How to Cook Pheasantby Robert Gooch January 21 2020
Subtly gamey, tender and succulent, pheasant cooked well is a taste to savour. Want to know how? Just follow our expert advice!
Pheasant is a wonderfully versatile meat that can be used in place of chicken or turkey in a wide range of recipes – so long as you follow a few simple rules.
Active life, leaner meat
An indoor-raised chicken or turkey won’t have moved a great deal in its lifetime. Unless you choose slow-reared free-range chicken, the chances are the chicken in your supermarket has lived its life in a shed with thousands of other birds, never venturing far from the feeder trough. A pheasant, on the other hand, will have spent its days in woods and fields, foraging for seeds, grains, berries and insects, and running or flying away from any signs of predators. This is why the meat from a pheasant is leaner and denser than that from an indoor-raised broiler bird – and why care needs to be taken to prevent it drying out during cooking. It’s also why older pheasant’s legs are best slow-cooked or casseroled. Pheasants develop strong leg muscles from running – slow cooking breaks down these muscle fibres for tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat.
Our top tips for cooking pheasant
If you’re roasting an early season bird or cooking pheasant breast fillets, our top tips are to add plenty of fat and ensure you don’t cook them for too long. Follow the guidelines below and invest in a digital cooking thermometer to check when the meat is cooked to perfection. End of season birds, meanwhile, are best slow-cooked, so our third top tip is to cook these low and slow.
How to roast a brace of pheasants
The pheasant season begins on 1st October and early season pheasants are delicious roasted and served with game chips (thinly sliced deep fried potatoes), bread sauce and gravy.
We recommend taking your bird out of the fridge for an hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 200ºC, gas mark 6 and then heat your choice of fat in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat. Raymond Blanc recommends 50ml of rapeseed oil with 20g unsalted butter, while Tim Maddams prefers pork, goose or duck fat. When the fat is hot, place the pheasants in the frying pan spine side down to brown for 3–5 minutes before turning over to brown the breast side for 2–3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper before transferring to the oven for 15 minutes. When the time is up, use your cooking thermometer to check it’s cooked through. The leg should read 80-82ºC and the breast 63ºC – cook them slightly longer if they haven’t reached these temperatures. If they have, cover and leave them to rest for around 30 minutes before serving.
If you want to skip the browning stage, rub plenty of fat directly onto your bird and extend the roasting time to 25–30 minutes, basting during cooking. You may also like to wrap your bird in streaky bacon to keep the breast succulent.
Boned pheasant, ballotines, roulades and three-bird roasts
Along with whole birds, our butchers prepare boned and stuffed pheasants for easy cooking and carving. We recommend roasting these in oil or fat for one hour at 180ºC.
Specific cooking instructions for our three-bird roasts, ballotines and roulades can be found on our cooking guidance page.
How to slow cook pheasants
As the season nears its end on 1st February, there’s nothing better than a full-flavoured pheasant slow cooked in a casserole.
One-pot pheasant dishes are ideal winter warmers that you can leave in a low oven or slow cooker while you brave the cold outside. Try our pheasant and red cabbage recipe from Jean-Francois Mallet, BBC Good Food’s pot-roasted pheasant or Good Housekeeping’s slow cooker pheasant casserole. Onions or shallots, vegetables, herbs and cider or wine are key features in all these recipes. Brown whole or quartered pheasants in a pan with your base ingredients before adding your liquid and herbs and transferring to an oven or slow cooker.
Cooking pheasant breast fillets
For a quick and flavoursome midweek meal, we love pan-fried pheasant breasts. Serve them with celeriac mash and a gravy made from the juices for a seasonal treat or warm yourself up by marinating pheasant breasts in spices and serving in curries or with salsa verde and a warming saffron mash.
Pheasant breasts only need a few minutes in a pan so keep a close eye on the clock to make sure you don’t overcook them. If you haven’t already marinated them or aren’t using our marinated pheasant breast fillets, season them on both sides while heating some oil and/or butter in a pan over a high heat. Add the fillets and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side or until just cooked through then cover and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
To stir-fry pheasant breasts, slice them into strips and cook in a hot wok with oil for around 3 minutes until cooked. Set aside in a warm covered dish while cooking vegetables and other ingredients before returning the pheasant and stirring through.
Sous vide pheasant
To ensure lean pheasants remain perfectly plump and moist during cooking, many restaurants cook pheasant with the sous vide method. This involves vacuum-sealing pheasant breasts or portions in a bag and cooking them at a precise low temperature in a water bath. Anova, the makers of a sous vide machine, recommend 62°C for 45 minutes. If you don’t have a machine, instructions or DIY sous vide water baths can also be found online!