A the sweet-but-tangy apple is the perfect accompaniment to wild game and has a similar season from fall to mid-winter when stored apples begin to fade and hunting season ends. An old apple still makes great cooking, though, and in today’s recipe I’m sautéing them with thyme and butter, then pouring them over creamy braised pheasant.
Like apples, pheasant is a humble ingredient that is often wasted. The 2018 Savills Game Meat Survey found that only 48% of shooted game is taken by game dealers and suggested that a sustainable market needs to be created for this surplus meat. Game is nutritious and, from a good butcher, inexpensive too.
Normandy pheasant with apples
This classic French dish marries two humble and often wasted ingredients into one harmonious stew. The rich, creamy sauce and umami-flavorful meat are cut and complemented by the sweet and tangy sautéed apples, which complete the dish. A Countryside Alliance survey found that 85% of consumers had never bought pheasant or partridge, but a high percentage were willing to try it, not least because this game meat is economical, nutritious and delicious. Both birds have a subtle flavor and are a great introduction to wild meat, although the dish can, of course, be made with chicken or other poultry, if you prefer.
Cider brandy is a wonderful appetizer, and brings real depth of flavor to this dish, but it’s by no means an essential ingredient. If you don’t feel like drinking cider brandy or calvados, and you don’t want to buy a bottle for this recipe alone, cider alone will suffice; if not, deglaze the pan with another spirit such as brandy, whiskey or vodka. (When I first made this, I didn’t have cider brandy on hand, so I used whiskey instead, and it was delicious.)
I would suggest serving it with mashed potatoes and/or crusty bread. If you want to take your mash up a notch, boil some celeriac and/or Jerusalem artichokes until tender, mash them and stir them into your mashed potatoes with plenty butter and seasoning.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large pheasantarticulated into 2 legs and two bone-in breasts, including giblets
1 onionpeeled and grated
1 stalk of celerygrated
3 cloves of garlicpeeled and grated
6 stalks of parsley
3 bay leavesyou
1 teaspoon juniper berries
For the casserole
2 slices of smoked baconcut into bacon bits
3 shallotspeeled and halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon dijon mustard
50 ml cider brandyor calvados or other spirits (e.g. brandy, whisky, vodka)
250ml pheasant stock (see above and method), or chicken broth
50ml double cream
20g of butter
6 sprigs of thyme
Mashed Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, or mashed potatoes, crispbread, winter leaves
First prepare the broth. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the pheasant carcass, heart, gizzards and other scraps, salt well and sauté for 15 minutes, turning occasionally , until brown on all sides. Add water to cover, bring to a boil and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. At this point, if you have a slow cooker, transfer the contents of the pot to it and cook for four to eight hours over low, simmering heat; if not, simmer gently on the hob for at least two hours, and ideally four.
Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley stalks, bay leaves and juniper berries, simmer for another hour, then strain through cheesecloth or/and a fine strainer and let cool. The broth will now keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days.
In a large casserole dish, brown the bacon bits and the halved shallots over medium heat until golden brown, then remove and set aside. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and the pheasant legs and breasts, then brown them on all sides. Add the cider brandy, deglaze the pan, then return the bacon and shallots to the pot with the mustard and cider. Bring to a boil, cook for three minutes, then add the broth. Bring back to a boil, remove the pheasant breasts, then cover the pan and simmer the thighs for one hour to 90 minutes, or until tender.
Take out the thighs, increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half. Add the double cream, return all the meat to the pan, return to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cut the apples into quarters (core them too, if you prefer), then sauté with the thyme until golden. Scatter the apples and butter over the top of the pheasant and serve from the pot, with mash or mash, wilted vegetables and good crusty bread.