Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Pheasant Thanksgiving for Two

Returning to the U.S. last Sunday, one thing was very clear on the calendar. We were four days from Thanksgiving. Holidays, on the whole, have been completely lost to us in the all consuming tornado that was the wedding. I'm still not completely convinced Halloween actually happened. We had planned ahead for Thanksgiving, as far as telling the families as politely as possible that as much as we loved them, there was no way that three days after returning from our honeymoon we were going to climb aboard a bus during one of the busiest travel periods of the year to go visit the relatives we had seen exactly two weeks before at the wedding.

I had thought, in the naive period that was October, that I should invite New York friends who may not have a place to go for Thanksgiving to our apartment, and I would take on a turkey, which despite my many cooking adventures I had never attempted. All of them had other plans, and in the jet lagged fog that was early last week, all I could think was "Thank God." Since it was down to just Will and me, I decided to take all of the money that would have gone into creating a feast for 6-10 people, and invest it in a fancy dinner. My first thought was lobsters. Oh how I dreamed of two lobsters, steamed and dipped in butter as the perfect Thanksgiving feast. I started calling my usual lobster suppliers but it turns out they would rather spend Thanksgiving with their families then selling me crustaceans. Bastards. I researched keeping a lobster in my fridge over night, but words like "at your own risk" kept cropping up. I hate that phrase. Why can't it ever be at someone else's risk.

Two days before Thanksgiving and I seemed to be failing at the planning. Finally I hit on it, for months I have been dying to try my hand at Pheasant. A game bird just the right size for two people, and it had that whole Dickensian holiday meal feeling. The only thing more Dickensian would be a fine fatted goose purchased by a street urchin. After a lot of research (apparently Quattro's in Union Square Farmer's Market, where I had seen the birds before, is only there on Saturdays, which was unhelpful) I found Leonards' Prime Meat and Sea Food on the Upper East Side that would sell me the birds, though without a pre-order I had to go with frozen.

It was the most expensive little bird I may ever buy; at just under 3 pounds it cost about $40, but as I wasn't making a huge feast I justified the purchase. (If my readers know of a cheaper place to purchase them, please leave it in the comments) I decided with such a fancy fowl, I wouldn't go overboard on number of side dishes, but make one really decent side dish and a lovely desert. Since reading about making stuffing in muffin tins to make little stuffing cakes in the NY Times two weeks ago, I had been dying to try it. The stuffing they made also involved pears, which I had read went well with Pheasant. For dessert, since I was making an untraditional meal, I decided to go with a classic, Pumpkin Spice Pie, which I will be dealing with in a special Tuesday post, otherwise this blog becomes about the length of War and Peace.

I made the pie the day before, as to not want to kill myself with three labor intensive dishes on what is supposed to be a holiday. I had a parade to watch on TV after all. Will was actually working on Thanksgiving, leaving me short one sous chef. At about 3pm I started chopping and measuring ingredients, lining them up in little cups on the counter and in the refrigerator. Chives, parsley, thyme, pancetta, onion, shallot, all were tackled with my chefs knife and set aside. I actually live tweeted some of the events of the day, along with the soundtrack I had in the background. I am a digital whore.

First I turned my attention to the stuffing. Doing the big shop for this a few days ago, I sought out Chantrelle mushrooms, which I had never used before. There was a huge sign at Whole Foods telling me that they were on sale for $20 a pound, down from $30, right behind a basket of mushrooms. I carefully measured out my 1/4 pound, and then did the rest of the shopping. Upon check out, the clerk remarked on my Porchini's. "Aren't those Chantrelle's?" I asked. A pitying look told me there had been a mistake. Chantrelle's, she informed me, were a reddish color. Also they were less expensive, and the Porchini's (of which I have only ever used dried ones) are $50 a pound. Gah. God bless that clerk though, she walked me back to the produce department, showed me where the Chantrelles were (in front of the basket of Porchinis) and waited for me to come back, so I didn't have to go through the pre-holiday grocery line again. Sometimes even New Yorkers can be cool people.

I had forgotten to set the ripped up bread aside the night before, so after leaving it out for a mere five hours, it wasn't stale enough. No worries, I popped it on a baking sheet and toasted it. Worked fine. Score one for me.

Chantrelle and Pear Bread Stuffing


About 4 cups of Pullman loaf or other firm white bread torn into small pieces (I used Italian, again, worked fine)

1/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms

1/12 pound pancetta, diced small

2 1/2 tablespoons butter, more for greasing muffin tins

1/2 small chopped onion

1 minced small shallot

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons white wine

1 diced pears ( firm, ripe varieties like Bartlett or Anjou)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 heaping teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon minced chives

4 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup turkey stock (since I wasn't making turkey, I used chicken stock. I leave this to your judgement and personal menu)


1. Dry bread, cover with paper towels and leave out overnight. Or, place on a baking sheet in batches and lightly toast. Set aside.

