Roasted pheasant is a delicious alternative to the traditional giant turkey – especially if you don’t need to feed an army of guests, and you would prefer a stress-free festive experience.
There is also another good reason to eat pheasant this Christmas season… did you know that 11,000 tons of pheasants are being wasted every year? According to WRAP, pheasants are in the top 100 food items we waste in the UK. Most of this waste happens during the hunting season (October to February) and the main reason for this, we suspect, is because of their low demand.
So needless to say, it would be a good idea to bring back this wonderfully tasty game bird to our festive table, and it starts with doing away with the general belief that pheasant meat is bland and dry. How do we do this? By cooking the pheasant properly! With a few simple steps such as marinating the bird overnight, slipping herb butter between the breast meat and skin, or our favourite, barding the breast with streaky bacon, pheasant can be a deeply flavoured, tender and moist festive meat.
FOR THE PHEASANT
1 medium-sized pheasant, oven-ready
6 slices of smoked bacon
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leafs
Salt and pepper
6 tbsp unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
1 tbsp Salt
FOR THE THYME BUTTER
Mash together the butter, thyme leaves and salt.
FOR THE WHOLE ROASTED PHEASANT
Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas 4.
Gently push your fingers under the pheasant’s skin and lift as much of the skin away from the body as possible without breaking it. Insert the butter under the loosened skin. Use one-fourth for each leg and one for each breast.
Push the bay leaves under the skin, one over each breast.
Tuck the wing tips under the breasts & lay the strips of bacon over the top to cover all the breast meat.
Truss the bird. After trussing, thread the rosemary and thyme sprigs into the topmost twine loop.
Transfer to a roasting tin, place in preheated oven, and cook for around 30 – 40 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so, spoon the pan juices over the bird as it cooks.
*The most important step is not to overcook the pheasant, so check the bird’s progress at 20 minutes. To check the pheasant is correctly cooked, you can use a meat thermometer – the temperature in the thickest part of the breast reaches 59ºC. If you don’t have a thermometer – pierce with a fork, juices should run pale pinkish in colour (the meat will finish cooking as the bird rests).
Remove the pheasant from the roasting pan and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.
Cut the twine off the pheasant. Carve the pheasant, discard the bay leaves, spoon over leftover pan juices and serve with sides of your choice.
Don’t toss out the pheasant carcass, it makes a delicious broth.
HERB, HAZELNUT AND BACON STUFFING
Made to stuff your chosen bird or rolled pork joint, or as a delicious side to adorn your feasting table, this hazelnut and bacon stuffing is simply a winner!
Put together in just a couple of minutes using a handful of store cupboard ingredients, it can be whipped up in advance and stored in the fridge until needed taking the stress out of feeding a crowd.
1 white onion
Knob of butter
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
2 sage leaves
100g bacon lardons or pancetta
150g multigrain bread
1 – 2 tbsp milk
Place the hazelnuts in a dry pan over a medium heat. Toast gently for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and set aside until needed.
Finely dice the onion and place in a frying pan along with a knob of butter. Soften the onions without colouring before adding the finely chopped herbs. Cook for 1 minute to release the flavours then add the lardons. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes until slightly crispy.
Tip all the fried ingredients into a large bowl. Slice and roughly dice the bread into small cubes then add to the bowl, along with the previously toasted hazelnuts and a grating of orange zest. Crack in the egg, and add the milk before mixing all the ingredients together ensuring all the bread is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
Stuff your chosen bird with the stuffing before spooning the remaining mixture into a greased oven-proof dish and place in a pre-heated oven at 180C/Gas 4. Cook your bird according to instructions, while cooking the remaining stuffing for 30 minutes until golden and crispy on top.
Herb Stuffing Recipe & Photo by Helen Upshall