Pheasant dreams

Karl Wells
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A game bird that lives up to its luxurious reputation

Every now and then I like to stick my head into my freezer and have a good rummage through.

It allows me to take stock of whatever goodies I have in there and to flag ones that should be used before they go off. Recently, I hauled out two plump pheasants I'd purchased at the supermarket earlier this year. They quickly went onto a tray and inside my fridge for slow thawing. I set my mind to thinking about pheasant recipes.

One of the reasons I wanted to taste pheasant, apart from the fact that I like game, is my fascination with the luxe image of pheasant. All my life I've been hearing references to "Pheasant under glass" on television, in movies and in print. I didn't have a clue what "under glass" meant but it sounded wonderfully posh to me. (By the way, it actually means the pheasant was cooked in cognac. It's served under a glass lid to hold in the aroma and flavour of the cognac.)

The finished product, Pheasants in Madeira a la Delia with potatoes and broccoli. - Submitted photo

Every now and then I like to stick my head into my freezer and have a good rummage through.

It allows me to take stock of whatever goodies I have in there and to flag ones that should be used before they go off. Recently, I hauled out two plump pheasants I'd purchased at the supermarket earlier this year. They quickly went onto a tray and inside my fridge for slow thawing. I set my mind to thinking about pheasant recipes.

One of the reasons I wanted to taste pheasant, apart from the fact that I like game, is my fascination with the luxe image of pheasant. All my life I've been hearing references to "Pheasant under glass" on television, in movies and in print. I didn't have a clue what "under glass" meant but it sounded wonderfully posh to me. (By the way, it actually means the pheasant was cooked in cognac. It's served under a glass lid to hold in the aroma and flavour of the cognac.)

Then there were all those old movies and shows where some corpulent king or aristocrat would scream "More pheasant!" while gorging on a sumptuous banquet of food. Invariably he'd be drinking wine from an oversized goblet as well.

Speaking of shows, I remember an episode of "Rumpole of the Bailey" where Guthrie Featherstone, Head of Chambers, wanted to treat Rumpole to a retirement dinner of "roast pheasant with game chips." Doesn't that sound delicious? (I checked out "game chips" and they're rounds of potato sliced thinly and deep-fried twice.)

Pheasant dreaming

While I was imagining myself as Henry VIII with a pheasant drumstick stuck in my gob, the telephone rang. It was my English friend Derek calling from Poole, England. Pheasants are a billion-pound industry in the United Kingdom. There are 35 million pheasants being raised on U.K. farms. After catching up on all the news I asked Derek if he ate pheasant.

"Oh goodness yes. It's road-kill over here. They're all over the place."

Derek's reference to "road-kill" reminded me of an article I'd read by the GQ food critic, Alan Richman. He described driving through the English countryside and seeing dead pheasants on the narrow roads. Automobiles had squished them. Richman was shocked that such a delicacy was being wasted. I presume he wouldn't have felt so bad about squished skunks or squished porcupines.

Derek told me that a supermarket pheasant in England costs approximately $7 Canadian. I was shocked. The frozen birds I'd purchased here (at Sobey's) cost approximately $21 each. That's three times what they pay for them in England. There's no doubt that the "luxury" image of pheasants will remain intact on this side of the pond.

Still, my white pheasants were a top quality product. They came from Flintshire Farms in Flinton, Ont., and were raised free range with plenty of good natural food. On its website, Flintshire boasts that its pheasants have been served to the Queen and Prince Philip. They also claim the birds were "served regularly at Prime Minister Chretien's residence in Ottawa."

I saw no mention of the eating habits of the current occupant of 24 Sussex Drive on the Flintshire site.

Great recipe

Having a pheasant eater on the line was too good an opportunity to waste so I asked my friend Derek how he liked to cook pheasant. Without hesitation he told me his all-time favourite pheasant recipe is Braised Pheasants in Madeira. It's a recipe he got ages ago from a book by the doyenne of British cookery, Delia Smith. Derek loves Delia because, as he says, "Her recipes never fail. They just don't."

Of course, he's absolutely right. The Delia recipe recommendation was so unequivocal I decided to search no further. (I did make a few changes to suit my palate.)

As soon as the pheasants thawed I got cooking. The dish included Madeira, white wine, shallots and garlic, every one a flavour enhancer.

Another couple joined us for the special pheasant feast. Neither of them had had pheasant before. When we finished eating, our plates were the cleanest I've seen in a long time. The pheasant and the recipe were big winners.

The Madeira-flavoured braising liquid, when thickened, became a wonderful gravy. The gravy's strong character made it a perfect match for the distinct game flavours of the pheasant. The meat was dark (which I favour) and was slightly less tender than chicken or turkey. It was quite lean as well.

Now I know why those kings in the movies yelled for more pheasant.

That's how I felt after my meal. It was so delicious. I will be trying pheasant again, but not too often. It's simply too expensive. However, for a special occasion, it's a treat fit for a king, queen, prince, and, apparently, a prime minister.

Pheasants in Madeira a la Delia

Ingredients:

2 pheasants (thawed)

10 oz low salt chicken stock

1 1/2 oz butter

1 1/2 tbsp grape seed oil

12 oz slab bacon (cut into very small cubes)

Handful finely chopped shallots

2 large garlic cloves finely chopped

5 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

12 button mushrooms

10 oz dry white wine

10 oz Madeira

1 1/2 oz flour

1 1/2 oz butter (for flour paste)

Salt and pepper

Method

Using a sharp knife, quarter each pheasant.

Brown seasoned pheasant pieces in batches in the oil and butter combined. Remove pieces to a sautÉ pan or stovetop casserole with lid.

Fry the shallots and bacon cubes until golden.

Sprinkle the shallots and bacon over the pheasant pieces. Add bay leaves, thyme sprigs, white wine and Madeira to pheasant pan.

Bring to a low boil and turn back heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove lid and add mushrooms and garlic. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes more.

Remove everything except juices to a serving dish. Mix the flour and butter to form a paste.

Bring remaining juices to a boil and reduce total liquid by a third. Add (by small bits at a time) the flour paste to the pan juices and whisk the paste into the liquid. This will gradually thicken the juices to smooth gravy.

Pour gravy over pheasant in serving dish and enjoy.

Organizations: Sobey's

Geographic location: Madeira, England, United Kingdom Poole Flinton Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • ralph
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    when do you add the chicken stock?

  • ralph
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    when do you add the chicken stock?