Pheasant: are you game for it?

Want to impress your friends with a memorable dinner party meal – how about West Country pheasant from Dorset, a fancy bird that tastes rich and gamey? Sounds expensive right, like the kind of thing you’d by in Fortnum and Mason, or Waitrose at the very least…

Try Aldi. Yep, really. The game season may not have long left to run, but the discount chain Aldi started stocking Brookfield Game pheasant last week for just £3.99 a bird – and demand has been so high that the hunting society Taste of Game has had to send a message out to all pheasant shoots in order to keep up with sales. It’s part of a new luxury range that Aldi has introduced to try and lure in more middle-class shoppers. And if their sales figures are anything to go by, it’s working.

But once you’ve got your bargain bird, then what? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests pot-roasting it to keep it moist, “pheasant has a slight tendency to dryness but pot-roasting, with plenty of rich chorizo to provide a little fat and extra flavour, ensures a very satisfying result.”

“Game is generally very lean due to the fact the animals are constantly on the move and truly wild. So it’s important to be careful when cooking it and taking precautions to stop the meat drying out,” confirms Ben Tish, Chef Director at the Salt Yard group of restaurants. “I brine it and wrap it in fatty lardo (cured pork back fat) to help it to self-baste and lubricate while I’m grilling it – it is also rather delicious!”

“You can’t beat a traditional pheasant with bread sauce,” says Daniel Kent, head chef at Wilton’s, which is renowned for it’s game. His advice? “Early on, roast them; but like a chef. Colour them in the pan and then baste with butter and cook in the oven 180c for 12 minutes. I do it for three minutes on each side so it is basted on each and that rich butter flavour will go through the whole bird, and don’t forget to rest it.”

river cottage pheasant

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls’ pot-roast pheasant with chorizo, butter beans and parsley

Serves 4

A knob of butter

3 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil

2 onions, finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

A few sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

2 oven-ready pheasants (whole or jointed)

300g cooking chorizo, skin removed and cut into 2cm chunks

400ml white wine

500ml vegetable, chicken or light pheasant stock

400g tin of butter beans, drained and rinsed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place a large flameproof casserole (one that will accommodate both birds) over a medium heat and heat the butter with 1 tablespoon of the oil until foaming. Add the onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and slightly golden.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan. Season the pheasants all over with salt and pepper, add to the pan and brown on all sides over a high heat for 3–4 minutes. Transfer to the casserole. Add the chorizo to the frying pan and fry for 3–4 minutes, until browned, then add to the casserole too.

Deglaze the frying pan by pouring in a little of the wine and stirring to scrape up any bits from the base of the pan. Add to the pheasants with the rest of the wine, the stock and the butter beans. The liquid doesn’t need to cover the birds but it should come at least halfway up.

Bring to a simmer, cover and place in an oven preheated to 140°C/Gas Mark 1. Cook for 2 hours, until the birds are tender. Remove the pheasants from the casserole and leave to rest in a warm place for 15–20 minutes. If the chorizo has released a lot of fat, skim some off the juices in the pan. Cut the birds into halves or quarters and divide between 4 warm plates. Spoon over the chorizo, beans and sauce, and serve with mash or lots of bread.


Ben Tish’s Whole bbq  pheasant in lardo with porcini, crispy garlic and truffle butter

Serves 4

You’ll need a temperature probe and a lump of hard wood for this recipe

1 quantity of red meat brine

2 whole oven ready pheasants

50g finely sliced strips of lardo or pancetta

sea salt, black pepper and olive oil for cooking

200g porcini mushrooms or large meaty mushrooms such as king oyster, trimmed and cleaned

2 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely sliced

sea salt, black pepper and olive

Truffle butter

100g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

15ml white truffle oil

3 g black truffle, finely chopped (optional but decadent)

Place the pheasants in the brine to cover for 2.5 hours and then drain well and pat dry with a paper towel.

Light and set a bbq for direct/indirect cooking and place a lump of hardwood in the ashen coals to start smoking.

Make the butter by simply mixing all the ingredients together and seasoning to taste

Season the pheasants all over and drizzle with olive oil.

Lay the strips of lardo out on a tray so they over lap and form 2 rectangles large enough to wrap around the birds.

Spoon about a teaspoon of butter onto each pheasant and then lay each bird breast side down in the middle of the rectangle and fold over the lardo to seal.

Press carefully all around to make sure the fat “moulds” to the bird. Place the birds in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. Slice the mushrooms into thick pieces and reserve.