2. Wipe mushrooms with a clean, damp towel. Trim tough ends. Slice some thickly, chop others. Set aside. Place pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook slowly until fat is rendered, about 7 minutes. Remove to a plate.

3. Add 1/2 tablespoon butter to fat in pan and turn heat to medium high. Add onion and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just soft. Do not brown. Remove to plate holding pancetta.

4. Add 3/4 tablespoon butter to pan. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and quickly sauté until starting to brown. Remove and add to plate.

5. Add wine to pan and deglaze over medium high heat, cooking until wine reduces by about half. Pour remaining liquid over mushrooms. Wipe out pan and add remaining butter. Add pears and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Sauté pears, in batches if necessary, over medium high heat until they begin to brown slightly.

6. In a large bowl or roasting pan, add sautéed ingredients to bread. Toss lightly to combine. Add herbs and toss again. Slowly pour 1/4 cup stock over mixture and toss. Add more broth to make a very moist stuffing. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter muffin tins and fill each with stuffing, pressing down so each cup is well filled. Top each with one tablespoon stock. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a golden crust forms on bottom. To serve, use a butter knife to remove each stuffing muffin and invert onto the plate.

Yeah, so that part in step 7 where you are supposed to top each muffin cup with a tablespoon of stock? Guess what I forgot to do. As a result the little stuffing cakes were a bit resistant to holding their forms, but by holding parchment paper over the top and then flipping the entire thing, I was able to get enough of them to hold in a delicate state that was presentable
for the meal.

The Pheasant and I were now staring each other down. The legs, I have read, are really not even worth thinking about eating. As game birds the little suckers run around a lot, making the meat tough and unappetizing. Better to just hack them off altogether and save for stock. And so, at about 5pm Thanksgiving day, I was breaking the hip joints and cutting off the legs. I live such an enchanted life.

Roasted Pheasant with Apricots and Dates
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1/4 cup dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice (from about 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • A 2 1/2- to 3-pound pheasant
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • vegetable oil for brushing pheasants
  • 1/4 cup pitted dates, chopped

  • Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs

In a small heatproof bowl cover apricots with boiling water and soak 10 minutes. Drain apricots and cut into quarters. In a small saucepan simmer wine, liqueur, lime juice, and sugar 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut off legs of pheasant and reserve for another use. (Glamorous work) Sprinkle pheasants inside and out with pepper and salt to taste. Put 1 teaspoon thyme and 1 bay leaf in cavity of the pheasant and close cavity with skewers or toothpicks so that pheasant holds its shape.

Brush pheasant with oil and in a roasting pan arrange, breast side down. Roast pheasant 20 minutes and discard any fat in roasting pan. Turn pheasant over and to pan add apricots, wine mixture, and dates. Roast pheasant, adding about 1/2 cup water if all liquid evaporates, 25 minutes more, or until thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast registers 160°F. Let pheasants stand 10 minutes.

Transfer pheasants to a cutting board and cut each in half. Serve pheasants with apricot date sauce and garnish with thyme.

Okay, confession time once again. The recipe as I have provided is halved from a recipe for making two pheasants. This means there should be twice as much liquid for the sauce in a full size roasting pan then there was. I did realize this, and planned to check in on it about ten minutes after putting it in, but at about minute 7 I started to smell something burning. I ripped it out of the oven, and the liquid was very dark in color. I added water and some extra wine, and it was passable, but not very attractive. Next time I might just make all of the sauce, and allow for there being extra, rather then burn the halved version. Oops.

Pheasants, as game birds, are leaner then, say, a chicken. This makes it very easy to dry out, so I was keeping a very close eye on mine, and even took it out of the oven a few minutes early. The recipe says to let it rest for about ten minutes, but a British website the TimesOnline states about Pheasant "All meat continues to cook after it has been taken out of the oven because it is still relatively hot. If the meat is served while this process is still in motion, it is likely to be tough. When you come to carve, if steam escapes from under the knife, the meat has not been rested anywhere near long enough... A rough rule of thumb is to rest meat for about the same length of time that it spent in the oven. This may sound an implausibly long period for some, but try it and I promise that your roast will taste more forgiving." I erred somewhere in the middle. Will wasn't yet home when the bird came out of the oven, so I put it in a dish with a lid and let it rest on the table until he arrived, which was greater then 10 minutes but not quite 45.

In the end this untraditional Thanksgiving fowl was a success. The breast retained its moistness, and paired well with the apricots and dates, even if the latter two were a bit overdone. The stuffing was a huge hit, flavorful filling, and I now have a tupperware full of the less structural ones to snack on or put in a sandwich. The pie, well it was a great follower but a bit of a challenge in its own right, so if your curious be sure to stop back tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

I have yet to make a pheasant or even eat one for that matter but these recipes sure look fantastic and make me want to give it a try. Congratulations on your marriage and I wish you both the very best of everything.

hollybygolly said...

Love the stuffing!

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