Friday 10 January 2014

Pheasant with Juniper and Thyme

Adapted from a recipe of Roger Vergé, this relies for its wow-factor on the quality of the sauce. As ever, the secret to the sauce is slow reduction over time, and although the whole process may seem complicated, from the number of steps involved, in practice it is actually quite straightforward. And definitely worth the effort!
Boning the bird as a first step means that one pheasant will readily feed four people...and, as I've found in practice, probably with enough left over to give you the makings of a pheasant ragu to go with fettucine or as a risotto flavouring, or else to make stuffing for ravioli.

For four (with leftovers):

Ingredients:  1 pheasant; 2 large shallots; 6 juniper berries; 1 tsp dried thyme; 100g butter + 2 tbsp; 1 tbs tomato purée; white wine (approx 1 wineglass); approx 400 mlstock (chicken/duck/rabbit - whatever you have on the go); salt & pepper.


1. Bone the bird, removing the ribcage and the upper leg bones.

2. Finely dice one of the shallots, and mix this with 100g butter, the dried  thyme and the juniper berries (crushed and then finely chopped with a sharp knife). Season to taste - I generally use a generous half tsp of salt and a few grindings of pepper.

3. Slide your hand in and carefully part the skin of the pheasant from the underlying flesh, to create a gap into which two thirds of the butter mixture should be pushed, spreading it as evenly as possible around the bird; use the remainder of the butter mixture to make a poultice to put on the breast. Put the prepared bird into the fridge until needed (you will need to have done this prep work several hours before you want to cook the bird, to allow enough time to prepare the sauce).

4. Chop the pheasant bones, roughly, so they will  sit comfortably in a layer in the pan in which you will make the sauce.  

5. In the remaining butter, sautée the bones for a few minutes over medium heat, then add the remaining shallot, diced, along with the tomato purée. Once the shallot has softened, add the wine, to cover the bones and then simmer to reduce the liquid by half. Then, add enough stock comfortably to cover the bones and continue to reduce slowly, until you have the equivalent quantity of liquid to fill two demi-tasses. Pass the contents of the saucepan through a fine sieve (discarding all of the residue) and continue to reduce the sauce slowly until it is thickened to coating consistency and you have enough for a couple of tablespoons per serving.

6. During the final stage of sauce reduction, roast the pheasant for twenty minutes in an oven pre-heated to 250 degrees C, and then let it rest in a warm oven for ten minutes or so.

7. Slice and plate the bird. Taste and (if necessary) adjust the seasoning in the sauce, and spoon a couple of spoonfuls of sauce over  each serving. 

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Twelfth Night...

came and went. Glorious sunshine, and deep blue sky, as the backdrop to dismantling the Christmas Tree - which, as usual, has been out in the barn for the entire Christmas period. Rather than go through the usual apologetic pretence of planting it in the garden, where it will struggle to survive for the next six months, only eventually to be removed to the compost heap once it has been finally declared dead sometime around the middle of June, this year I decided to cut to the chase, and instead fed it branch by branch into the stove, and enjoyed the flames and the scent, as it was devoured piecemeal, efficiently and in its entirety. Since it was still relatively green, the amount of smoke was impressive - worthy of the appointment of a dozen new popes - although we might not have been hugely popular with any of our neighbours who might have been taking advantage of the weather to hang out their washing. It might even have been that Monsignor G ended up with smutty smalls (with any luck!)

Christmas came and went, in a welter of  braising and stewing and roasting and boning and generally feasting. The Belfortini were here for Christmas Dinner (salt-cured foie gras, with toasted brioche; boeuf en croute with a walnut & coriander stuffing, roast celeriac; praline-flavoured Paris Brest, with blackberries in orgeat) and for lunch on Boxing Day (asparagus feuilleté, with savoury zabaglione; duck legs confited with cardamom, and duck breast roast, endives in cream;  blueberry and almond cheesecake), and then guests two days later en route from Naples to Milan (scallop mousseline; tournados rossini; christmas pudding and brandy butter - since the Belfortini eschew christmas pudding, but I like to find an excuse for it at some point)...a quiet New Year's Eve, with just the two of us and an early night (tart tatin of celeriac and truffles; roast haunch of pork; and an incomparably delicious soufflé of mincemeat).
In the doldrum period between New Year and twelfth night, the Pauli invited us for supper, since they had been given a white truffle that somebody had come across near San Miniato, which they thought we would appreciate. The thing was the size of a tennis ball, and we consumed it all, grating slices over meltingly splendid plates of fettucine in cream with the abandoned decadence of a collection of russian oligarchs!
And, finally, the Brancolis came for dinner on the 4th, and we effectively saw out the Twelve Days against the backdrop of a thunderstorm of transylvanianly dramatic proportions, whilst consuming pheasant roast with juniper and thyme, and finished off with burnt lemon cream, before a digestif (brought by the Brancolis) called Amaro Montenegro, which all present agreed was disgusting beyond description and fit only for cleaning the drains. Or possibly corroding holes in them. To be handled with great care.

The tree has gone; the decorations packed away for another year, and a host of new recipes added to the tried-and-trusted repertoire for future reference.

We re-plant trees later this week (Technical Dept currently awaiting a final confirmatory email), and at that point 2014 will be considered to have been well and truly kick-started.

Happy New Year!