Place the pheasants back side down on the indirect zone and close the lid. The bbq should be at around 170oc. Leave the birds to cook for 25 minutes and then transfer them to the direct zone, breast side down and cook on each breast for 2-3 minutes to caramelize. Check the birds with a temperature inserted into the leg it should be around 60oc. remove the birds to a warm spot and slather with plenty of the truffle butter and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Place a sauté pan on the grill on the direct cooking zone and add the remaining butter. When it’s foaming place in the mushrooms and season well. Cook them until tender and have started to caramelize all over and then add the garlic slices and continue to cook until the mushrooms and garlic are golden brown. Remove from the heat immediately and drain the mushrooms and garlic and pour the cooking butter over the pheasants.

Serve the pheasants whole on a platter with the porcini and garlic and pour the buttery resting juices into a bowl to serve on the side. 

Daniel Kent’s pheasant, cipollini onions and Marsala

Serves 4

2 pheasant (hen), cut for fricasse

15g flour

60ml rapeseed/oil

200g streaky smoked bacon cubes/lardon

10 cipollini onions (round shallots if you cannot get them)

Bouquet garni made up of 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 thyme sprig, two bay leaves, 5 black peppercorns, 1tsp juniper berries

175ml Marsala

300ml chicken stock (or use the trim and bones of the pheasant to make a quick stock)


Coat the pheasant with flour, pat the excess off.

Heat 30ml of the oil over a medium heat and add the pheasant, do this in batches to control the sealing and colour you want to keep the flavour in the meat and get a golden colour. Remove and drain in a colander.

Remove the oil and and the remaining 30ml, add the bacon and fry till golden brown, remove and place with the pheasant.

Add the onions and colour, you might need to reduce the heat a touch the pan will be hot at this point.

When they are golden brown add the Marsala and reduce by two thirds.

Now put back in the pheasant and bacon, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cover, let this cook for 45 min or until the leg meat is beginning to come away from the bone.

Let it sit for a few minutes to cool a touch, remove the meat and cover; it stays moist this way whilst you return to the sauce.

Return to the sauce, check its consistency it wants to coat the bird and then taste for the sweetness of Marsala; if it’s not there add another splash till you think it’s right.

Place the pheasant back in and it’s ready. Along with some roast parsnip and buttered kale.

Rob Andrew of Riverford Field Kitchen’s top tips! 

Blood orange marinade
Whatever you chose to do with your bird, 24 hours in this marinade can only be a good thing.

1 blood orange
6 juniper berries
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch of thyme
olive oil

Zest and juice the orange. Crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar. Add the garlic and thyme give them a rough bash. Mix everything together with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil.

Rub all over the bird. Leave in the fridge for 24 hours. turning every so often. Remove any herb and spice debris from the bird before use.

Red Cabbage one pot roast
Like spiced red cabbage with your pheasant? Kill two (game) birds with one stone.

2 small pheasant
1 small or 1/2 a large red cabbage
1 large red onion
1 apple or pear
500ml hot chicken stock
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 tsp allspice
small glass of red wine

Preheat your oven to 180/ 160 gas mark 4

Season the birds well inside and out with salt and pepper. Brown the birds all over in a large casserole pan. Remove and put to one side.

Add the wine to the pan to de-glaze, reduce by half.

Finely slice the red cabbage and the onion. Grate the apple. Mix together large casserole with the spices, and stock. Add some salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Nestle them into the red cabbage mixture, cover tightly with a lid and pop in the oven for 1h 30mins or until the leg meat is soft and giving.
Check the seasoning and sweetness of the cabbage.

Herby butter parchment wraps
It is too often the case that the breast meat on most game birds has a tendency to dry out and overcook before the legs are ready. This is often countered by larding the breasts with caul fat (available from good butchers), or streaky bacon. In this case we use parchment paper spread with seasoned butter to the same effect. It shields the breast from the fierce heat of the oven while basting with fat.

50g softened butter
sprig of thyme, stripped from the stalk
sprig of rosemary, stripped from the stalk
couple of sage leaves
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
baking parchment

Finely chop the herbs and mix with the garlic, zest and butter. Season the pheasant with salt and pepper and brown all over in a pan.

Cut an oval of baking parchment to fit over the breasts. Smear the butter over one side of the parchment and place, butter-side down , on the breasts. Roast as normal.


This article appeared in Metro on 3 February 2015

pheasant metros



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