Slow-cooked pheasant with pheasant and prune sausage and celeriac purée
12 February 2018
The game season is pretty much at an end now, but I was able to get one last meal through the door before it closed. I try to take advantage of the season while it’s here - game is amongst the lowest environmental-impact meat you can eat, and delicious to boot. Of course, these things are all context-specific. If the entire population suddenly went mad for it, the push to scale would immediately require an expansion in farmed game, which wouldn’t be so much lower impact at all. And you need to be clear where the birds are coming from, since the industry producing pheasants for shooting can be providing conditions no better than any battery chicken, and sometimes worse.
But for this weekend’s dinner party, I had two fine specimens and, since I’d never actually cooked with pheasant before, I wanted to make sure I did them justice. I looked around for ideas, and decided to borrow elements from a couple of different recipes, and then to add on top an improvised pheasant and madeira sauce.
Now apologies to those of you that don’t have this, but for this occasion I went sous vide. According to the Great British Chefs website CEO Ollie Lloyd (on the excellent FoodTalk show podcast here) around 10 percent of the foodies that make up their membership own a sous vide. That still leaves 90 percent, I know. But I bought a sous vide water bath many years ago - when the ‘Sous Vide Supreme’ product was first produced for the home cook. It’s been well used since, and it’s perfect for this sort of thing. For the recipe below, I’ve given conventional alternatives for cooking the pheasant - I just can’t vouch for them because I didn’t use them for this specific cook.
For this dish, I decided I would have the pheasant breasts sous vide, and then finished off in the pan and in the oven. I took from The British Larder the idea of cooking the pheasant legs and combining them with sausage meat (in this case, gluten free because that was needed for one of the diners) and prunes soaked in brandy, with bacon wrapped around. I also liked the idea by Andy McLeish of adding sherry vinegar pearls to the mix - something simple to produce that added that little note of surprise to the plate.
For good measure, I also cooked the accompanying veg sous vide. Because they’re fully enclosed, it means that the flavours intensify. They’re then finished off in the oven to get some colour and additional flavour.
In the event, this came out really well. Great balance of flavours - the pheasant was nicely cooked, the sausages were fantastic, and the sherry pearls added a delightful additional tang that really made it special. The sauce was rich and delicious - and there was just enough.
Slow-cooked pheasant with pheasant and prune sausage and celeriac purée
I used rosemary as the main herb for the dish, but you could just as easily substitute thyme. In this recipe, the pheasant is slow-cooked using sous vide. If you don’t have sous vide, you could roast the pheasant legs for 25 minutes in a 180ºC oven, letting it cool for half an hour before flaking the meat. For the breasts, put them in the oven sooner and give them 12 minutes, in addition to the pan-searing. Inspired by the British Larder, and by Andy Mcleish.
2 whole pheasants, oven ready
2 tablespoons Armagnac
200g sausage meat
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon
1 handful sage, parsley and rosemary leaves, chopped
2 stalks celery
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 knobs butter
4 cloves garlic
5 sprigs rosemary
1 tablespoon cornflour
500ml good quality chicken stock
200ml double cream
100ml sherry vinegar
1.5g agar agar
1 litre vegetable oil (chilled - you can use the oil afterwards)
If using sous vide, first do the vegetables. Cut 2 carrots and 1 parsnip into sticks a few centimetres long and half a centimetre wide. Place the carrots in one sous vide bag, the parsnips in another, along with a little butter, rosemary and salt. Cook for 50 minutes to an hour at 85ºC. Cool the bag in a bowl of iced water and reserve.
Remove the pheasant breasts and reserve. Remove the legs, reserving the carcass for the sauce, and place in a sous vide bag along with a little salt and pepper, one sprig of rosemary a crushed garlic clove, and a little oil. I used two legs per bag. Vacuum seal the bag, and place in the water bath at 83ºC for 12 hours.
Once cooked, flake the meat and mix 200g pheasant meat with the sausage meat, add the brandy-soaked prunes, a little freshly ground nutmeg, salt, pepper, and the chopped mixed herbs.
Shape into 30g sausage shaped balls. Cut the smoked bacon rashers in two and wrap each sausage in half a rasher of the smoked streaky bacon. Use cocktail sticks soaked in water to hold the bacon in place.
Make the sauce. Roast the pheasant carcasses chopped up, along with the onion cut in half, the remaining carrot and 2 sticks of celery (both cut into 1 inch chunks) - roast in a 180ºC oven with a little oil until browned - maybe about 40 mins. Then cook on the hob, and deglaze the pan with the Madeira. Allow it to reduce down, then add the chicken stock and continue to cook, reducing down. Strain out the solids, and taste the sauce - reducing down further. Once it’s reached a good level of flavour intensity, season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a couple of tablespoons of the sauce to a glass with the cornflour and mix together until smooth. Add half of it back to the sauce and bubble lightly until it thickens. If you want it to be thicker, add the rest of the mix and simmer until it reaches the right consistency. Reserve.
Make the celeriac cream - peel and chop the celeriac. Cook in salted water, and then when cooked season and puree in a blender. Once it’s smooth, dribble in the cream with the motor running it’s the desired consistency. Taste, and add salt and pepper and blend for a few seconds to fully mix in. Taste again and repeat until it’s right. Push the purée through a sieve and reserve.
Make the sherry vinegar pearls. Boil the sherry vinegar and the agar agar together until dissolved. Pass through a sieve, and pour into a squeezy bottle with a fine nozzle. Gently pour into the chilled vegetable oil and let the pearls set. Rinse them gently under cold water and put to one side.
Once you’re ready to finish the dish off, preheat the oven to 180ºC. Remove the vegetables from the sous vide bag and place them on a baking tray. Put into the oven to warm through, and to slightly colour.
Place the pheasant leg and prune sausages into the oven to cook for 15 minutes.
Remove the pheasant breasts from the sous vide bag, remove the herbs and garlic and peel off any remaining skin. Season with salt and pepper, and place the pheasant breasts into a medium hot frying pan with a little oil. Fry for a couple of minutes to colour on each side, and then place in the oven for 8 minutes.
Reheat the sauce and the celeriac puree.
To serve, place the warmed celeriac cream in a piping bag, and pipe a round of cream onto the plate, along with a few smaller rounds dotted about. Cut the pheasant breasts in half diagonally and place together on top of the celeriac. Remove the toothpicks from the sausages and place two or three on the plate to one side. Then prop the roasted vegetables up against the pheasant, pour the sauce over and top with a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar pearls.
Food waste notes
You'll probably buy the sausage meet in 500g packs, so you'll have some left over. This can easily be frozen for later use. The leftover bacon will keep in the fridge for three or four days - obviously it's very easy to make into a nice breakfast, lunch or dinner - just plan ahead as to when you're going to do that to avoid the chance that you'll forget it's there.
Any leftover herbs that you think you won't use up, you can press into ice cube trays, drizzle a little water over each and then freeze.
The remaining double cream will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, but you can freeze it perfectly well for later use (better so with double cream than lower fat variants). Cream used to be the number one thing I would be throwing away until I realised that freezing was an option.