By Tricia Wheeler, Photography by Carole Topalian
My husband is a hunter. Last fall he brought home pheasants to cook. It was my first time cooking the birds, and I wanted to share what I learned. Pheasants are very lean birds. It is important not to overcook pheasants. Their meat is both tender and flavorful. They can be cooked whole or the breasts can be removed from the bone. They are great served with bread stuffing or wild rice. The wild or game flavor of pheasants is what makes them so special—there’s no need for heavy seasonings or overly complicated flavors. Pheasants are thought to taste like a cross between venison and poultry.
Here are a list of my flavor ideas and tips as well as a recipe for simple roasted pheasant.
1. Pheasants can be roasted with honey, thyme, and lemon.
2. They can be roasted on a bed of braised cabbage and chestnuts.
3. If you have time to brine them, an 8 hour brine will help them retain moisture. Brine in a solution of water, salt, sugar, and juniper berries.
4. Make sure to quickly roast in a very hot oven, at least 425 degrees. If the skin browns quickly cover loosely with foil.
5. Make sure to let the pheasant rest for 10 minutes when you pull them from the oven to redistribute the juices.
6. Roast carrots, turnips, potatoes, and rutabaga mixed with olive oil, pepper, and salt on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes. Add pheasants to top of vegetables and cook birds on top of vegetables.
7. One pheasant should serve two eaters, but if you have a large eater at the table plan on feeding them their own bird.
8. Adding additional fat—cook birds with a layer of bacon or pancetta on outside of the bird—will help with flavor and moisture.
9. Keep skin on the bird and cook bird until crisp.
10. You can fill the cavity of the bird with stuffing or wild rice, such as a mixture of apples, onions, butter, dried bread cubes, a little stock, salt, and pepper.
11. Younger pheasants will be more tender.
12. Pheasant pieces can be used in soups or casseroles.
Simple Roast Pheasant
2 Pheasants (read our story "For the Hunt" about hunting pheasants and where to find local pheasant this fall)
1 apple, chopped
¼ cup onion, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
½ cup dried bread cubes
6 tablespoons butter
Juice of one lemon
6 strips of bacon
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock
Salt & pepper
Combine the onion, celery, and apple in a saucepan with the butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix with the dried bread. Place stuffing inside the body cavity, salt, and pepper the birds. Cover the birds with bacon after stuffing the birds. Add wine and chicken stock to the bottom of the pan. Cook at 180 degrees for an hour and a half, or until tender. Use the drippings to prepare a gravy. Serve with mashed potatoes.