A starting note about pheasants. In many parts of the world these are semi-farmed birds that are grown on large, well-managed ranges and only sold by respectable vendors. In other parts, they are totally wild and are shot by all sorts of people. If you buy a pheasant from a qualified butcher you will get a bird that has been plucked and the bits that are not fit for human consumption removed (but it may still contain the liver, kidneys, heart etc). If you buy your pheasant from another source (a farmer, a chap in the pub) you may get a bird that you will have to pluck and clean yourself using techniques not described here.
If the pheasants are wild birds that have been shot, they will be bloody animals (unlike farmed chicken that have never got a haemoglobin count above nil in their darkened cages) and they may have (non-toxic) lead shot in them.
- As many pheasants as you want to cook (whole and as fresh as possible - pheasants are like cheese, they don't immediately go off but they do become more powerful with age - and the smell midway through cooking can resemble the smell of feet with an advanced fungal condition). One pheasant is normally enough for two people but cold pheasant is a treat.
- A lemon
- Some sugar
- A carrot
- A small onion (or half an onion)
- Some port or sweet sherry
- Fresh marjoram and thyme (dried will do if necesssary)
- Roasting veggies (potatoes, onions, pumpkin, parsnip)
- Steaming veggies (carrots, snow peas, beans, curly kale, cauliflower, broccoli)
This recipe takes about 2 hours if you do only one thing at a time and about 1:30 if you do things together. It is fairly labour-intensive, so have somebody else available to entertain your guests while you cook or, if have a big kitchen, entertain everyone in there.
Turn the oven on to 200°C (400°F).
Take each pheasant, lay it on its breast and with a very sharp cook's knife, cut out its backbone (be rough). Throw the bone onto a small baking tray. Scrape all of the insides of the bird and add them to the tray. Attempt to cut out as much of the rib cage as you can and add them to the tray as well. Bits of the insides that touch the outsides can make the outsides taste astonishingly bitter when it is cooked.
Coarsely dice the onion and carrot and add them to the tray.
Bake the bones, insides, carrot and onion for 15 to 20 minutes until browned/soft.
Place the pheasants on a large baking tray breasts up (this is a second tray). Squash them flat (this should be easy as you have removed their backbones and most of their rib cages). Sprinkle with lemon juice (from the lemon) and a very little sugar, some chopped marjoram, thyme and lemon peel (also from the lemon). Leave to moulder for a while.
Cut up lots of potatoes and any other veggies for roasting.
Take the bones, insides etc out of the oven and add to a large saucepan, cover with a litre1 of water, sprigs of marjoram and thyme and a goodly splash of the port or sweet sherry. Bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour.
Put the potatoes etc on to roast using your favourite timings (you have an hour to play with, so stick them in when you want to). Keep in mind that parsnip and sweet potatoes take half as long to roast as big chunks of normal potato (this is a pheasant recipe, read about roasting veggies somewhere else).
Put the pheasants into the oven (still at 200°C (400°F)) for 12 minutes.
Put your steaming water on to boil.
Turn the oven down to 180°C (350°F) for another 12 minutes of pheasant roasting.
Start steaming your veggies (cauliflower and pumpkin take 15 minutes; sweet potato and broccoli take 10 and peas, beans, courgettes etc take 5).
Turn the pheasants over, insides up for two minutes.
Take the pheasants out of the oven and put somewhere. Lie them breast up (ie turn them back over).
Turn off the simmering bones etc. and strain them into a jug (press them if necessary). You can throw the bones, insides and dead veggies away.
Dish up the roast veggies, steamed veggies.
If you are an expert carver pheasants are very easy to carve up. If not, use your sharp knife (cleaned) and cut the pheasants in half (which should be enough for a hungry person).
Spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the cooling liquor.
While the Bones are Baking
Once the Bones are Cooked
While the Bones are Simmering
With 30 minutes to go
With 20 minutes to go
With 18 minutes to go
With 15 minutes to go
With 6 minutes to go
With 4 minutes to go
Dabs of butter can be placed on the breasts of the pheasants when they sit on the bench covered in lemon juice.
You can add cream to the bone liquor just before your serve it (only add cream to what you intend to eat - the rest of the liquor should be used for risotto or some other recipe which requires fabulous stock).
Take the legs off the pheasants when you remove the backbones and roast them alongside the birds.
The wings have very tough tendons in them (almost like small bones). You can leave them aside when carving for eating with fingers later on.
You can add a splash of brandy to the stock/liquor when it has about 30 minutes to go. It tastes quite nice.
Some people believe that pheasant should be covered with bacon to prevent it burning. This is unnecessary because this recipe doesn't cook the birds for very long. However roasted bacon is very nice, so stick some in if you like.