Pheasant is the main thing that comes home from the shoot, sometimes duck, then more rarely a partridge, a grouse and very rarely a woodcock. So with lots of pheasant filling up the freezer I have been trying to find inventive ways of serving it. Roast pheasant often dries out when cooked, and just doesn’t do the bird justice really. It is better in a casserole or pie I think. I've made a Pheasant Salmis in the past, a lovely French dish with a rich truffle sauce. I have also, a few times, attempted a St. John Pheasant and Trotter Pie, although delicious it takes hours, hours and hours, and each time I have become so frustrated and annoyed by making it I have vowed never to go there again. I was going to write about it on here some time, but I am yet to find a point in time where I'm ready to relive the experience via the written word...
Pheasant is probably one of the milder game birds, the wallflower of the game world; I prefer partridge and woodcock who really up the gamey-ness levels. That was until I thought of potting it, or to be more precise, smoking it, confit-ing it and then potting it, so now I'm a pheasant convert.
I smoke the pheasant in Mr. Smokerson for 2 hours, the whole bird, with a mix of hickory and apple wood and some juniper berries. You are meant to add a small handful of woodchips, but TLI has taken to packing the whole box full with the intention of 'smoking the f**k out of them'... It works... If you don't have a smoker you can just roast them for 15 minutes instead of this stage.
To confit, put the jointed pheasant in a pot that it fits in snugly and pour over 350g of warm duck or goose fat, a standard size jar per bird. You want the fat to cover the pheasant as much as possible. Add a bay leaf and a bunch of thyme, then cook in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is soft.
When it is done take it out of the fat and leave to cool, you can keep the fat in a jar in the fridge and use again, reserve a bit to pour over the top of the finished pheasant. Then shred the pheasant meat into tiny pieces; this is best done by hand so you can discard any bits of bone, skin or fat, and you get a nice irregular course texture rather than a pâté texture if you blitz it. Add a little of the melted fat now and again to keep in from drying out and add quite a few fresh thyme leaves and some pepper. Then melt 25g of butter per bird and the juice of half a lemon and add this all to the meat.
Finally pack the meat into a jar or small pots and pour over a thin layer of the melted fat, just enough to cover, this will keep for a few months in the fridge. I find that one bird makes two regular jars of potted pheasant. You can use this method with a range of other meats, I have made Potted Duck previously, you can also try pork in the same way, which is known as pork rillettes. I have also read about potted goose and rabbit, which I'm keen to try too.
The best way to eat this potted pheasant is either slightly warmed through, or at room temperature, on hot toast with butter and a scatter of capers. I also like a little bit of Bread and Butter Pickle on the side. It's so delicious, the meat is soft and tender and smoky, the thyme and butter really add to the flavours. It's changed my view of pheasant no end...