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Another Note from the Edge (of the Forest of Dean)

“Pheasantly Surprised,” or, I’m not a pheasant plucker....

Pheasant on SkewerIt was late autumn and I'd nipped out to the farm shop. On the way back I noticed something in the road that hadn't been there twenty minutes earlier. It was a large cock pheasant. I pulled over and examined it. It was still warm, but one of its wings was pointing the wrong way. Road kill. I'd never eaten road kill before, but I was certain that this bird wasn't going to do me any harm. I slung it into the boot and off I went.

There is a school of thought that says that game has to be “hung” until it is practically rotten. I do not fully agree, but I do think that some meat needs a bit of time for the enzymes to break down the tough bits. I stuck it on a hook in my shed for a couple of days while I wondered what to do with it.

I assumed that it had to be plucked, and amused myself with repeating the old tongue-twister:

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucke’rs son,
I'm only plucking pheasants ‘till the pheasant plucker comes.
I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucke’rs mate,
I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker’s late.

Say it very fast in a South London accent.

I wasn't sure what to do, so I did some Googling and came across a splendid website: This is not a politically correct website. I got the distinct impression that there weren't many Labour, Liberal or Green voters among its readership. I might have been intruding. There is an excellent video of a chap skinning a pheasant. They don't need to be plucked, you can skin them like a rabbit. Compared to rabbits, they are a doddle.

The demo also gave a useful tip for getting the leg tendons out using a pair of pliers. It improves a pheasant’s legs no end. As it now had nice legs, I called my pheasant Kylie. I've added pliers to my collection of kitchen utensils.

So I skinned my pheasant. But I slipped and there was pheasant everywhere. It took me half an hour to clean up the kitchen and all my clothes had to go into the washing machine, after treatment with stuff designed to remove “unpleasant stains”. These were un-pheasant stains. I'll get it right next time.

For some reason, I've kept the tail-feathers, they might come in handy for playing Cowboys and Indians.

Pheasant parts

One skinned pheasant. Quite a big bird, too. And with provenance. It probably once belonged to a local Lord or even Prince Charles. Far too much for one person for one meal, so I chopped it in half. Straight down the backbone. I had a game of two halves.

I had a debate with myself: Is it morally right to eat pheasant on two consecutive days? Of course it is. I'm top of the food chain. I can do what I like as long as it's legal. There isn't an Eating Pheasant (two days running) Act.

Unusually for me, I developed a plan. Half of the bird would be casseroled and I would use some of the liquid to make sauce for the other half, which would be roasted.

So, I made dinner of casseroled pheasant. I used my usual carrot and onion as a basis. Some button mushrooms and half a red pepper got chopped up and went in the pot. I used a chicken stock cube, some dried herbs and a squirt of tomato puree.

Because it was a “one pot” job, I peeled and cut some potatoes into thick slices and they went in as well. I topped it up with water, gave it all a stir and stuck it in the oven at 200 (Celsius). I left it for well over an hour and a half and it was delicious. The meat fell of the bone and the juice and vegetables were a delight. I saved the sauce and vegetables that were left in the casserole dish. The meal was accompanied by a full bodied Spanish red wine that was on special offer in one of the discount supermarkets.

The following day I went back to the supermarket, to buy some more of the wine before they inevitably ran out of it. There were eight bottles left. I asked the manager for a case discount. I've learned in life that if you don't ask, you don't get, but be polite about it. “A case is twelve bottles” he said. “Find me another four, then” I said, with a grin. He is a good man. I got my 10% off an already heavily discounted price.

It got better than that. He showed me an “own label” beer and told me what it actually was. “You're having me on” I said. He challenged me to try some. There and then. I recognised it and it was very good. I bought a case and I'd found a new friend. The pheasant was free, but I'd spent two weeks Disability Living Allowance on the “accompaniments”. If anyone from the Department for Health and Social Security is reading this, I'm definitely Disabled, I'm definitely Living and the Allowance isn't enough. Please send more.

So, the following day it was pheasant time again. This time roasted.

Now, pheasants haven't got much fat on them. If you are roasting them, you actually have to add fat otherwise they will be too dry. With a whole bird, wrap it in bacon and shove a large knob of butter into the cavity. I had half a bird and did something similar.

I use what is sold as “cooking bacon”. Supermarkets sell it in half-kilo packs, but I try and use a butcher in nearby Dursley who has normally got a massive great pile of it. It consists of all the off-cuts, mis-shapes and mishaps associated with producing British bacon. Some of it will be fatty. Some of it will contain gristle and bone. Some will have rind. It will be thick, thin, smoked, un-smoked, back, middle, streaky. It will have its faults, but it will be cheap. And it will be bacon.

I tend to buy a couple of kilos, take it home and sort it out. I normally end up with a pile of breakfast bacon (ideal for sandwiches), a pile of chunks of various types of bacon which I use for cooking: bacon and split-pea soup, bacon and cabbage and, my piece de resistance, bacon roly-poly (a steamed suet pudding!).

I might even end up with a gammon steak. The remainder goes into a frying pan and is rendered down for bacon fat, which is full of polly-wolly-doodles and comes in handy for the Great British Breakfast, alternatively known as myocardial infarction on a plate.

I rubbed butter into my half-pheasant and wrapped it in fatty cooking bacon. I then covered it with aluminium foil (aluminum to you colonials – it's made out of bauxite and electricity, don't try it at home).

Into a pre-heated and very hot oven for twenty minutes – that's all it needs. Remove from oven, take the bacon off, pour the juices and anything that isn't pheasant (e.g. bacon) into the sauce that I told you to save from the previous day.

Let the bird rest. It needs a rest after being run over, stolen, slung into my boot, hung, skinned, chopped in half, cooked and generally abused. But it didn't die in vain. It was delicious.

Keep stirring the sauce, turn up the heat and remove any rogue large lumps of vegetable with a slotted spoon. Use heat to reduce.

You will have half a pheasant and a rather good sauce. I made some potato and onion rosti and cooked some red cabbage to go with it. Plus, of course, 75cl (oh yeah) of the better part of Spain's contribution to the European wine lake. I've run out and I dearly wish I had some more.

Pheasant on Skewer

Two of the finest meals I have ever had. But which one was the best? I don't honestly know, so next time I'm in possession of enough pheasants, I will give a dinner party and the main course will consist of half and half. I'll let my guests be the judge. I think that we are all in for a treat.