Last November we started getting game birds, chiefly grouse and pheasant, from Mr. McLarney, who hunts them with his English pointer. In exchange for the wild poultry, I provide Mrs. McLarney with a recipe for their preparation.
Cooking grouse and pheasant is fairly new to me, and I’m still figuring out the whole hanging-plucking-gutting-cooking thing.
From the cook’s perspective, the ideal game bird (or rabbit) is shot cleanly in the head. That way there’s no shot hidden in the meat. You get a higher yield, and diners won’t unwittingly bite down on a piece of lead. I have very little experience with guns, but apparently getting that head shot is relatively easy when the slow-witted bird is standing on the ground. Mr. McLarney’s birds are flushed from the grass and shot in flight, which makes it next to impossible to get a clean headshot. The hard fall to the ground often breaks some of the bones and causes bleeding. The damaged flesh has to be cut away before cooking.
I’m very interested in hanging the birds, which is supposed to make the meat more tender and flavourful, but the gunshot wounds and bruises that result from the flushing-method make me hesitant.
My bewilderment continues once the birds are in my kitchen. Purists insist on dry-plucking game birds in order to preserve the skin, which is considered a gastonomic delight. I’ve tried this a couple times now, and have found the skin of both grouse and pheasant to be inedibly rubbery.
As far as cooking, most sources, including Charlie Trotter’s book Meat and Game, say that the birds can be roasted to just-doneness and yield moist, tender flesh. I haven’t had any luck with dry-heat methods. My birds have all required a bit of stewing or braising, though maybe only 45 to 60 minutes.
In that vein, the most successful dish this year was pheasant pot pie. Fergus Henderson has popularized the combination of pheasant and pig trotter. The gelatin produced by cooking out the trotter goes a long way to masking any dryness in the pheasant. In the recipe below, the procedure is adapted from Henderson.
Pheasant Pot Pie
- 1 pig trotter
- 1 L stock, either pheasant, chicken, or pork
- 1 pheasant, skinned and jointed
- 1/2 white onion, small dice
- 1 carrot, peeled, small dice
- 1 rib celery, small dice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry apple cider
- 1/2 cup cooked wild rice
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 small bundle sage
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 12 oz of your favourite flaky pie dough
For the filling:
- Season the trotter and pheasant pieces with salt and pepper. In a braising pot, sear the meat over high heat until thoroughly browned. Remove from the pot and reserve. Lower the heat to medium-low.
- In the same pot, sweat the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic until translucent. Do not brown the vegetables. Remove from the pot and reserve.
- Deglaze the pot with the apple cider and reduce the liquid by 3/4. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the trotter and simmer until very tender, about 2 hours.
- Add the jointed, browned pheasant to the pot. Return the stock to a boil and simmer until the pheasant is cooked through, roughly 15 minutes. Remove the trotter and pheasant from the pot.
- Add the cooked vegetables to the pot and simmer gently for 30 minutes. In the mean time, pull the meat from the trotter and pheasant (be sure that there are not bones left in the meat!) Pull or chop the meat into large pieces.
- Add the herbs to the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the herbs and discard. Add the chopped meat and wild rice to the pot.
- In a separate pan, melt the butter. Once it is foaming, add the flour. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the flour is just starting to colour and becomes very aromatic, about 10 minutes. This is the roux.
- Stir the roux into the other ingredients. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the cream. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- At this point the filling can be chilled and kept in the fridge for a few days.
- Spoon the filling into an oven-proof ceramic dish. This can be one casserole, or several individual ramekins. Roll out the pie dough to 1/8″ thickness. Press the pie dough over the filling. Cut a few holes in the dough to vent the filling. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then at 350°F until the crust is golden to amber, about another 40 minutes.
- Let the pie rest for 10 minutes before serving.