Pheasant with Green Chiles

I’ve done my usual scrounge through the post-holiday leftover at the grocery store, as usual, come home with some goodies. My local Harris Teeter had pheasants on sale so I’m looking for inspiration.

Admittedly, I’m starting with farm-raised pheasant rather than wild. The flavor is different–milder–and as the wild are not so fat and sassy as farm-raised, the wild can be trickier to cook.  I have farm-raised (still good eating) so I have a bit more freedom in how to cook them.  If you’re fortunate enough to have wild pheasant, here’s some information on cooking those. (If you have wild ones, I’d love to help you eat those–and perhaps pick a wine to go with them.)

The post that I’ve reblogged below provided some inspirations for a starting place.

the Chef Mimi Blog

In my post entitled Pheasant, I talked about how for years I’d disregarded the lovely pheasant as a gourmet protein, and decided it was finally time to give it the respect it deserves. I’ve had so many pheasants in my freezer over the years, but to me they were just fiddly, bony little birds to which I had no time to dedicate.

Pheasants not only require some butchering and de-boning skills, one must also be careful cooking them. Pheasant breasts, which I’m cooking today, are darker than chicken breasts, but not moist like chicken thighs or dark turkey meat. So I knew I had to be patient and attentive, which are not my strong suits.

The recipe that I immediately thought of using with the pheasant breasts is one from the Africa cookbook of the Foods of the World cookbook series. The recipe is from South Africa, and the…

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Cornish hen braised in milk

sage, cinnamon, garlic and lemon

I had an earlier post about braising chicken in milk, when I tried the recipe using chicken pieces since that gave me something more like a single serving.  Flavor was great, but I thought that for something a bit scaled down, but more in keeping with the original recipe, I would try this with a Cornish  hen and see how that worked. One of the advantages of these little birds is that they are more in keeping with  Jamie Oliver’s recipe, rather than the chicken parts that I tried originally. This might be a way to keep with the spirit of the original recipe, but scale it down to something closer to single-serving size.  While this is a recipe that might do well on second runs, I really don’t want as much as whole chicken would make.

Well, the weather has turned to fall with blowing leaves, and chilly temperatures so this seems an excellent time to try this again…and my grocery shopping provided me with a lovely price on a pair of (frozen) Cornish hens–about 1 to 1-1/4 pounds each.

A Cornish hen–either male or female regardless of calling it a “hen”–is a special breed of chicken (in the USA sometimes also called a poussin, though that is really French for a very young, small chicken that is usually about a pound in weight).  Since my supermarket does not offer poussins, but does have the Cornish hen (which is a young, hybrid chicken–of Rock Cornish with some other breed–not over 2 pounds by USDA specifications) that’s what I’ll use; I was fortunate enough to find some hens that were just about a pound or a pound and a quarter each.

While browsing some of my favorite blogs, I found a discussion of Jamie Oliver’s recipe–where an oversight  of lid on instead of off for part of the time was compared to the bird braised in an open pot.  This made me think of the French chicken in a pot that I had cook recently–one of the things that was  impressive about that was how the flavors seemed to permeate the meat itself.  I decided to try this with the  lid on for part of the time just for that reason.  (I do have two Cornish hens–so maybe I need to do the same here–one each way!

One of the things I discovered when doing the chicken parts was that just because you are using 1 pound of chicken instead of 4 pounds, you might not want to just take a quarter of the seasoning ingredients–the flavor was good, but perhaps a bit on the wimpy side; so I have to find a way to optimize that when cutting the recipe to single-serving size.  I decided that this time, I will make up the seasonings and milk as if I were doing the large chicken (in the 2 cups of milk).  I thought I’d simmer the seasonings in the milk and taste to see what that was like, cool it and add what seemed appropriate for the size of my bird and my pot.

The petit brasier was a no go–too big around–so I used my 4-quart All-Clad pot as being the closest thing to a “small” dutch oven.  The whole stick of butter was obviously not necessary so I used just enough (about 2 tablespoons) with the olive oil (about 2 tablespoons as well) to brown the hen.  (One thing I did discover is that the skin on a Cornish hen is much more fragile and has much less fat under it than does a more mature chicken.)  Just the smell of the hen browning in the butter and the olive oil is fabulous!

browned bird on plate

There was not much fat in the cavity either so I returned about half of the butter/olive oil mixture to the pot with the chicken.  Giblets were mostly not included–just the neck, but I browned that and included it in the braising pot for  extra flavor.

