Pheasants have been steeped in British tradition, long being coveted by sport shooters as a luxury game bird. Once the food of the well-heeled, pheasants are now much easier to buy than they once were. Although shooting itself is an expensive sport, buying game is surprisingly cheap. Unfortunately for the pheasant, it’s one of England’s most wasted foods. In a recent article published by the Telegraph, a huge proportion of these luxury birds in fact end up in the bin, not making it to the table after they have been shot.
To celebrate and respect this beautiful bird, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Pheasant Masterclass at Jamie Oliver’s headquarters in London to find out how this bird can be made into a tasty autumnal treat and to minimise its waste. I was a little daunted at first since I’m by no means an expert about pheasant. Since it’s such a lean bird, I have always been scared it would dry out in the oven: Also the whole plucking process has never appealed to me. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone since the majority of bloggers at the class had never cooked with pheasant before and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
We were joined by an impressive foodie force team of Andy Appleton (Head Chef at Fifteen Cornwall), Jon Rotheram (Head Chef at Fifteen in London) and the irreplaceable Gennaro Contaldo. Throughout the evening, each chef demonstrated a different method of cooking this beautiful bird, preparing their own unique dish. After watching Contaldo previously on many TV appearances , it was such a pleasure to meet him in the flesh with his infectious smile and unpretentious flamboyance. Like so many Italians, for Contaldo it’s all about the hands..
Contaldo was the first to grace the kitchen. For him pheasants are so beautiful they should be celebrated and there is no doubt that his respect is genuine. He brings his cooking to life with his stories of his hunting days, and suggests no part of the bird should go to waste; even the feathers,which could be made into a brooch.
Contaldo first prepared a simple Italian dish called patate arraganate. He casually layered sliced charlotte potatoes, a few onions, deseeded baby tomatoes, a sprinkling of oregano and a generous splash of white wine into an oven proof dish. After 30 minutes the kitchen was filled with a wonderful aroma of oregano infused potatoes as hungry food bloggers waited with baited breath.
Next Contaldo prepared the pan-fried pheasant, firstly emphasising the importance of the pan being extremely hot so the meat is sealed, otherwise it will start to shrink as it begins to cook. In true Italian fashion, he casually presses a whole garlic clove, chilli and rosemary into the meat and uses a ceramic bowl to press it down into the pan so the flavours soak properly. A few minutes on each side and voila – done!
The meat was deliciously plump and tender. The great thing about this dish is it’s easy and uses simple ingredients – something I could easily try at home.
Next up was Jon Rotheram who demonstrated a unique take on the pheasant sausage. To minimise waste, Rotheram used the pheasant’s legs for this dish, combined with a healthy proportion of pork meat (about 40%) to tenderise it. He also prepared a pheasant breast served with impossibly crispy kale, bread sauce and pickled quince.
I was especially impressed by the sausage, finding the flavours quite subtle – the pheasant did not overpower the other flavours. The pheasant itself had a blush of pink, which Rotheram said was a sign of not overcooking.
It was interesting to hear the chefs’ thoughts about the process of hanging. According to Rotheram, there is a notion that game should be hung for as long as possible to bring out the gamey flavour, but this is not always the case. By hanging it for too long, the pheasant can become too rich and overpowering so it is recommended it is hung no more than 7 days – for Gennaro himself 3 – 4 days is perfect.
Finally it was Andy Appleton’s turn who cooked a mouth-watering Sicilian inspired caponata made from butternut squash, tomatoes, chestnuts and thyme and some added raisins soaked overnight in vinegar to add some warmth and sweetness to the dish.
Appleton served the caponata with a pan fried pheasant crown cut into slices which had the characteristic pink blush on the inside. Definitely a dish of the food gods.
Once the cooks were finished, we enjoyed some fine cheese and fresh sourdough with a nice selection of charcuterie from the Borough market washed down with some glasses of red wine. It was such an enjoyable evening and a unique opportunity to meet such quality chefs and other lovely food bloggers. Thank you to the Jamie Oliver team for putting on such a memorable event and inspiring me with new ideas. I can’t wait to get in to the kitchen to try some of the recipes for myself. If you want to be inspired by all things game, check out some recipes on Jamie’s website.
Check out some more stories about the #pheasant masterclass from these wonderful food bloggers: