A seasonal little starter for Autumn. Danny shares an easy and straight forward recipe which serves as a great introduction to pheasant if you’ve never tried it before.
By all right accounts, I shouldn’t really be that much of a fan of game. Well, I shouldn’t be too fond of pheasant that is. Because the first time I tried this wild and rather flamboyant looking bird (pre-plucked that is) well I was left with a chipped tooth and the searing pain of embarrassment. I was visiting a mate for the weekend, who lived in rural Herefordshire and after running around the cathedral city of Hereford drinking cider and dancing the Saturday night away in dodgy club known locally as ‘Sticky Carpets’ I found myself sat at his parents table on a Sunday afternoon, feeling all dazed and confused. You may have gathered by now that I was young at the time and still quite naïve. But nevertheless I was grateful that I was being fed what I thought was a handsome but smallish looking roast chicken. In fact, I was amazed at the generosity on my plate. I mean come on, a whole chicken for one person?
Now my parents had raised me to be a polite and pleasant chap so when I was tucking into the aforementioned ‘chicken’ it did occur to me at the time that it tasted a little bit odd. But I felt that I couldn’t say anything. The meat wasn’t quite off but something wasn’t quite right either. It was also somewhat tougher than what I was used to too. The legs especially so, taut with tiny white ribbons running through the flesh. But I was famished and for the most part, everything was fine and dandy. My friend’s Mum’s gravy was gorgeous and I think I was responsible for at least two refills of the boat.
Then crack, it happened. With my jaw, I had crunched down onto something hard. Harder than bone, harder than anything that should rightly be there in the first place. Everyone around the table noticed my pain, including older and younger sisters and my friend’s father instinctively knew what had just happened.
“Found a bit of shot have we Danny?” he said, smiling.
“What do you mean shot?” I replied.
He then went on to inform me that the birds had been shot the previous weekend and that only until the day before, had been hanging nicely in their garden shed, in full plumage.
“You shoot your own chickens around here do you?” I exclaimed whilst wincing and rubbing my cheek.
There was a pause for a second or two with a couple of forks hanging around open, gawping mouths. And then the laughter erupted.
That was about 18 years ago now and whenever I return to Hereford to visit, I am still reminded of that fateful afternoon. Like I said, it’s amazing that I wasn’t put off pheasant really. But when the leaves start to brown and the colours in the sky start to change and the overwhelming smell of decay begins whiffs up my nostrils, I do look forward to eating it again
To this day though, I always sift carefully through juicy, hot pheasant meat; tentatively probing with my molars, savouring the flesh. Rather than going in for the chomp and the kill.
I don’t think I could afford the dentist bills.
Warm pheasant salad with apple, blackberries and cobnuts
This is a seasonal little starter that I like to cook at home or for supper clubs in the past which is really easy and straight forward and serves as a great introduction to pheasant if you’ve never tried it before.
2 pheasants (or a brace – see, I’ve come a long way)
Small bunch of thyme
1 garlic clove
2 small cox apples
10 cobnuts or hazelnuts, shelled and toasted
Large bag of salad leaves
1 tbsp cider vinegar
5 tbsp of rapeseed oil (I use Farringtons Mellow Yellow)
Salt and freshly ground pepper.
First joint your pheasant, removing the breast and legs from the carcass and place into a bowl. Pick the thyme leaves and crush the garlic and add to the bowl with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix, then cover and leave to marinate for half an hour. Turn your oven on to 180C.
Meanwhile make your salad dressing by crushing half the blackberries in another bowl with a fork. Whisk in the cider vinegar and remaining rapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper. Leave to stand.
Take a large frying pan (or two smaller ones) and place over a medium to high heat on the hob, add the pheasant pieces skin side down and fry for about 2 minutes and then turn and place the pan in the oven for 8-10 minutes. You want the pheasant to be just cooked through. Leave in a warm place.
Take both apples, core and slice one into wafers and cut the other into a small dice. Roughly chop the cobnuts and rinse your salad leaves (if necessary). Return to your dressing and push through a sieve with the back of a spoon into another bowl.
Plate up by piling a small bunch of leaves in the centre of each plate and scatter some diced apple and cobnuts on top, along with a couple of the remaining blackberries. To the side of the salad, fan five of the apple wafers to create a semi-circle. Drizzle the blackberry dress over the leaves and then place the pheasant breast on top. And put the leg on top of the apple fan. Drizzle a small amount of rapeseed and any remaining dressing around the outside of the plate
Inspired? For more pheasant recipes visit Great British Chefs collection.