Our new cooker (A Smeg A4-8, if you're interested) is arriving today. Any time between ten and two (I had to pay extra to ensure delivery). And so that Grand Day when I can actually start cooking again is drawing closer. I'm having fun reading food porn, just before hitting the pillow, fantasising about all the new goodies we're going to be sampling in a few weeks time.
And now that autumn is here, I'm also thinking about pheasants. People don't eat enough of them, in my opinion. It's very much a country food, I think, and townies, for some bizarre reason, can't cope. But for me, pheasant is very much the taste of Autumn, with its dark meat and gamey flavours. Coming across the shot is very much part of the charm, too. But pheasant does need to be cooked properly. Part of the problem, I think, is the tendency for the meat to dry out and become stringy. But more about this in a minute.
Although the season starts on October 1st, in practice, very few pheasants are shot before the end of October- and the size and quality of the birds can be poor in this month. Early November is probably a good time to buy your pheasant. The season ends on February 1st. A hen is going to be better for roasting than a cock. What you're after, ideally, is a young-ish hen bird. Bought in early November. Already plucked. You can of course, pluck the bird yourself, or at least try to, but I find, to be honest, that it's not really worth the bother (unless you happen to shoot) when you can buy one professionally plucked from a decent butcher.
One of the most intriguing recipes for pheasant comes from Nathalie Hambro, the author of the Glenfiddich award winning Particular Delights, republished recently by Grub Street. I really like Nathalie Hambro's innovative take on food. She's not frightened of experimenting with different flavours and combinations; usally it works, sometimes, I think her recipes are a trifle weird- but that's all part of the fun and it's refreshingly original, especially if what you're seeking is a taste sensation.
Her recipe for Pheasant with Juniper Pear Butter is going to be one of the first things I'm planning to make when we finally get the new kitchen up and running. She's had the brilliant idea to use a chicken brick to cook the pheasant in. This is a stroke of genius. You' will remember the Chicken Brick. I think they were either re-invented or re-introduced by Terence Conran. Desparately trendy back in the early 70's, they've now almost become a bit of a joke- the sort of thing Islingtonites with scrubbed pine tables, William Morris wallpaper and hippy children dressed in Clothkits would want for Christmas.
But chicken bricks are a good thing: the moisture (or steam) coming off the meat is trapped within the brick, and circulates in the hot air, which, in effect, steams the meat as it roasts, thus keeping in the moisture. Perfect for lean game.
I've had a quick look online, and it's amazing how affordable pheasant is. Lidgate (the rather grand butchers in Holland Park I'm fond of) are selling their birds for £6.75. Allen's of Mayfair are selling theirs for £7.00. The Wild Meat Company are asking a very reasonable £4.95. And I expect that you could probably find even cheaper birds at local butchers out in the sticks.
Soak the chicken brick in cold water for about ten minutes. The clay in the brick will absorb the water.
Take your plucked pheasant, and wash it thoroughly. Peel a pear, and push it into the cavity of the pheasant. This will also help the pheasant to remain moist. Season the pheasant with salt and pepper. Crush some juniper berries, and rub them all over the pheasant. Sauté the prepared bird in a pan with some butter and oil, for about six minutes, so that it is lightly browned all over. The oil will help to stop the butter from burning.
Line the bottom of the chicken brick with tin foil, and put in the pheasant with its juices. Replace the top of the chicken brick, and bake in a preheated oven at 240℃ for an hour.
Now for the juniper butter: Finely chop up some shallots, and garlic. Melt some butter in a pan, and add the garlic, shallots, and the crushed juniper berries you've got left over from the pheasant. Simmer gently for about twenty minutes.
Take off the heat, and add the juice of two lemons. Season with sea salt and white pepper, and sprinkle with freshly chopped chives. Serve slices of the cooked pheasant with a small helping of the pear (in effect a stuffing), and the juniper butter sauce.
I think this might work well if you were to serve it with pearl barley. Maybe pearl barley cooked with a bit of stock, lemon juice and thyme? The piney, gin-ish, juniper flavours go beautifully with the sweet fruitiness of the pear, and the autumnal, woody gamey flavours of the pheasant. Oh god, I'm salivating as I write.