Just when I think my blog titles can't be any cheesier...
When it comes to cooking inspiration, I get it from many places. I might see a recipe on a blog or on TV and I want to use it right away. Sometimes I might want to make that recipe exactly as is. Other times I might want to tinker with the ingredients. I might start seeing a certain ingredient repeatedly on TV or in books or blogs and I find myself wanting a way to cook it for myself. There are other times I just see a new ingredient in the store or the farmer's market and I find myself compelled to cook it.
More than one of my blogs has had some complaints about how holiday meals can be a little boring for me. I've often longed to be fancy - or at the very least get out of the ham and turkey rut. It doesn't happen much. I should consider myself lucky that my family no longer feels obliged to make Christmas Eve all about fish. When I see someone serve a Christmas goose, or a standing rib roast, I imagine the day when I can prepare a totally wild and different Christmas feast.
This year I'm spending Christmas Eve at Mom's, where we will be feasting on some Italian-American favorites (more on that in future posts) and Christmas Day with Dad (going out to dinner at Istana at the NY Palace Hotel). I'll be having some very different experiences, but none of it will fulfill my seemingly failed resolution to cook something I've never cooked before.
Then one day while browsing the meat department of Whole Paycheck, I saw it.
I've eaten pheasant exactly once before. Kevin had ordered it as part of a prixe fixe menu when we had a spectacularly awful dinner at San Domenico. I remember eating an overpriced and overcooked steak, while tasting a bit of that pheasant. It was way too salty, but the meat was pretty good. I am not one to shy around from game birds. If I went through 2009 without ever making a duck, at least I could make up for it by making a pheasant.
So last night I had a pre-Christmas dinner, sitting by the twinking lights of my tree, eating the kind of meal I have fantasized about making. What a way to get the Christmas spirit going!
I had to research some pheasant cooking methods. The consensus seemed to be that a young pheasant could be roasted like a duck, but it was better to cook an older one in liquid. I had no idea how old my pheasant was, so I went with cooking it in wine.
I cut my pheasant into four pieces. I cooked some bacon in olive oil and got some nice bacon grease going. Then I salted and peppered my bird and gave it a good browing in the fat and removed it.
I didn't do too bad of a hack job cutting this thing up. I know it wasn't professional butchery, but I managed to get the thing apart without too much damage.
Onions and mushrooms got a nice cooking through. Then the pheasant went back in with some strong red wine, bay leaves, and thyme leaves.
Cook through, reduce the sauce a bit, and add just a splash of cream.
Serve with mashed potatoes* and green beans (which I sadly left in the steamer too long).
So how was it? The meat was good, but not so different from chicken as to be worth the effort. It's not nearly as delicious as duck. It was also difficult to remove the meat from the bones while eating. It was messy, and there were even some projectile moments where a dead pheasant found himself flying again (or at least bits of him). If I want to cook another small bird in the future, I may just stick to game hens.
The sauce, however, was divine. It's a keeper for future recipes. I read the pheasant stands up well to strong reds, so I used a lovely red bordeaux that really cooked into a delicious sauce.
Pleasant Pheasant (Pheasant Cooked In Red Wine)
1 3lb pheasant cut in four pieces
2 strips bacon, cut in pieces
1 Tbl olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced
8oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cups strong red wine
3 bay leaves
1 Tbl fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
In a large pan, cook bacon and olive oil until bacon is crisp. Brown the pheasant in the fat on both sides.
Remove pheasant pieces and keep warm. Add onions and mushrooms to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are soft and the onions are translucent.
Mix wine with the thyme and bay. Add the pheasant halves back into the pan with the wine. Simmer until pheasant is cooked through. Remove phesant and keep warm. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce by half. Add cream and stir till thickened. Add additional salt and pepper if needed.
Serve sauce over pheasant.
*A note on the mashed potatoes
I considered just writing out a recipe for Mashed Poato Variation #78962, but I was pretty inexact with the measurments when I cooked them. I felt that the method was worth mentioning though because SPP said they were the best mashed potatoes I ever made. They are probably the most heart-attack-inducing ones as well.
I cooked 4 yukon gold potatoes. I took a big hunk of butter (less than a whole stick, but more than half) and 4 sliced shallots and cooked them together (think pierogi topping). I mashed that stuff into my 'taters with about a half a cup of warm heavy cream. Add plenty of salt and pepper.