but it is fine. Would you rather I put them in my shed?'
Him: 'No - they are fine there. Don't suppose you like game?'
Me: [BINGO!] 'I love game'
Him: 'Why not keep that brace for yourself then?'
In the weeks that followed, I was lucky to receive sporadic offerings of a similar kind following his weekend shooting excursions. Pheasant, partridge, wood pigeon - sadly never any grouse! Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have been so lucky of late. He has a new girlfriend, perhaps she doesn't approve of his country pursuit. Anyway, I have been feeling somewhat deprived and found myself throwing a pack of pheasant thigh and breast meat into my trolley in a certain well-known, upmarket supermarket earlier this week.
Waitrose has a good selection of game, as it happens. I was rather impressed. I shall go back. Or rather I would if it were not for the baffling 'instructions' on the pheasant packaging. I had decided I would make a big casserole which I would then freeze into individual portions. For emergencies. As I took the meat out of the packet I happened to glance upon a notice on the wrapper that said 'once cooked, do not re-heat'. Why? In my book, casseroles always taste better the second outing, once the flavours have had time to mingle. Why, if the meat is fresh, should the casserole not be frozen then carefully re-heated on another occasion? If anyone can shed any light on this, I would be most grateful.
Anyway, here is the recipe for the casserole. I decided to use cider - the appley flavour was delicious with the pheasant. Definitely one to repeat. I made it up as I went along - next time, I think I would add leeks too. It may not be very photogenic (does anyone have any tips for making stews/casseroles look attractive?!), but it tasted absolutely delicious.
Pheasant Casserole with Cider
Ingredients (serves 4)
500g pheasant boned pheasant thighs (or combination of breast and thigh)
2 medium onions
1 large clove garlic
2 large carrots
2 sticks celery
1 pint cider
1 tbsp olive oil
Bouquet garni and/or sprig or two of thyme
Salt and pepper
1. Pre-heat oven to 150C. Heat oil in a large casserole. Brown the meat evenly on all sides and set to one side, covered to keep warm.
2. Slice the onion and celery. Dice the carrot. Finely chop the garlic. Soften the veg for five minutes in the casserole, adding a little more oil if needed.
3. Slice the mushrooms and add to the pot, along with the browned meat. Season.
4. Add the cider so that the ingredients are covered - you may only need 3/4 pint. Add bay leaf, bouquet garni and/or thyme. Turn heat up a little and bring to simmering point - give a good stir.
5. Place in the oven and cook at 150C for 50-60 minutes. Check a couple of times during cooking in case the liquid needs topping up. If so, add more cider or a little chicken stock. Serve with fluffy mashed potatoes and greens, or celeriac mash.
Notes - The sauce is quite broth-like. If you prefer a thicker sauce, sprinkle a little seasoned flour over the meat prior to browning. You could also add some cream for more of a dinner party type dish - I stirred some cream into a little and it was good. But I actually think I preferred the non-creamy version (did I actually say that? I preferred the non-creamy version? I am clearly not yet fully better!).