“Welcome to Scotland, Its -6 °C”! the cheerful staff at Enterprise car hire chirped. I think if they had looked closely at my five layers, hat, gloves, fur lined boots, hunched shoulders and hopping around moves, they would have been well aware that I had totally sussed that part of the situation out.
Winning top prize for the most polite and helpful car hire location ever, they helped me gather my luggage which included suitcase, aprons, knives and half a butchers shop, chip through the ice cube in which my car was apparently hiding, triple-checked I had everything I needed and knew where I was off to, then practically waved me off with off with marching bands and a ticker tape parade.
Heart and mood well warmed, I headed northwards to Perthshire to cook for a weekend that promised to be filled with fun, pheasants and frivolity.
In keeping with a proper modern-day but nod-to-the-traditional shoot weekend, there was to be a balance of hearty food, healthy food, game, games, cocktails, drinks, fresh air, very late nights and very early mornings. By the time I had unpacked the shopping the fridges, larders and cold rooms were bulging with lush ingredients, the butter and cream supplies looked top and everyone was excited…including the spaniels.
The heart of the weekend’s activities was focused around pheasants so this recipe champions this delicious, iron, potassium, vitamin B and protein-rich meat.
I often feel it is a great shame that many people generally dismiss all game when cooking, shopping or choosing from a menu. It can have wonderful flavour and is generally less strong or ‘gamey’ than many people assume, especially since it has long since moved out of the macho, over-hung, maggot-infested era. Perhaps people have issues with its firmer texture, distinct of-the-hill flavour, potential lead content and wild lifestyle but for me that is part of the attraction (well maybe not the lead bit).
Pheasant makes an excellent substitute for chicken in most dishes, it just needs a little extra care and attention when cooking. The fresh meat is available in the UK from 1st October to 1st February. If you know anyone with countryside connections there is a high probability there will be one lurking in a freezer near you.
Pheasant meat is lean so care has to be taken not to overcook it, as it will dry out, but when successfully done the taste rewards are great. Young birds at the beginning of the season are often more tender as they have not been flying around or had to toughen up as the weather turns colder.
It is in the first few months I like to roast the birds whole or quick fry the breasts. As the season goes on and the bird ages they can toughen up so it is best to slow cook or braise them with plenty of liquor. This recipe is perfect for pheasants around now as the slow cooking and lashings of juice will ensure it won’t dry out.
Garlic, Garlic and Pheasant casserole
This is a great dish for this time of year, slow cooking ensures tender and tasty results for the pheasant and the garlic hit may help ward off *vampires and colds
3 heads of garlic
5 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 pheasants jointed into legs and breasts (use the rest of the carcass to make a delicious stock for soup or risottos)
3 tbs olive oil
12 leaves of bay
3 leeks washed and cut into 2cm rings
2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ bottle dry white wine
2 tbs chopped parsley
Pre heat the oven to 170 °C. Peel all the garlic cloves and put three to one side. Gently fry the rest in a large pan on a low heat in 2 tbs of olive oil until lightly golden then place to one side.
Turn the heat up to medium and add another 2 tbs olive oil. Sear all the pheasant pieces on each side, season with salt and pepper and place into a casserole dish.
Add the last of the oil to the pan and sauté the onions and leeks until just softening (about 10 minutes) then mix in with the pheasant. Add the garlic, wine and cider, season with extra salt and pepper then cover with baking parchment then foil.
Bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring half-way through. The meat should be tender and prepared to fall off the bone, if not cook for another ½ hour.
To serve: Finely chop the three remaining cloves of garlic and sprinkle on top with the parsley. This dish is delicious with mashed potatoes or celeriac.
*Garlic health benefits and vampire repelling qualities are diminished once cooked.
For more of Philippa’s travels and recipes visit her website, www.philippadavis.com