The pheasant season runs from October to February, so now is the perfect time to buy one. Yes, I know they usually come in pairs (a brace) but a good butcher should sell you just the one (if not, stick the spare in the freezer). Most pheasant these days is farmed rather than shot in the wild, but you may still find a lump of lead or two embedded in the flesh so be careful with your teeth while eating. And it's not usually expensive - my local butcher usually sells a brace for a fiver, so a bird for £2.50 is very good value. I never plan to buy pheasant but if I see fresh birds being sold at a reasonable price, I'm in. Best of all, a pheasant feeds two so if you're not cooking for a friend that's two separate meals for you.
The meat is very lean and has a delicately gamey flavour. This makes a perfect Sunday dinner.
What you need:
A few strips of fatty bacon - streaky is best
A couple of parsnips
1 large beetroot
Half a glass of red wine
What to do:
Scrub the beetroot, trim carefully and wrap it in foil before popping it on the top shelf of the oven at 180C. It needs 2 hours to cook through.
Prepare the pheasant. Pluck off any stray feathers and check inside the cavity - you probably won't find any fat but you may find some leftover liver from the gutting. Pull out any remaining innards and rinse the cavity carefully. Pat the bird dry with kitchen towel and put it in a roasting tin. Bruise a few juniper berries in a pestle and mortar and pop these inside the cavity, along with the bayleaf. You can add a sprig or two of thyme or a shallot but don't pack it out too much as you want to enhance the flavour, not overwhelm it. Oil the skin with a little olive oil and then cover the breasts completely with the bacon.
Peel and trim the parsnips, then quarter them. Toss in a little olive oil and put them in a ovenproof dish. Roast for an hour, turning halfway through.
Roast the pheasant for an hour to an hour and 20 minutes, depending on size. Check it every 20 minutes or so to check it's not drying out - a little water in the tin will help out here. Take the bacon off near the end so the skin has a chance to brown and crisp. Take the pheasant out of the oven 10 minutes before serving, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest.
While it's resting, making the jus. Put two dessert spoonfuls of redcurrant jelly in a small pan with the wine. Warm through on a moderate heat until it's just starting to simmer, stirring all the while to ensure the jelly is thoroughly dissolved.
To serve, unwrap the beetroot and quarter it, slice off one breast and leg from the pheasant, and arrange on a plate with the parsnips. Spoon the jus over the meat.
You could halve the pheasant with a pair of poultry shears if you want to set half aside for another recipe. If you cook both halves together, adjust the cooking time as they will cook faster and you may need to cover the roasting tin with foil for at least some of the time as the bird will dry out more this way. Either way, do not skimp on the bacon as it keeps the flesh moist during cooking and the fat prevents the skin from becoming over-roasted.
Cranberry sauce is an excellent substitute for redcurrant jelly and is something most people have in the larder, as there always seems to be half a jar left over from Christmas.
Keep the other half of the pheasant, including the carcass, for soup.