22 December 2007

Bird of 2007

Ever since Lundulph and I moved together, we've had a different bird for our romantic Christmas dinner for two.

Our first Christmas we had goose as per old English tradition. I bought a frozen one, it cost £20. Thawed it and followed Delia Smith's recipe, despite the gut feeling we both had that it wouldn't work - even after I'd managed to hunt down the Armagnac that was required. I made Lundulph do the actual stuffing, it seemed too iffy for me. We didn't tie the goose either - it stretched out in the oven and we struggled to get it out in the end. And from the rather big bird that we put in, what came out was more of a pigeon size - during the roasting we'd gathered up about 2.5 pints of goose fat.

Don't remember much of what goose flesh tastes like. But the stuffing was a traumatic experience and since then I have severe doubts about Delia's capabilities as a cook. The only good thing that came out of this is discovering that goose fat is the ultimate thing for roast potatoes. Luckily Sainsbury's sell that in cans and I buy one every year for Christmas. And it's picking up in popularity too, it's easier to find these days.

Over the years, we've had turkey as is tradition today, chicken and guinea fowl last year. And so I present the bird of 2007:


This is what we settled on last minute two weeks ago, after discussing other game birds and their status in the UK in terms of how threatened they are. It's also from my new thing of going to the butcher's. And it seems that pheasant is en vogue this year, they had loads. I also ordered a cured uncooked ham for Christmas Day.

A quick search on pheasant recipes of the roasted type didn't result in anything inspiring, so I defaulted to look at Delia's website, where two recipes seemed interesting - "roast pheasant with chestnut stuffing and port and chestnut sauce" and "pheasant roasted in butter muslin". I couldn't decide on which of the two, so picked bits from both and invented as I went along.


1 small pheasant plucked and cleaned
3 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon
1 fresh bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1 knob of butter, about 20 g
1 tsp plain flour for the roasting bag


3 shallots
2 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon
10 g butter
110 g roasted and peeled chestnuts, chopped
1 handful of roasted and coarsely ground pine nuts
75 g dried cranberries
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme
0.25 tsp ground mace
salt and pepper
2 fresh bay leaves


juices from the pheasant
2 tbsp plain flour
2 dl sweet Madeira
375 ml Oxo chicken stock
90 g roasted and peeled chestnuts, quartered

  1. As Delia recommends, I wiped the bird with kitchen towels, also the cavity, there was some blood that came out, when I unwrapped the pheasant. Also it seemed to smell a bit funny, so I had some doubts.
  2. Then I gave it a good massage on the breast to loosen the skin, just like Fanny Cradock. This was a rather surreal experience, but I managed to slide my hand entirely under the skin in the end. So I stuffed the bacon rashes along the breast under the skin.
  3. For the stuffing, I peeled and diced the shallots, diced the bacon and fried them in the butter for a few minutes and left to cool.
  4. Once the shallots and bacon were cool, I added the chestnuts, pine nuts, cranberries, parsley and thyme and seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred well.
  5. Then I bruised the two bay leaves, but not too much so they'd come apart. I stuffed one in the cavity, then half filled with the stuffing mixture, then the second bay leaf, then as much stuffing as would go in. And to be on the safe side, I tied the legs and tail together.
  6. I then put a tsp of plain flour in my roasting bag and shook it about, this was recommended on the packaging.
  7. I placed the pheasant in the bag, seasoned with salt and pepper, placed a bay leaf and 3 sprigs of thyme on it, and a knob of butter on top, tied it in and put in the oven (preheated at gas mark 7 (220 degrees C) on the lowest shelf. I used a roasting tray for this, but without the grid.

  8. I had some stuffing left over, so I put it in a shallow oven safe dish and put it the oven as well.

For the roast potatoes, I peeled and cut the potatoes in chunks, as they were quite big. Then I boiled them for 7-8 minutes, drained the water, and shook them around in the pot with the lid on. This rips up the surface of the potatoes and is the bit that'll soak up fat and become crispy, so it's a vital step. I put a deep roasting tin onto the hob (make sure it can take it!) and poured out most of the goose fat of the tin and heated up. Once it was hot, I transferred the potatoes to the tin and rolled them around to get them coated with fat, then put on the top shelf of my combined grill and oven. I've never had good experiences using it as an oven before, but on maximum 8 it did the trick. I took out the potatoes a couple of times during the roasting and basted with the goose fat and also turned them around a bit.

  1. I completely forgot to time the pheasant, I think it was in for about 40 minutes by the time I decided it was ready and took it out. I cut the top of the roasting bag and took out the bird, put the roasting grid back onto the roasting tray and put the bird on that and back in the oven to give it a bit more colour.
  2. I cut a small hole in one of the bottom corners of the roasting bag and poured out the juices into my non-stick wok pan and put it to boil.
  3. I put in one tbsp of plain flour and stirred in, then as soon as it got thick I added the Madeira. Sadly it went rather lumpy and mostly it stuck to the whisk, so I slowly added a second tbsp to make up for it.
  4. I added the stock, still stirring and wondering if I should sieve it or not. Decided against it in the end and added the chestnuts and left to simmer for a few minutes.
In addition I also steamed Chantenay carrots and broccoli.

All in all, I must say, it turned out rather well, the pheasant was very tasty, not at all extreme in any way, so I'm guessing it was a young bird. It wasn't dry either, thanks to all the bacon and the roasting bag. The cranberries were a bit too sweet, especially combined with the sweet Madeira sauce, but the flavours mixed rather well together.

As accompaniment we had a Californian Zinfandel from 2005, which worked quite nicely.

Due to all other things we still had to do, and general lack of imagination, I bought a ready made chilled dessert, which was very nice - some sort of chocolate pudding with gooey chocolate sauce and it came in small ceramic ramekins. I microwaved them to get the sauce bubbly and served with clotted cream ice cream. Yummy!

Lundulph was so hungry, he tucked in before taking a photo.

Right, now back to the kitchen to mix up some dough for the gingerbread house, that's tomorrow's project and this year the nieces have selected a new and complicated design.

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