Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pheasant Cacciatore

I always thought of pheasant as a fall dish. We used to have it at Thanksgiving when my father had either shot one, or had friends that shot one. It seemed to involve a lot of work for my mother, the cook, which always made her irritable. Holidays in our house were usually somewhat fraught, with my mother flaring up at us, my father being what he called "shirty" in response (no, I didn't add an extra letter there. It really was "shirty.") and my sister and I trying to show that we really appreciated all the work she went to. Fun times.
But, rest assured, if you like to cook, this is not an unnecessary amount of work, and should not make you snap at your family.
About eating it in late June. Well, with the advent of gourmet poultry producers and the Internet, etc. etc., everything is available all the time. I don't approve of this availability when it comes to fruits and vegetables. It has given us the cardboard tomato and the Styrofoam strawberry. But with meat, what's the harm? It wasn't a Styrofoam pheasant. If you would eat a roast chicken in the summer, you could eat a pheasant as well.
On Saturday afternoon, I bought a pair of pheasants, (known as a brace) at Market Poultry in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill in DC. They have a quantity of game for sale as well as the chicken, turkey, chicken sausage, chicken parts, etc. They have venison, quail, and even turtle meat, which annoyed me, since I had just spent a ton of money ordering snapping turtle meat on line for another recipe. Stay tuned, lucky readers! The pheasants were frozen, so I plunged them into a pot of hot water to defrost and left them there for a couple of hours while I made the game sauce.
Frozen pheasants are like frozen chickens. All the innards come tidily packaged in plastic. So don't be alarmed at all this talk of plucking, cleaning and reserving tail feathers. There are no tail feathers on a frozen pheasant. I remember my mother plucking game birds. I have to say, I prefer frozen. All those feathers flying around made a real mess. Also you have to watch out for the buckshot.
One good reason to make Pheasant Cacciatore in the summer is the availability of fresh herbs. This year, Bob stopped talking about how he wanted a garden and planted one. Although we have had enough rain to float a Volkswagen, the only thing that really seems to have prospered are the herbs. I went outside with a little bowl and a pair of scissors and snip, snip, snip, I had my herbs.
Juniper berries are the flavoring in gin. Sniffing a bottle brought back memories of my parents' martinis. One memorable and not to be repeated evening, I drank what was left in the cocktail shaker and had to sneak into the bathroom and throw up before dinner. But we are not flavoring gin here. Juniper berries are available at Whole Foods. Spice Islands, the gourmet spice company of the 1960s, used to sell them, but at some point it stopped. They are not very hard to chop up.
I always think of cacciatore as a tomato, green pepper and garlic based dish. This is basically roast pheasant coated inside and out with a spice mixture. It is not hard.

Pheasant Cacciatore

1 brace (pair) of pheasant, plucked, cleaned and tail feathers reserved
1 tablespoon juniper berries
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or one teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 thick slices bacon
game sauce
 bulgur or wild rice

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Wash out the body cavity of the birds (discard liver, heart etc. if birds have been hung) and dry with paper towels. (The etc. is wrapped in plastic, so just take it out and throw it away.)
3. If juniper berries are soft, chop on a board; if they are dry, pound well in a mortar. Combine berries with the salt, cayenne, chives, rosemary and parsley.
4. Divide two-thirds of the mixture between the two body cavities and shake the birds to coat the walls. Place the birds, breast side up, in a roasting pan lined with oiled aluminum foil.
5. Pat the oil over the surface of the birds and then sprinkle remaining herb-spice mixture over all the surface. Cover the birds with the bacon slices, securing with toothpicks if necessary.
6. Roast twenty minutes. Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees and roast about one hour longer, or until birds are done.
7. Place pheasants on a warm platter. Sprinkle a little cognac over the birds and decorate with the reserved tail feathers. Serve game sauce and bulgur or wild rice separately. Makes five servings.

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