Pheasants! The game bird’s answer to chicken.
I hear my grouse keeper friends chuckling to themselves at that statement which I made in a recent podcast for US show; ‘From The Backburner’. The amusement comes from a bit of healthy banter between gamekeepers. In essence, however, they all do a fantastic job producing the wonderful variety of game we enjoy in the UK. Both the shooting and eating.
Pheasants are by far the most abundant and commonly shot game bird in the UK. Non-native, they originated from Asia and are thought to have been brought to the UK by the Normans in the 11th century. Funny how we still classify them as non-native, can you imagine suggesting that about people? But some anti-shooting movements have tried to base their arguments on this non-native status.
Nevertheless, if we view them in the context of a game bird which is produced for ultimate human consumption, then does any of that really matter? What I am much more interested in is their value to the economy (this is much bigger than even the surveys suggest so I won’t waste my breath, we know this value) and nutritional benefit.
Nutritionally pheasant yields more protein and lower fat than chicken, however, it is the iron and selenium that really gives the game it’s superiority. Pheasant contains five times the iron and more than three times the selenium found in chicken, this is definitely something to shout about. This superior nutritional value is the reason why you will feel fuller from less meat, you are getting your needs met quicker.
When cooking all game you should follow a basic rule; hot & fast or slow & low. (Yes, I did compare it to having sex!)
Pheasant has historically had an awful reputation for drying out quickly. If you remember the low-fat content it is easy to see how this happens. The hot & fast method will seal the moisture and flavour in, and you are stopping the cooking before anything is impaired. Conversely slow & low never gets hot enough to dry the meat and the gradual method preserves the flavours. Anything in-between can result in disaster. In almost every recipe or method you do need to add some additional fat to protect the inherent fat of the meat being cooked out.
Many chicken recipes can be adapted for pheasant with delicious results. For those people I meet who have never tried pheasant, I often explain that it’s like chicken with flavour. This is because it moves more and has eaten a varied diet, which along with the higher mineral content all increases the flavour of the meat which we consume.
So go ahead and experiment, just remember those fundamental rules.
A super simple supper which works great all year round.
2 large/4 small leeks
150ml Double Cream
150g Wensleydale cheese
4 Pheasant Breasts
Caraway seeds (optional)
4 large yellow potatoes
Finely slice the leeks, discarding the very green tops. Place in a casserole dish, and season lightly with good-quality sea salt. Pour over the double cream, sprinkle in the caraway seeds if using and crumble the Wensleydale cheese over the top.
Tidy the pheasant breasts by removing any sinew and fat, then chop them into bold pieces.
Heat a skillet to medium-hot, add a lug of local rapeseed oil and pop the pheasant in. Cook it only enough to brown the pieces on all sides, no more! The transfer on top of the leeks.
Top the whole dish with potatoes, peeled and ideally sliced with a mandolin(if you are not brave enough for that scary bit of kit, just slice them as thin as you can!).
Brush the potato top with melted butter, fit the lid on the dish and place in a 180°c pre-heated oven for 35 minutes. Remove the lid for the last 10 minutes of cooking to give a golden finish.
Serve in bowls with some extra veggies if you really must…but to me, it’s perfectly easy as it is!