Another very popular choice in the Fieldsports Favourite Game Chef poll, legendary chef Raymond Blanc shares a simple but delicious pheasant recipe.
“In Britain, there is a staggering variety of game - wild duck, woodcock, teal, grouse, snipe, hare... Yet, despite this natural abundance, game farming has become big business. Farmed game does not have the same depth of flavour of its wild counterpart. The delicate pink flesh of the red-legged partridge, for instance, has, through cross-breeding, become strong and resistant to disease - but at the expense of taste and texture. Beware, too, of ducks built like chickens: they have done more running than flying and hence have long legs and strange bodies!
Pheasant, which has white flesh and a rather delicate taste, needs to hang for a few days - sometimes eight to ten in cold weather - before being drawn and plucked, or it will taste like chicken. During hanging, the flesh develops a mature, distinctive flavour.
Unlike in the UK, game is becoming extinct in France.
This is due largely to the activities of little gum-booted men who shoot on sight anything that flies or moves, thus drastically reducing the wildlife population. Never trust a Frenchman with a gun!”
Roast pheasant with puy lentils and roasting juices
Hen pheasants are always more tender than the males, they are also a little smaller. Do try to ensure that they have been hung for a minimum of 6-7 days; they will be more tender and have greater flavour. Puy lentils with lardons provide an excellent accompaniment to pheasant, making a simple, wholesome and yet very tasty meal.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Planning ahead: The lentils may be cooked in advance and then reheated.
Special equipment: Heavy-duty baking tray or ovenproof frying pan.
■ For the roast pheasant
2 hen pheasants (800g-900g each), oven ready
50ml groundnut oil or other non-scented oil
20g unsalted butter
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
■ For the sauce
100ml cold water
■ For the lentils
15g olive oil
15g unsalted butter
½ white onion, peeled and finely chopped
150g bacon, smoked, cut into lardons – 10mm x 30mm
500g puy lentils, washed and drained
1 bouquet garni (4 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves, 4 parsley stalks)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
8 pinches sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
■ Cooking the lentils
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. On a medium heat in a saucepan (16-18cm diameter), soften the onion in the olive oil with the lardons for 3 minutes. Add the lentils, bouquet garni, garlic clove, salt and pepper, and lastly the water. Simmer (bubbles just breaking the surface) for 30 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning, if required. Drain off any excess liquid - this can be kept for a soup the following day.
■ Cooking the pheasants and preparing the sauce
On a medium heat, in a large ovenproof frying pan, heat the groundnut oil and butter until blonde and foaming. Lay the pheasants in the pan; colour to a golden brown for 3-5 minutes on each side. Then turn the pheasants onto their breast side to colour for a further 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer into pre-heated oven, and cook for 30 minutes (15 minutes each side).
Spoon out the fat from the pan and add the water. Scrape the caramelised juices off the bottom of the pan to make the jus. Taste and season if necessary.
Pour the jus over the pheasant once carved in front of your guests or in the kitchen. Serve with the reheated lentils.
Use the cooked carcasses by simply adding two juniper berries, a carrot and an onion, covering with water and simmering for 30 minutes. Once strained, you have lovely simple soup - just add vegetables of your choice.
The pheasant needs a rich, soft and fruity wine, like a young Pinot Noir from the Côte de Nuits or one of the very good wines from Oregon.