The Pheasant! Normandy style.

Pheasant

There was a massacre in my kitchen on Tuesday night. The recipe told me to joint the pheasant (“by first removing the legs, then cut away the two breast sections down and along the backbone” – sounds so simple doesn’t it?) and I was ill equipped for such a task. Lesson 1: always get the butcher to joint the pheasant for you (although in my defence I did not buy this particular pheasant from a butcher). Lesson 2: must buy a knife sharpener – this job would have been a hell of a lot easy with a sharp knife.

I’ve never really known what to do with pheasant. There always seem to be an abundance of them around at this time of year. Not least at my father’s house but somehow I think, since jointing the thing was such a heinous experience, I’m probably not up to the task of plucking and gutting. The trouble is you so often eat pheasant and it tastes pretty old, tough and dry. But I remember my cousin Flora cooking this recipe a few years ago and it was absolutely delicious. I photocopied it at the time, and although I have no idea where it came from, having done a bit of research (thank you The Field’s Top 10 Pheasant recipes) it is a traditional recipe from Normandy. Rather glamorously my photocopy calls it ‘FAISAN AU VERGER’

Enough for 2 (if for 4 there is no need to double all the ingredients, just add an extra pheasant and a bit more stock)

  • 1 pheasant
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig parsley
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 5 cox’s apples
  • 2-3 level tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 and a half oz butter
  • quarter pint cider
  • 2 tablespoons Calvados (optional)
  • 2 and a half fluid oz double cream

Joint the pheasant as above or ask your butcher to do it for you (recommended). Leave the flesh on the bone, so that it will not shrink during cooking.

Put the pheasant carcass, the neck and the cleaned giblets into a pan, together with the bay leaf, parsley, and a seasoning of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with cold water, put the lid on the pan and simmer this stock over low heat for about 20 mins.

Peel and thinly slice the onion. Chop the celery sticks finely. Peel, core and roughly chop the apples.

Coat the pheasant joints lightly with a little flour, and heat the butter in a flameproof casserole or heavy-based pan. Fry the pheasant over a high heat until golden brown all over, then remove from the casserole. Lower the heat and fry the onion and celery for 5 mins. Add the apples and fry for a further 5 mins. Draw the casserole from the heat and stir in sufficient of the remaining flour to absorb all the fat. Gradually blend in the cider (and Calvados if used) and half pint of strained pheasant stock. Bring this sauce to simmering point over low heat.

Put the pheasant back into the casserole, and if necessary add more stock to the sauce until it cover the joints.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cover the casserole with a lid.

Cook the casserole in the centre of a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees C, for 45 mins or until tender. Remove the pheasant and keep warm in the oven. Boil the sauce briskly on top of the stove – it will thicken slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and adjust seasoning. Return the pheasant joints to the sauce and serve with mashed potatoes.

This really was delicious and felt very seasonal and rustic. We ate it with that delicious Riesling I was banging on about earlier in the week (Parcel Series from Majestic) which was a really fab match. The weight of the Riesling stood up really well to the creamy sauce. The apples bring sweetness yet also acidity to the dish which is why it pairs so well with this wine which has elements of both in it. A Viognier would also have worked well here.

The thing I like most about this recipe is that you use the whole bird with absolutely no wastage. I felt very frugal as it really was cheap as chips (pheasant should only cost £3 a bird or less at this time of year). And even after all that fuss I reckon I did a pretty good job of playing the butcher.

Why does Riesling have such a bad rep?

I have just tried a totally fantastic wine – a beautifully developed 2006 stunner and yours for the bargain price of £6.99.

The only trouble is that it’s a Riesling.

Why has this wine become such a difficult thing for us to get our heads around? The first response I tend to get when I start waxing lyrical about Riesling is “Oh, I don’t like sweet wine”. Fair enough (although you probably can like sweet wine in the right circumstances). The thing is though, Rieslings don’t have to be sweet. Many, like the Parcel Series Riesling 2006 that I’m drinking right now, can be dry and therefore much more attractive to the modern palate.

I think part of the problem is Germany. Poor old Germany. Until the late 1980s German wines were quite the thing. The exports to Great Britain were huge because we couldn’t get enough of their easy-drinking, sweet wines. At this time New World wines (those from Australia, New Zealand, Chile etc) hardly existed on the British market and so Rieslings came from Germany. You can see how the two were lumped into one. And Riesling, because it’s such a brilliant, clever grape, can produce wines in a range of styles, from the very dry to the very sweet. And because all we used to drink was the sweet ones we forgot about the dry ones altogether.

STOP!! Enough with the wine history lesson. The important thing to take away from this is that Riesling is good. It goes with an abundance of food (cue next post on pheasant and refer back to last one on Thai Green Curry) and comes in a range of styles. It ages well and can develop into something completely extraordinary. Ever heard anyone describe a wine as having a petrol character to it? Chances are they will be talking about Riesling. Please don’t let that put you off.

The one I’m drinking tonight is from the Eden Valley in Australia. It is golden yellow in colour, has a rich minerality to it, relatively full body and fantastic complexity and length; citrus notes are proceeded by marmalade (yes really) and a hint of honeyed maturity. As a 2006 it is already 6 years old and although still fresh is going to have a lot more going on than just ‘young, fresh wine’. At £6.99 on offer at the moment in Majestic this wine is a total BARGAIN!!

A couple of tips on buying Riesling: if you are buying a New World one (Australia, New Zealand and even Chile have some corkers) the majority are going to be dry – look at the back of the label for confirmation as it will almost certainly tell you there. There’s nothing wrong with sweeter styles but I’m trying to convert the masses here so let’s take it one step at a time. If you are buying German it becomes a lot more complicated (one thing the Germans do not make easy for the consumer is their wine labelling) – if you can, remember that Trocken means dry. You can also find some great Alsatian Rieslings (please see previous post).

This week seems to be Riesling revival week in my house. Join me won’t you…?

A few options for a Thai Green Curry

There was a time when I felt like every time I went to someone’s house for dinner we would have Thai Green Curry. As a result I have completely stopped cooking it – you know what they say about too much of a good thing. But it is one of my favourites and yesterday I had the craving. I’d like to think that my culinary skills have improved a bit from university and as such I decided to make the paste from scratch. It turns out this really isn’t much extra work – the bugger is sourcing the ingredients. Although I managed to find everything I needed in Waitrose I suspect the Chinese supermarket would have saved me about 20 quid – note to self for next time.

This is definitely one of those dishes where it is worth giving your wine choice a bit of extra thought as it really does make such a difference. Spice is a tricky thing to match wine with. A Thai curry does not have the same bulky, heavy spiciness that an Indian curry might; the flavours are much more delicate and aromatic and as such it needs a wine that will allow these flavours to shine through while standing up to the any spice. I picked up a Gewürztraminer (Ghe-vertz-tram-in-er) and a dry Riesling and tried both with everyone alongside the curry.  Continue reading…