In Praise of Pheasant

We were the happy recipients of pheasant breasts and pheasant sausage from a recent hunt club excursion. This is not our first time receiving the gift of pheasant, you can re-live our past culinary explorations here when we went with smoke and maple glaze. This go round we re-purposed the sausage into a Country Pâté and served the breasts topped with Carr Valley’s Black Goat Truffle cheese.

Pheasant Pate

Country Pâté – Pheasant with Cherry

1 cup sherry
½ cup dried Montmorency cherries

1 lb ground pheasant
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
2 tsp dried thyme
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp clove

6 slices smoked bacon (Such as Nueske’s)

Bring sherry and cherries to a boil. Allow cherries to re-hydrate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all remaining ingredients except bacon in a large bowl, strain cherries and add to mixture. The strained sherry has a lovely flavor and may be used in a cocktail or other application. Line a loaf pan foil and then place two slices of bacon on the bottom and one slice on each side. Fill pan with meat mixture and lay last two slices of bacon across the top. Cover with aluminum foil.

Fill a 13 x 11 roasting pan with enough water to come half-way up the loaf pan and place a dish towel in the water under the loaf pan. Place in oven and allow to bake for about 2 hours or until it reaches 160 degrees. Remove and allow to cool. Wrap a brick in multiple layers of foil and place on top of the loaf, place in refrigerator for 12 hours.

Using the foil, remove the meat from the pan, remove the bacon and discard. Serve with rye cocktail bread, stone-ground mustard and refrigerator pickles. We happened to have some stone ground malt vinegar mustard and an onion jam with thyme, which blended together to become a very lovely accompaniment.

The pheasant breasts we grilled with just salt and pepper then topped with the truffle-infused cheese just before they were done, serving those with sauteed Swiss chard and a sprouted organic rice blend, each prepared similarly to our last post of red rice and kale. We then swirled in a half cup of mulled cranberries into the rice, which added spices and fruitiness to serve as a foil to the rich, truffled pheasant.

Pheasant Truffled

It was the first dinner outside this year and we happily enjoyed it with a Fun as Helles, a specialty bottling from Big Bay Brewing. The malty sweetness of the Mai Bock perfectly complemented the earthy truffle flavors.

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Backyard Grilling

There is a primal satisfaction in lighting a fire and cooking outside once again in early spring after a long, cold winter. Winters here in the Great Lakes region can be bitter cold and heavily snow-covered. The days are short and the nights long. As the days start to lengthen, the snow recedes and we begin to walk our gardens to see shoots of chives beginning. We see our neighbors and make plans for the week-end. All feels new, re-born.

Pickles3

This last weekend featured a warm fire, warmer friendships and wonderful food. We had a full feast, but my favorite little tastes came from that hardwood fire. We sipped beer as we grilled, a slight chill lingering in the afternoon air, sweet smoke rising. Pheasant sausages and venison Italians slowly roasting.

Pheasant Sausage1

Slices into bite-sized chunks, we ate them with our hands while still too hot right off the cutting board, dipped in yellow mustard. We also stuffed them into pieces of freshly baked white bread.

Venison Sausage3

Some ice-cold beers, some house-made pickles, and good conversation. Spring brings the earth back to life and re-kindles friendships. Light the fire and enjoy.

beer

Maple-Glazed Pheasant

Using the same technique as our Smoked Pheasant, we brined our bird then oven-roasted it to completion while glazing frequently with unreduced maple syrup.  The breasts were left to chill overnight then sliced across the grain. Placed on whole grain crackers, topped with Cardona Goat Milk Cheese from our heroes at Carr Valley, then topped with a malt vinegar gastrique made from a half and half mixture of Wisconsin farmstead buckwheat honey and a home fermented malt vinegar made from Hinterland Maple Bock Beer, simmered to reduce by half along with a few sprigs of lemon thyme.

pheasant with malt vinegar glaze

Smoked, Maple-glazed Pheasant

Milford Hills

Recently, a good friend presented me with a gift of pheasant breasts and thighs. They were shot locally at the Milford Hills hunt club, which is a beautifully pristine 500 acres in Johnson Creek, WI.

If you have the opportunity to procure wild pheasant, I highly recommend it for the robustness of flavor. However, an excellent alternative can be acquired via the internet at MacFarlane Pheasants, located in Janesville WI, and the largest pheasant farm in the United States. I was very happy with the whole pheasant I purchased from them for a specialty dinner last year.

The preparation for the pheasant breasts and thighs given here is adapted from Hank Shaw’s post at the award-winning Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. Rather than the plain salt/sugar brine he utilizes, I prefer the introduction of aromatics similar to the brine detailed in Thomas Keller’s excellent cook book Ad Hoc at Home.

There is a certain symmetry to having the opportunity to turn these pheasants, received as a gift, into part of a meal for a large group of friends. These smoked pheasants were chilled, sliced and served as wraps with a cranberry relish, double cream brie, and greens.

For the Brine
8 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 pinch ground cloves
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For Smoking

2 lb pheasant meat
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups real maple syrup

Brined

Directions:

Combine water through vinegar in a sauce pan and bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 1 minute. All salt and sugar should be dissolved. Refrigerate in a glass bowl or other non-reactive container until cool. Add pheasant, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours.

Take the pheasants out and pat them dry. Allow them to sit out uncovered for 1 hour in a cool, dry place.

Hot smoke the pheasants over the wood of your choice for at least 2 hours, maintaining a temperature between 200°F and 250°F. My preferred woods are the fruit woods such as apple and cherry. While the pheasant smokes for the first hour, reduce the maple syrup and butter by half to promote adhesion (thanks to hunt, fish, camp for that tip). Then baste with the reduced syrup every 30 minutes afterward. Remove pheasant at an internal temperature of 160°F. Baste a final time. Can be served immediately or chilled and sliced.

The result is a deeply flavorful pheasant, balancing the salt, sweet, and smoke. The brining adds savory undertones while also maintaining moisture. If you’ve ever enjoyed perfectly prepared bacon that gets coated in maple syrup on your breakfast plate, you have a sense of the flavors here, and further enhanced by the richness of the pheasant. Enjoy.

Finished