Pheasant, though, is a great favourite of mine. When I tire of chicken, I turn to this little bird for something with a little more... oomph to it. The one major challenge that comes with cooking game is keeping the meat moist. Pheasant is naturally lean and this means that it can dry out quickly if you don't pay it a little attention. If roasting, be sure to cover the top with plenty of bacon and if possible go for a young hen rather than a cock which tends to be a little tougher. How do you know if the bird you have is hen or cock, old or young? Generally, you don't of course if you are buying your birds plucked and ready to go. Look for smaller birds - you may not get so much meat, but you will find them more suitable for roasting.
The alternative is to find some other way to cook them. Enter stage left the pot roast. I have never pot roasted anything before but have always wanted to give it a try to ring the changes. I like the idea of everything being in one... pot. The benefits for lean birds are obvious - you add liquid to the pot and put a lid on top which leads to a gentle steaming of the meat. All the liquid in the bottom keeps everything nice and moist, plus it makes for delicious broth-like juice to pour over the meat. What took me so long to discover this method? It really is superb. I think I will try it with chicken next time, though I imagine the remaining liquid would be quite greasy.
Pot-Roast Pheasant with Celeriac Mash
Serves 3-4 depending on size of birds
2 pheasants, plucked with giblets removed
2 oz butter
2 tablespoon oil
5 shallots, skinned and halved*
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 small handfuls of Chanteray carrots, washed and trimmed
2 sticks of celery chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon
handful of thyme
250ml dry white wine (a dry riesling is good)
250ml chicken stock
For the celeriac mash -
1 small celeriac, peeled and cubed
3 medium floury potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 0z butter (approx)
2 tablespoons cream (approx)1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Melt half the butter and half the oil in a non-stick frying pan or a large casserole. Brown the birds on all sides.
2. Meanwhile, in the large casserole in which you intend to cook the pot roast, brown the shallots and bacon in the remaining butter and oil. When nicely coloured, add the birds to the pan and sit them on top of the shallots.
3. Throw in the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, thyme and bay leaf. Season with plenty of pepper plus a little salt (though remember that the bacon is salty). Pour over the wine and stock. Bring to the boil and then place the lid on top and place in the oven for forty minutes.
4. Around 15-20 minutes before the end of cooking time, place the celeriac and potatoes in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. Boil for around 12 minutes or until very tender. Drain and mash with butter, cream, salt and pepper. You may like to use a hand blender for this if you want a smooth mash as it is hard to mash the celeriac by hand. Place lid on pan to keep warm.
5. Remove pot roast from oven and check that pheasants are done (insert skewer into thickest part of thigh and ensure that juices run clear). If so, remove from the pan and place on carving board to rest for 5-10 minutes.
*A tip for peeling shallots - boil the kettle and pour boiling water over the shallots. Leave for around a minute before draining and running under cold water. The skins will now peel off much more easily.
Notes - this is quite a rustic style of dish and would be nice served in big bowls. You could, I suppose, make the juice into something a little more gravy-like by thickening it with a blend of flour and butter and serving the meat with more traditional roast accompaniments (roast potatoes, bread sauce etc). But it is delicious served just as it is.
Wine notes - I drank this with the same wine that I used in the pot - a dry riesling from Alsace. But it would also be good with a pinot noir, perhaps a nice juicy one from New Zealand.