So here’s my bird, browned, and ready to go back into the pot to braise with the seasoned milk.  (Next time I’m doing a Cornish hen or poussin, I think that I’ll try using just half the milk with half to three-quarters of seasonings even though these birds are only about a quarter the weight of the chicken called for in the original recipe.)

browned bird in the pot with milk and seasonings

After steeping the other seasonings in the warm milk, and then letting it cool a bit, I tasted it–very lemony and sage-y, but not much garlic or cinnamon yet; (that came out later in the braising process).  I divided the milk and the other seasonings in about half since that looked like about the right amount of liquid (the eyeball test!!).  It took about 1 cup of milk (and I added half the solids) so the rest went into the freezer for a repeat, or perhaps just to braise some chicken thighs or poach some breasts. ( I did put the cinnamon into the braising pot with this bird).

braised Cornish hen

Since it was a smaller bird and the braising liquid was already warm, I reduced the oven temperature to 325 ° F since I wanted enough braising time to let the flavors actually get into the meat (as it did in the French chicken in a pot).  I decided to go with lid-on for about 30 or 35 minutes and see how it looked then, and finish the braising with the lid off so that the liquids reduced more.

bird in pot after 30 minutes in the oven with lid off

lid off for about 30 minutes

After another 30 minutes in the oven with the lid off, the sauce has reduced some and it looks falling-off-the-bone tender.

Somewhere along the way, all those unlikely, highly individual, and potent seasonings have turned into a complex, earthy  taste and aroma.

I’m ready to eat!

Admittedly this does not look like it’s going to be a dish that lends itself to elegant presentation, but it’s certainly a keeper for comfort food.  Braised in a container that could go directly to the table it would make a nice casual presentation as the skin does brown more after the lid comes off.

•♦•«»•♦•

The  pot  that I used was just a bit deeper than I might have liked, but better too deep than too wide since that would need too much liquid to reduce by the time the hen was done.  Unfortunately, the bird was just a bit too tall to fit into my small chef’s pan–but this was close enough.  The sauce does look “curdled” but tastes wonderful!  Just the thing for a damp, drizzly, autumn or winter evening!

chocolate mug with sage-lemons IMG_4796The original recipe for a whole chicken would be great for causal company–this is definitely a keeper!   I had this with basmati rice, roasted baby carrots and baby zucchini.  Sautéed  spinach, or maybe broccoli raab would be good too.  I think that the slight bitterness of the broccoli raab would be a great contrast to the way that these seasonings meld into a very earthy background to the chicken.

A son goût!

Chicken braised in milk.

Always on the lookout for a new taste experience, while checking out favorite blogs and  websites, I found a recipe that I just had to try:  chicken braised in milk from Jamie Oliver’s website.  I’ve made pork braised in milk (a recipe from one of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks) and it was scrumptious!  Reading the recipe for “Chicken in Milk” I was intrigued by the seasoning–sage, garlic, cinnamon, and lemon.  Not a combination that I had thought, but considering the source I thought it worth a try.  Not wanting a whole chicken, I decided to try it with my favorite chicken parts–thighs.  It seemed like another great dish to test out the petit brasier.  I even found a friend willing to test the results with me.

Since I had about half the weight in thighs of the chicken called for in the recipe, I went halves on the seasonings as well.  What I learned was that chicken parts were okay, but maybe not the way to go with this recipe, and that halves on the seasoning was too big a cut.  The flavor combination was a success–it was somewhat earthy, and “round” and balanced, but I think I need to try it again with more than half the amounts of seasoning. We both felt that it could have been more highly seasoned, but it was a recipe that definitely goes into my “keepers” file.  Work on modifying it as a one-person meal is going to continue.

This was one of the times that I broke a rule that I usually follow:  make the recipe just “as is” before you try modifying it; so it’s back to the kitchen with this one–probably going to have to invite friends and do a whole chicken before I try cutting it down again;  I need  to know  what it would be like as intended so that I know how to modify the seasoning.  It’s not always easy to modify a recipe for single-serving cooking, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Now that the holidays are past and things are settling down a bit, I think I’ll give it another try–my friends are used to me having a “food crisis”–and usually willing to participate.  I think it would be a good time to check out a bottle of good white Burgundy wine as well.    Since I’ve been considering this, I nabbed a couple of Cornish game hens on one of my trips through the grocery store, thinking that this might work as a single serving adaptation.  You can expect updates on this to follow–the full recipe and adaptations for one or two servings. If you need (or want) to serve four, it’s a recipe worth making!