Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's Pheasant Hunting Season; time for delightful recipes

Our friend Rich came to visit for the opening of pheasant hunting season. His first day out was unsuccessful, but on day two he did get one young bird. I have had the experience of killing and cleaning both chickens and turkeys in my life, but never a pheasant. I was informed that one does not need to pluck feathers from a pheasant as the skin is so easy to just rip off with the feathers still attached. I came outside to watch Rich skin and clean the bird and then came the time to think what to do with it.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Rich and I collaborate well on food matters. We both have wonderful ideas, but vastly different ones, so it is especially fun to bounce ideas back and forth. His first idea was that he wanted to brine the bird. I have only brined once - a turkey. I was unimpressed. I did understand the reasoning behind brining a wild bird such as this, so we agreed on that, for both better flavor and tenderizing. He also wanted to subsequently soak it in buttermilk as an added insurance against too gamy a flavor. Once the bird was cleaned we set it to soak overnight in brine. Next morning (yesterday) he removed it from the brine, cleaned out the container and set the pheasant pieces back into the container with 2 cups of buttermilk. We left that to soak for a few hours.

Assembled casserole, before baking
Meantime, we started to work out the flavors we wanted. I had only eaten pheasant once in my life, at a restaurant over 20 years ago. I recall loving the dish, but was unsure if that was an accurate representation of the flavor of a wild bird. I told Rich that I knew juniper berries were supposed to be good with wild game, so we agreed to use a little of those. We both love the flavors of fresh thyme, so we decided to use that. Rich wanted rice with the casserole, and particularly to have wild rice be a part of it. What we ended up doing is cooking wild rice in one pot, brown rice in another and white rice in a third. I made 3/4 cup (dry) of each variety of rice, with a teaspoon of olive oil, 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 1/2 cups of water, cooking the brown and the wild rice for 50 minutes, and the white rice for 15. The wild rice did not soak up most of the water it cooked in, and I drained and saved that water to use for the sauce later. Rich dislikes the use of flour to thicken things and suggested using bread crumbs instead. We were looking for a creamy mushroom base for the sauce, but without using a canned mushroom soup (we are both purists on that score). I had some artisan style homemade bread on hand so I cut two thick slices and put into the food processor to make crumbs. We wanted mushrooms to be a part of it, so since my husband and I love the dried shiitakes, we used those, which are delightfully chewy when reconstituted. I used 10 of them, soaked in boiling water for about 20 minutes. I saved the about 3 cups of water from the mushroom soaking to use as part of the liquid for the sauce. Rich also wanted to add chicken to the whole dish, as chicken is more fatty than pheasant and would lend some of the fattiness to the dish.
Rich, serving his pheasant creation

Okay, so now we had a working idea and had started prepping. Rich chopped an onion, a carrot and 2 stalks of celery, along with about 6 or 8 large cloves of garlic. I sautéed that mixture in a frying pan in olive oil until they were wilted, then removed that to a large roaster pan, spread over the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, Rich blotted all the pheasant and chicken pieces dry with paper toweling, then sprinkled with salt and pepper and I followed with browning all the pheasant and chicken pieces, which were then removed to the roaster pan, in one layer. We removed the stems from the soaked mushrooms and sliced them, strewing them over the meats. I sprinkled in about a teaspoon of juniper berries, and then the bread crumbs. Over top of this I evenly sprinkled the wild rice, then the white rice and then the brown rice. Rich was interested in a smoky flavor element, so I sprinkled on 1 1/2 teaspoons of smoked paprika (Pimenton de la Vera).
Pheasant Chicken Casserole with Three Rices

Back in the frying pan, I added about 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves and a cup of dry white wine, cooking quickly over high heat, stirring up all the browned bits in the bottom, to reduce to less than a half cup, total. We added in the mushroom soaking water and the wild rice cooking water and cooked briskly to reduce to about 2 or 2 1/2 cups of total liquid. To this we added 2 cups of heavy cream, off the heat. After tasting, we added another teaspoon of salt to the sauce. I poured this sauce over the whole casserole, covered the pot and baked it for 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees.

It may have taken a while to assemble, but I have only one word for the outcome. YUM! The casserole was unctuous from the cream and perfectly flavored. The smoked paprika was just enough to give that hint of smokiness without overwhelming. The pheasant was  absolutely not gamy though it retained the flavor of a wild bird, and it was very tender. Both the pheasant and the chicken were juicy and perfect. It may have taken a while to assemble, but oh great heavens, it was good. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.