On any given day our garden looks a bit like a scene from a Disney film. Bunnies abound, deer drop by on a regular basis, squirrels are nutty about us and pheasants, pigeons and partridges form sociable flocks as they forage round the flower beds.
I do not however put on a long frock, clasp my hands and start doing duets with bluebirds. I’m more likely to take a pot-shot at the little beggars as they try to devour the fruit trees, vegetables and any garden plant that doesn’t have three inch spines.
Because, dear reader, those cute furred and feathered creatures are a) quite amazingly destructive and b) a free-range food source.
So I make no apologies for my second pheasant recipe in a fortnight. The other day I leaned out of the bedroom window and got two birds with one shot from a .410 as they staged one of their daily flash mobs on the lawn.
Such unsporting behaviour is not very popular with the local shoots. A bit non-U, as the Mitfords would have said.
I am, however, within my legal rights to do it if the birds are on our land. And they were. I counted 11 on one small patch of grass and they’d been in the veg garden again. I’m afraid that’s the death penalty for any pheasant within range.
Back before the English game laws changed in 1831 though, it could have meant a death sentence for me.
The most likely penalty for shooting one of the squire’s birdies was transportation to the penal colonies of Australia.
But if I had resisted arrest – and gamekeepers had the power of arrest – I could have been hanged.
Happily for me, times have changed. Back in the day, though, I’ll bet a fair few pheasants ended up in the poacher’s pot in spite of the risks.
But I shouldn’t think they’d have got quite such a royal treatment as this.
Bathed in booze and cream and scented with celery, this luscious recipe is adapted from Jane Grigson’s English Food.
Pheasant with Celery and Cream
I am an idle baggage and rather than pluck and draw my pheasants I prefer to skin them and take the breasts and legs off.
This is much faster and less messy but it does mean you’re unlikely to get a whole roast pheasant in our house.
Personally though I prefer them casseroled or braised because otherwise they tend to be quite dry.
You can make this using a whole pheasant but it’s rather quicker if you joint the bird, and quicker still if you just use the breasts and save the legs (which need more cooking) for a different dish.
Ingredients (for 4):
1 head of celery, cleaned and sliced
1 pheasant breast/joint per person
1 oz butter and a glug of olive or rapeseed oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
3 thin rashers of bacon (I like smoked), cut into strips
1/4 pint of marsala (or port or madeira, or maybe sweet sherry with a dash of brandy)
1/2 pint of chicken stock
1/4 pint of double cream
1 egg yolk
A handful of chopped parsley
Squeeze of lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.
Melt the butter with the oil in a deep heavy-based pan, one that has a lid. Brown the pheasant on all sides, remove and set aside.
Add the bacon lardons, the onion, garlic and half the celery to the pot and fry until the veg are soft and golden.
Replace the pheasant joints, add the marsala and stock, bring to a boil, cover and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Remove, turn the joints over, pack around with the remaining celery and season with freshly-ground black pepper. Don’t add salt yet.
Replace the lid and cook for another 15/20 minutes. Check to see whether the pheasant is tender. If not, give it a bit longer.
When it’s done, remove the pheasant and keep warm. Beat the egg yolk and cream together, stir into the sauce and cook gently until it has thickened. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Add the chopped parsley and, if needed, a squeeze of lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the pheasant or serve separately.
We served this with peas and a celeriac and potato mash flavoured with a tablespoon of creamed horseradish. It’s an indulgent autumn supper.