Roast pheasant for dinner
On a recent troll of the after-holiday, year-end goodies at my local Harris Teeter, which includes the free-standing freezer in the meat department (as well as the carts at the front of the store), I found pheasants on sale so I decided we (neighbors and friends) needed to have pheasant–especially since at least one had not tasted pheasant.
This is a first for me–I’ve never cooked farm-raised pheasant before; I’ve always cooked the wild birds that we got by hunting. Those we always braised since they could be old and tough. I went to the McFarlane website Pheasant for Dinner to see what information I could find. I guess these are not likely to be either old or tough, so I thought about roasting–then I decided that cooked in my Romertopf might be best since pheasants–even farm raised don’t have a lot of fat on them. I decided that brown basmati rice would cook at the same time under the cut up birds; kind of self-seasoning with the pheasant juices–and whatever else I decided on.
Since this was my first crack at farm-raised birds, I decided to seek expert consultation–from Mike Thomas in the meat department at Harris Teeter, thinking it likely that he’d be able to tell me more about the birds and how they would cook. He agreed that the Romertopf should be a good way–so that decision was made.
As for seasoning, I was still debating. I wanted tangerines, but couldn’t find them. Tangelos? Well, maybe. The meat of the tangelos was not very tasty, so I got Mandarin oranges as well, but use only the tangelos as the mandarin oranges were too sweet.
I originally planned to do fingerling potatoes in the Romertopf with the birds, but I couldn’t get my head around orange and potato together, so I changed to brown basmati rice instead since it could also cook right with the birds in the Romertopf.
My next decision was whole or cut up. I finally decided that cut up would be best–so that I could use the carcasses to make some stock for cooking the rice. So get out the knives! I found a good demonstration on cutting up a pheasant at the McFarlane website–as I thought it’s like disjointing a chicken. Since it’s not something I do all that often when doing single-serving cooking, it did take a bit, but I got them cut up. I left bones in–even in the breasts since I think there is a lot of flavor in meat on the bone.
The backs, wings, necks, and other miscellaneous pieces, with carrot, onion, and bay leaves went into the stockpot (after browning). Simmered and skimmed I had a good start on the rice.
I minced two medium onions, four large cloves of garlic, and sautéed these with the rice before adding it to the soaked Romertopf with the rinsed basmati rice (two cups) with stock. I added the zest of two tangelos to the rice. I pulled the meat from the stock bones and the giblets, chopped them finely, and added those to the rice–kind of a “dirty” rice here. That plus the 4 cups of stock went into the soaked Romertopf with the pheasant pieces on top, and into a cold oven, as usual with the Romertopf.
For a sauce, I modeled it after the one used for duck with fresh figs; I reduced the remaining pheasant stock and the juice of one tangelo slowly to about 1-1/2 cups–it’s not intended to be thick–more “au jus”. It needed a bit of sweetness despite the tangelo juice. After tasting both thyme honey and leatherwood honey, I opted for the leatherwood, since there was thyme with the bird and the leatherwood added a “dark” contrast to the tangelo and the meatiness of the stock.
(It looked great when I opened the Romertopf, but I was too intent on eating to stop and take pictures.)
My friends brought some awesome roasted Brussels sprouts (with bacon and garlic) to accompany the pheasant–a good meal, with good company!
I used the ratio suggested for the brown basmati rice, but it was just a bit soupy. Next time I’ll use 1 part rice to 1.5 water. Otherwise I was pretty happy with the results–we certainly made a dent it the rice and the pheasant.
The farm-raised pheasants are more chicken-like than wild-pheasant-like–a little disappointing if you are used to the wild ones. I’d cook them again–if I find them on sale, but I’d really rather have the wild ones, though I certainly wouldn’t have been roasting them.
Not knowing the flavor of the farm-raised birds made choosing a wine a bit difficult. We drank a 2012 Ravenswood “Besieged” with it, and it worked well. This limited release is a blend containing 35% Carignane, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Zinfandel, 13% Mourvedre, 9% Alicante Bouschet, and 5% Barbera. (This was a wine that I stumbled upon while doing my shopping one Saturday at the local Harris Teeter. I’m a definite Alicante Bouschet fan and this blend was very mellow, and fruity so I did something that I don’t do often–I bought a half case of it–and I think I’m going to wish I had more of it.