With a good pheasant, roasting it whole is the only way to do it justice. River Cottage chef Tim Maddams shares his foolproof guide for getting the best results.
Roasted hen pheasant and game chips
- 1 whole, plucked and dressed hen pheasant
- A little pork fat or goose/duck fat
- Salt and pepper
- A few sage leaves
For the bread sauce
- A good knob of butter
- ½ an onion, finely chopped
- ¼ pint whole milk
- 50G – 100g diced stale bread or, better still, home-made breadcrumbs
- A little freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt & pepper
For the game chips
- 200g potatoes, peeled, very thinly sliced and dried well on some kitchen paper
- 300ml sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- Salt and pepper
For the gravy
- 1l dark game stock, or you can use chicken stock
- 1 glass dry cider
- Roasting juices from the pheasant pan
Take your bird out of the fridge about an hour or so before cooking, and if your kitchen is exceptionally cold, leave it near the warmest part of the room.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Rub a little fat on to the bird and season it heavily. I also like to place a few sage leaves inside the cavity and under the breast skin. Don’t be tempted to tie up the bird: as already explained, this simply impedes the speed at which the legs will cook and encourages overcooking of the breast meat.
- Select a solid frying pan that will go in the oven. Get the pan hot on the stove and add a little fat. Place the bird on its spine in the pan and cook it on a medium-hot heat; you don’t want it to burn, but you do want to get some colour on it and you definitely want to release its flavour. When the back has coloured, brown each side in the same way before returning it to its back.
- Place the bird, still in the frying pan, in the oven. It shouldn’t need more than about 15 minutes in there. You are looking for the breasts to firm up nicely. Then leave the bird, uncovered, somewhere warm to rest for about half an hour, but 15 minutes will do if needs be.
- To make the bread sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to hold the milk and bread, over a medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and sweat it for 4 or 5 minutes until it is slightly translucent and has lost that raw smell. Season well and add the milk. Bring to a simmer and stir in the bread to make a runny sauce. Add a little grated nutmeg to season but don’t overdo it as it will get stronger as it rests. The sauce will thicken more than you think as it rests, as well. Set aside somewhere warm until needed.
- Game chips are basically crisps. To make them you need to peel, wash and thinly slice your potatoes (unless you are very skilled with a knife, you will need to slice them on the side of a grater, a food-processor blade or mandolin) then drain them well on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based pan to 180°C before deep-frying the potato pieces, a batch at a time, until crisp. Transfer them to kitchen paper to drain, then season with salt, pepper and paprika and reserve for serving.
- To make the gravy, reduce the cider by boiling it in a pan until it has quartered in volume, then add the stock. You want to reduce this all together until slightly thickened and rich-tasting. What’s happening is you are removing water by boiling it off as steam; this intensifies the sauce and thickens it. Then add the roasting juices from the pheasant pan and pass the gravy through a sieve. Reserve for serving.
- Carve slices of the breasts and joint the legs in much the same way as you would a roast chicken. Serve with all the garnishes and whatever vegetables you fancy.