By Harry Kaufman, Garden Café Head Chef
The game season in the UK runs from mid August (the glorious 12th when the hunting of grouse is allowed) to the end of January. Game has long played a part in British cooking and during the winter months it’s something that we like to have on the menu as much as possible. Game can be an intimidating thing to eat, let alone cook. Pheasant is one game bird that the majority of meat-eaters should be able to enjoy. It has less iron flavour than most of the other game birds and tastes a bit like a more flavourful version of chicken.
We put it on the menu recently in the form of a pheasant and bacon pie. One of the things that often puts people off cooking game birds is that, because of their leanness, they require fairly careful cooking. This is avoided in this pie recipe as we cook the birds slowly in chicken stock so the meat stays beautifully moist.
1 x pheasant
100g x pancetta cut into very thick lardons
1 x large onion cut into dice
1 x carrot peeled and cut into dice
1 x leek cut into pound coin-thickness rings
1.2lt of light chicken stock
Atora suet pastry
- Cut your pheasant into quarters (or ask your butcher to do this), season them generously with salt and pepper and then, on a medium heat, fry the pheasant until they are golden. You want a nice covering of colour but don’t worry too much. Remove the pheasant to a tray or bowl.
- On a low heat sweat your vegetables (along with your bouquet garni) in the same pan. Once they are looking translucent you are good to go. Add your big chunks of bacon and a glug of white wine. When this has reduced by half add your pheasant back in and enough chicken stock (you can top up with water or vegetable stock) so the meat is not quite submerged. Think apple bobbing.
- Bring everything to the boil very gently. If you are using a casserole dish then pop the lid on but otherwise cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven for 45 mins at 150 ˚C.
- After 45 mins pull the dish out of the oven and leave to partially cool. When cooking meat in liquid it’s important to let it cool in that liquid as otherwise it will steam itself dry. It’s hard to imagine that something cooked in liquid could go dry but it certainly can.
- Once the meat is cool enough to handle pull the meat out and then separate the cooking liquor and vegetables. You want both so don’t discard either. Get rid of the bouquet garni as it has done its work.
- Pick the pheasant meat off the bone. Larger chunks are better but don’t worry too much, The meat on the drumsticks tends to be very stringy and chewy so it’s best to discard it (not worth the hassle!)
- Measure your liquor. You want about 1.2lt of liquor to make the sauce. If you used lots of water to cook the pheasant you can reduce the liquor to make it tastier. Either way you want to heat the liquor back up to a simmer.
- In a saucepan melt 100g of butter and then mix in 100g of flour. Cook them out together on a low heat until they smell ‘biscuity’ then start incorporating the hot pheasant stock a ladle at a time. The first ladle will make the butter/flour mixture seize up. This seems weird as you’re adding liquid but don’t worry. Keep stirring for all your life’s worth and as you add more liquid it will start to come good. As it gets looser it’s a good idea to switch to a whisk. Once all the liquid is added you should have a velvety smooth sauce. Cook it out on a low heat for 15 minutes to ensure the flour is cooked and then season it with salt and pepper. You’ve made a velouté which is one of the five ‘mother sauces’ that make up the backbone of French cuisine.
- Add all of the meat and vegetables back to the velouté and you’ve got yourself a pie mix ready to go.
- This is where there is something of an admission: we’re making a pie that some people might not consider a pie. It’s a stew with a lid. You can use any savoury pastry you like to finish your pie but we prefer suet pastry. Atora suet is widely available in the UK and makes a fantastic pastry if you follow the instructions on the side of the packet.
- When your pastry is made let it rest for at least an hour and then roll it out in to the shape of your pie dish and to the thickness of two pound coins on top of each other. Fill your pie dish with mix and brush the rim with egg wash. Pop your lid on top and press it into the rim of the dish with your thumbs. Now brush the top of the pie with egg wash and pierce a small hole in the middle to allow steam to escape.
- Put the pie into your oven (pre-heated to 180˚C). It will take roughly 25 mins but is done when the lid is golden brown all over.
Fancy trying Harry’s cooking for yourself? Book a table at the Garden Café